Harvard undergraduates gathered in Holden Chapel Sunday to share concerns over the state of campus diversity initiatives, an event which concluded the Harvard Foundation’s week of Cultural Rhythms programming.
To begin the town hall, Foundation interns Cengiz Cemaloglu ’18 and Olutoyin Demuren ’18 asked attendees—including Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana—how the College “can build the Harvard we desire.”
Students largely pointed to an issue over a perceived lack of social spaces as fostering exclusivity at the College. Multiple attendees said they were disheartened by barriers to access of certain spaces, such as Greek organizations, final clubs, and some recognized organizations with rigid comp processes.
Students gathered Sunday afternoon in a town hall to tackle the question of how they could build a more inclusive Harvard.
Salma Abdelrahman ’20, an Undergraduate Council representative for Elm Yard who attended the town hall, highlighted the impact a lack of social spaces could have on future freshmen.
“The culture that you establish in freshman year really carries on throughout the rest of the four years,” she said. “If people are finding social spaces to be exclusive and that they have to comp things so that they can find social spaces, that sort of sets the tone for the rest of the four years.”
Administrators have attempted to grapple with this issue for some time. O’Dair, Khurana, and others have repeatedly cited a desire to recenter students’ social lives from off-campus spaces back to residential spaces like Houses and dorms. In a historic move, Khurana and University President Drew G. Faust unveiled a policy in May 2016 that will punish members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations beginning with the Class of 2021.
Attendees also pointed to what they called a lack of accountability measures for House tutors and freshman proctors, arguing that race relations tutors’ performance across Houses is largely unregulated and variable. They also said they found the tutors to be poorly trained.
O’Dair said College administrators had already begun to implement reforms for tutor training so that “students have the same experience in each of the Houses.” She said the College implemented a pilot program in January to strengthen training for Consent Advocates and Relationship Educators tutors, who work in Houses to promote good sexual health and conduct.
O’Dair added the College will look to expand the trainings to other tutorships, such as race relations tutors.
“It’s a pilot, but it’s a pilot we may want to replicate with other tutors,” O’Dair said. “So for example, with race relations tutors, we’d want to ensure competency training. We want to ensure that not just race relations tutors, but all tutors are able to work on issues of difference, on issues of sexual assault, prevention.”
Administrators largely remained quiet throughout the meeting, only speaking up near the end. Khurana said he hopes Sunday’s discussion will lead to further dialogue between students and administrators.
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