Shaun R. Harper, University of Pennsylvania professor and the Office of Student Life’s inaugural “Scholar-in-Residence,” addressed Harvard in particular as he advocated for “intentional” institutional support as a means of increasing inclusivity on college campuses.
In his talk at the Fong Auditorium on Thursday evening, Harper, whose research focuses on the experiences of minority students on college campuses, said that colleges with diverse populations like Harvard often lack cross-group interactions and meaningful inclusion because administrators believe in “magical thinking.”
“We define [magical thinking] as the assumption that powerful educational outcomes will be automatically manufactured through student-initiated engagement with peers who are different,” Harper said.
He added that if administrators and faculty want to create an inclusive campus, it is their responsibility to create programs that support minority students and encourage dialogue.
Harper also spoke specifically about inclusivity at Harvard.
Harper said that the Harvard students he has encountered have consistently expressed a need for more welcoming spaces. According to Harper, while Houses have the potential to foster inclusivity, they cannot do so successfully without “a high degree” of intentionality from administrators, he said.
He also said he found the location of Harvard’s diversity offices—the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, the Women’s Center, and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations—in various basements in the Yard “troubling.”
“It rendered me speechless… The space signals that its work is institutionally unimportant,” Harper said in regards to the Foundation, which is located at the basement of Thayer.
Harper said that, because many Ivy League graduates go on to hold positions of power, institutions like Harvard “absolutely” have a special responsibility to foster inclusive campuses.
Avik Chatterjee, resident tutor in Dunster and a student at the School of Public Health, said that he appreciated hearing concrete examples of programs that Harvard’s peer institutions had implemented to foster a more inclusive campus and increase awareness of diversity issues.
One of the examples that Harper cited was the development of a class at the University of California, Los Angeles to help black male students acclimate. He also discussed programming at cultural centers and cross-culture houses at Stanford.
The talk, which was attended by mostly administrators and graduate students, is one of the many events Harper will be attending as part of his two-day visit to the College as this year’s “Scholar-in-Residence.” Harper will also be meeting with various administrators and students tomorrow.
According to Kimberly A. Truong, an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion visiting administrative fellow and an organizer of Harper’s visit, the “Scholar-in-Residence” program aims to “bridge academic engagement with social and personal engagement.”
While Truong’s fellowship appointment lasts only one year, she said the Office of Student Life hopes to make the selection and visit of a “Scholar-in-Residence” an annual event.
—Staff writer Quynh-Nhu Le can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @qnhule.
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