UPDATED: September 28, 2016, at 7:20 p.m.
A University-wide committee of professors, staff, and alumni will begin to evaluate Harvard’s efforts to create an inclusive environment and recommend improvements, the University announced Wednesday—nearly a year after the College called for such a group’s formation.
In an email sent to Harvard affiliates, University President Drew G. Faust outlined the committee’s four main areas of focus: demographics of faculty, staff, and students across the University, the “fabric of the institution” and its cultures, academic resources provided to students, and the existing diversity organizations at Harvard. While different diversity programs and initiatives already exist at individual schools across Harvard, the committee will take a University-wide approach in its charge to better the climate for people of all identities.
“For nearly 400 years, Harvard has steadily—though often painfully slowly—opened its doors, as it has welcomed groups previously excluded from its faculty, staff, and student body,” Faust wrote in a memo outlining the purpose of the committee, called the “Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging.”
“But, as recent events both here and elsewhere have reminded us, much work remains to be done if we are to fulfill our ideals and if we are to succeed in educating leaders and scholars who can effectively contribute to a complex and too often fractured world,” Faust continued.
Danielle S. Allen, a Government professor, Archon Fung, a Kennedy School professor, and Meredith L. Weenick, vice president for campus services, will lead the committee.
Drawing its members from across Harvard’s schools, the 46-person task force includes four undergraduates: Undergraduate Council President Shaiba Rather ’17, William Oh ’18, Cameron K. Khansarinia '18, and Anshi M. Moreno Jimenez ’19. Additionally, two members of Harvard’s Board of Overseers—Kenji Yoshino ’91, a lawyer and the president of the body, and Michael M. Lynton ’82, the CEO of Sony—will serve on the task force.
In an interview Tuesday, Faust said the task force’s activities will consist largely of fact-finding meetings with groups across campus before they produce final recommendations.
“I believe that actually the process is going to be extraordinarily important, so this will have an impact even before there’s a final report as conversations take place and groups are gathered together to offer their opinions and insights,” Faust said.
Over the past few years, protests at Harvard and at schools across the country have brought race relations to the forefront of national and campus discourse. Last November, students marched in solidarity with activists pushing for racial equality at Yale and the University of Missouri; that same week, the College’s Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion released a lengthy report recommending an array of reforms regarding diversity at the school. In an email heralding the report, Faust accepted the working group’s call to form a University-wide task force that would consider similar issues.
“I wanted to understand what the particular contributions from the University-wide level could be, what are the issues that are best addressed at a University-wide level rather than a local level,” Faust said.
Beyond the College, students at the Medical School called on Faust last year to consider selecting a dean from a background underrepresented in medicine; the University ultimately selected stem cell researcher George Q. Daley ’82. And students at the Law School protested the school’s seal, which bore the crest of a former slaveholding family, eventually prompting the Harvard Corporation to retire the symbol.
Additionally, last spring Faust dedicated a plaque to the four enslaved people who lived and worked on campus in the 18th century and selected another committee to consider creating more memorials about slavery on campus. Harvard will host a conference about slavery and American universities in the spring.
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.