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Dean for Diversity to Depart Harvard in October

Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn de la Peña writes down guidelines for the discussion on the recently-published report written by Harvard's Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Topics discussed ranged from the lack of diverse representation in the College's general education program to the problems faced by Arab Americans, who feel that they go unrecognized on campus.
Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn de la Peña writes down guidelines for the discussion on the recently-published report written by Harvard's Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Topics discussed ranged from the lack of diverse representation in the College's general education program to the problems faced by Arab Americans, who feel that they go unrecognized on campus.
By Jalin P. Cunningham, Crimson Staff Writer

Emelyn A. dela Peña, the College’s assistant dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion, will leave her position this October, adding to recent administrative shakeup within the Office of Student Life.

Dela Peña's departure for a new position at Washington University at St. Louis, announced in an email to College staff by new Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, comes at a busy time for the school's student life branch. Over the past year, the College has sought to rein in its unrecognized social organizations and implement recommendations from a diversity and inclusion working group.

Dela Peña was the first administrator to hold her particular position, and in her time at the College she oversaw the rollout of a new bias reporting system and assisted Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana in developing a response to a sexual assault prevention report released in March. She also sat in with him and other College administrators on several meetings with single gender social organizations last year in the hopes of negotiating with them to go gender-neutral.

Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn de la Peña at an event in the wake of a diversity task force report.
Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn de la Peña at an event in the wake of a diversity task force report. By Savannah I. Whaley

One of dela Peña's smaller initiatives last year sparked wide criticism. Last winter, dela Peña’s office and the Freshman Dean’s Office released a poster in the shape of a placemat meant to guide students through family conversations about race over the holidays. The placemats that drew ire and criticism for what some called administrative overreach and political correctness. Even University President Drew G. Faust joined the critics, calling the posters “a really bad idea.”

Dela Peña said that her's and Khurana’s work to curb the influence of single-gender, unrecognized social groups had “nothing to do” with the timing of her transition. In fact, prior to her decision to leave the College, dela Peña noted she was looking forward to “continuing the conversation” about exclusivity and gender equity in Harvard’s social scene this year, as well as overseeing the rollout of the College's policy starting with the Class of 2021.

“I wish I could have seen through the implementation of the policy,” she said.

Dela Peña’s position was created in 2014, and she said the Office of Student Life will launch a national search for her replacement in “coming weeks.” In the interim period, O’Dair will supervise the directors of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the Women’s Center, and Office of BGLTQ Student Life.

Dela Peña’s follows a recent string of departures at the Office of Student Life. Khurana announced the resignation of former Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde last January, and this summer the College announced a permanent replacement— O’Dair. Also this summer, former Director of BGLTQ Student Life Van Bailey left the College for a position at the University of Miami.

Dela Peña said she found the College to be a positive working environment.

“I don’t think there’s anything in the climate that is making us flee the campus. I loved my time here, and I really appreciate what Harvard has done for me,” she said.

According to O’Dair’s announcement, dela Peña will officially vacate her deanship on Oct. 20. In St. Louis, her official title will be associate vice chancellor for student affairs, as well as dean for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion.

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

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