Students Draft 'Social Justice Agenda' for New Medical Dean

More than a hundred gathered at the Medical School Wednesday to develop a list of priorities for the new dean to help make the school more diverse, convening after a semester of campus activism aimed at selecting a leader dedicated to the issue.

The event was organized by students at the Medical and Dental School and included discussion groups in which students generated items for a “social justice agenda” they plan to deliver to the new dean George Q. Daley ’82, who was in attendance. They requested more representation of students on faculty search committees and increased diversity within the student body.

Harvard Medical School
Harvard Medical School.

The discussion among students, faculty, and staff comes months after student activists amplified efforts to influence the Medical School dean search, and after a year of heightened campus activism surrounding issues of diversity. In January, members of the Racial Justice Coalition, comprised of Medical and Dental School students, delivered a petition to University President Drew G. Faust calling on administrators to select a dean dedicated to increasing diversity. About 300 students signed the petition.

The group also requested that at least a quarter of candidates interviewed for the dean position—vacated in July after Jeffrey S. Flier announced last fall he would step down—“come from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine.” The group also requested that the new dean had “demonstrated a commitment to social justice, as exemplified through actions and/or scholarship furthering health equity.”

At the event, Medical School professor and renowned humanitarian Paul Farmer gave an address highlighting the importance of student voices in decision-making.


“The students drive a lot of the agenda here, and a lot of the dean’s agenda,” he said.

Farmer spoke directly to Daley in response to a question about what a new dean can do to make widespread changes at the school.

“We need a more diverse faculty—senior faculty,” Farmer said, calling the issue of faculty diversity among the “obvious” challenges for Daley.

Daley, who will take over as dean in January 2017, spoke to the audience, his remarks unplanned.

“I will listen. I will listen to every one of you,” he said. “And I will commit myself, on behalf of Paul [Farmer], on behalf of all of you, to aspire to do better.”

The event also featured speeches from other progressive Harvard groups. Members of UNITE HERE Local 26, a union of Harvard dining hall workers currently in negotiations over benefits, spoke about rising healthcare costs and how Medical School students could get involved in their efforts.

Jayne Rice, a first-year Medical student who attended a historically black college before coming to Harvard, said she was pleased with the event.

“There was a reason I was hesitant about coming to Harvard. It wasn’t made for black people, it wasn’t made for minorities,” Rice said. “It’s really encouraging that students are very aware of these issues.”

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.


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