Harvard University is an institution that prides itself on its commitment to diversity. Our university has a robust financial aid program that actively seeks to make a Harvard education affordable. Our university has pioneered the holistic affirmative action admissions model and admits a diverse class of brilliant young minds each year. When it comes to diversity at Harvard, there are many reasons to be proud.
But as events in recent weeks have demonstrated, the mission to create an environment in which all students feel that they belong has not yet been accomplished. The LatinX town hall meeting and “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign remind us that students of many backgrounds continue to feel at Harvard, but not of Harvard.
The time is now for the University to recommit to fostering a more supportive campus. This fall, the most racially diverse class of freshman in Harvard’s history will arrive at our gates. We cannot let these students down.
Administrators, faculty members, and students must commit to actively supporting the ethnic and racial diversity already on Harvard’s campus as well as the incoming class of students arriving in the fall. We believe that many strides can still be made in official programming and policy related to racial diversity, faculty and staff diversity, and resources for student groups.
Racial insensitivity and other forms of harassment can no longer be accepted, excused, or ignored. In a series of town hall meetings organized by black and Latino student leaders, students reported several incidents of racial insensitivity and harassment from university administration and staff.
There is an urgent need for the administration to construct programming that better supports students of color and other historically marginalized communities. The Community Conversations that entering freshmen participate in are meant to cultivate diversity, yet many of these conversations feel forced, insincere, and short-lived. We believe a more sustained and impactful program dedicated to fostering diversity should be implemented in each House, operating as an open forum for students and faculty to come together and have meaningful conversations on race, culture, class, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.
Harvard’s faculty and administration play a critical role in nurturing a diverse atmosphere, but the present racial makeup of Harvard’s faculty and administration does not reflect the racial diversity of the student population. We believe the lack of racial diversity among Harvard faculty and administration diminishes our university’s ability to foster a campus of belonging.
The most urgent concern is the lack of diversity on the Administrative Board. This body is responsible for disciplining Harvard students, yet its members are far from representative of the student population. It is of utmost importance that the University take deliberate action to diversify this key group of administrators.
At $32.7 billion, Harvard University has the largest financial endowment of any university in the country. Yet, unlike Yale and Stanford, Harvard does not have dedicated physical spaces for racial minorities. The Harvard Foundation has played an important role in improving race relations on campus, but we believe that safe, physical spaces for historically marginalized minorities are also necessary. The lack of physical spaces for racial groups has undoubtedly contributed to the feelings of exclusion that many Harvard students have voiced.
These physical spaces will empower, not divide. Presently, far too many students of color have voiced frustrations in not being able to safely discuss many issues that pertain to their lives on campus. Like the Office of BGTLQ Student Life and the Women’s Center, safe, physical spaces for racial minorities are a necessity if Harvard is to be an institution of belonging.
Dean Pfister recently announced the creation of a working group to “examine how we can better support the needs of all our students, especially those who don't feel a full sense of belonging at Harvard.” Working groups and task forces are positive steps in the right direction, but it is crucial that our university community go beyond merely examining issues of diversity and inclusion. Our coalition, The Diversity Report, is dedicated to working with the administration to not just examine these issues, but also ensure that the University implements these changes.
The United States grows more diverse with each passing day. By the end of this decade, no single ethnic or racial group will constitute a majority of children under the age of 18. Those children will grow up and apply to universities like Harvard expecting to feel a sense of belonging regardless of what color their skin is. If Harvard is to be that institution, committed to inclusive excellence, diversity, and equal opportunity, our university must make the affirmative effort to foster an environment that all Harvard students can sincerely and proudly say they belong to.
Dennis O. Ojogho ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House. Herbert B. Castillo ’14 is a neurobiology concentrator in Kirkland House and co-chair of Concilio Latino de Harvard. Diana K. Nguyen ’15 is a government concentrator in Quincy House and the former president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association. They are members of The Diversity Report.