At Town Hall, Students Demand Administrative Accessibility

Dozens of undergraduates called on Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana to increase the accessibility of top administrators and diversify campus artwork at a town hall concluding last week’s Cultural Rhythms festival.

Students and top College administrators, including Khurana, director of the the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations S. Allen Counter, and Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn de la Peña debated current initiatives to increase diversity on campus—a topic that has dominated recent campus dialogue.

Khurana fielded questions from many attendees who called on administrators to hold more frequent office hours or forums similar to Sunday’s town hall. The town hall came about three months after Harvard published a report on diversity that recommended bolstering training among student groups, improve departmental offerings, and promote diversity among the College’s disciplinary bodies.

Extracurriculars and Academics Town Hall
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana hosted a townhall on diversity and inclusion on Sunday.

Brianna J. Suslovic ’16 said that University President Drew G. Faust should host more office hours. Last semester, Faust held two one-hour sessions, and has two office hours planned this semester.

Suslovic emphasized her desire to bring private conversations—such as those in dining halls—into open and larger venues that could lead to more tangible change. By hosting additional office hours, Suslovic said, administrators can make students’ demands “consistent and continued and public.”

Khurana emphasized that one of his goals as dean is to reduce the “vertical distance” between administrators and students in order to “effect deep meaningful change.”

“I think one of the things we have here is that information doesn't flow as fast as we would like,” Khurana said.

Students at the town hall also called for more visible representation of diversity in campus artwork. At a town hall in December, several students advocated for more diversity in the decor lining Harvard’s walls. The College’s diversity report suggested placing more artwork and portraits to better reflect the diversity of the faculty and students.

Undergraduate Council representative William A. Greenlaw ’17 asked Khurana about progress to the suggested portrait initiative. According to Counter, portraits of several prominent faculty of color have already been added to at least three of the Houses.

Some students criticized what they described as a lack of institutional support for Muslim students, especially in the thick of the 2016 presidential elections.

Anwar Omeish ’19 said many Muslim students on campus felt particularly vulnerable to threats centered around their religion and ethnicity. Khurana described hearing her experience as “anguishing.”

“Hate has no place on our campus,” Khurana said. “I can only imagine how painful it is.”

Students and administrators also discussed the release of a rebranded UC grant that seeks to fund student social activities.

According to UC President Shaiba Rather ’17, the grant is aimed at funding “dynamic” social events that fall outside of regular and budgeted programming, such as last semester's’ Blank Party, a party hosted by women’s advocacy organizations.

Students said they were also concerned about the absence of a multicultural center on Harvard's campus. In response, Khurana said there is a lack of space in Harvard Square and near the Yard for such a center.

“Depending on when you arrived on campus as a student group or organization, some spaces were already occupied,” Khurana said. “We’re trying to make reservations much easier in places like the [Student Organization Center at Hilles], refresh common spaces,... and also make it easier for people to access and make reservations and remove financial barriers.”

The town hall was the first in a series hosted by the Dean’s Office and the Harvard Foundation.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at ignacio.sabate@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter@ignacio_sabate.

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