Diversity Offices Seek Greater Cross-Collaboration

Following a College-wide report released last fall that called for greater administrative integration across diversity offices, the College is rolling out a series of initiatives—including a new student advisory council and diversity peer educators—to promote collaboration.

The diversity offices—which include the Harvard College Office of BGLTQ Student Life, the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, and the Harvard College Women’s Center—traditionally create their own programming and have their own set of student interns. Last November, the College’s diversity report stated that the diversity offices “appear to engage in minimal collaboration, [which] seems both inefficient and ineffective,” despite working towards a similar cause.

“Harvard is very decentralized in a way that makes it easy for students to slip through the cracks,” Brianna J. Suslovic ’16, an intern at the Women’s Center, said. “Consolidation would be very helpful.”

According to Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn dela Peña, while administrators from each office meet twice a month to discuss initiatives, students need to collaborate even more in order to streamline practices.

“We have to overcome the tendency to want to do our own thing, but rather find places where our works intersects and be very intentional about doing that work together,” dela Peña said.

To avoid duplication in programming and connect students to appropriate resources, a student advisory council is also slated to be established next semester. The council will be comprised of representatives from each diversity office, the Undergraduate Council, the Phillips Brooks House Association, and students-at-large.

They will discuss what a comprehensive campus-wide response to diversity and inclusion would look like, according to dela Peña.

Joshua D. Blecher-Cohen ’16, an intern at the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, said that to create a more robust conversation around diversity, it is important to involve other offices that may not directly handle issues of diversity.

“It’s critical that every office on campus be committed to inclusivity, not just those that explicitly focus on student diversity issues,” he said, adding that the Office of BGLTQ Student Life has collaborated with several administrative offices.

The College will also roll out diversity peer educators, a team of undergraduates slated to run discussion groups about socio-economic status, gender, according to dela Peña, further streamlining the offices.

Suslovic, though, said she is concerned that this particular initiative compounds the administrative confusion already existing within the diversity offices.

“The thing I worry about is that diversity peer educators are in danger of duplicating work or not getting a good sense of who is responsible for what,” Suslovic said.

Dela Peña said that the diversity peer educator program is still new, and that they are still “working out some of the kinks.” She added that greater integration between offices will only come with increased communication.

“The most important thing to do is to communicate across offices and find the time to get together. We tried to organize a final retreat towards end of semester and we just couldn’t get student schedules together,” she said.

—Staff Writer Jessica Min can be reached at jessica.min@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessmin17.

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