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College Adds New Diversity Office

Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde works in his office in University Hall on Monday afternoon in anticipation of Housing Day. Administrators have been increasingly concerned about the amount of time students spend on extracurricular activity.
Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde works in his office in University Hall on Monday afternoon in anticipation of Housing Day. Administrators have been increasingly concerned about the amount of time students spend on extracurricular activity.
By Ivan B. K. Levingston, Crimson Staff Writer

The Office of Student Life opened a new office this fall to provide additional resources for first-generation, foster-home, and undocumented students, supplementing existing offices focused on diversity at the College.

The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, as it is called, is currently not staffed, but the OSL will likely name the office’s inaugural director in the next few weeks, according to Emelyn A. dela Peña, the College's assistant dean of student life for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The office will fall under the purview of dela Peña, who also oversees the College’s other diversity-centered offices, the Office of BGLTQ Student Life and the Harvard College Women’s Center. While these offices are also dedicated to supporting programs related to diversity, dela Peña said the new office offers an expansion in resources and staff and fills gaps in programming.

“There are so many dimensions of diversity that we don’t even talk about,” dela Peña said. “We’re not taking away anything from these offices; in fact, we’re adding support to them.”

The current freshman class is one of the most diverse in recent years, and 16 percent of freshmen who responded to The Crimson’s survey of the Class of 2019 are first-generation college students.

For his part, Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde said he hopes the new office will reach a new segment of the student body.

Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde.
Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde. By Thomas W. Franck

“It was out of a desire to be really egalitarian in our approach,” Lassonde said. “We haven’t done enough to make sure people feel included and welcome.”

In addition to searching for a new director, the OSL has also solicited applications from students who wish to serve as diversity peer educators; the application period ended Wednesday. Students hired for the position will facilitate workshops and dialogue in the Houses and Yard. The peer educators, who will be paid, will first complete an eight-week training program.

Peer educators’ work in the Houses is part of an effort that both dela Peña and Lassonde characterized as a deliberate attempt to engage more with the Houses.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at ivan.levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

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