University President Drew G. Faust discussed educational inequality last week in Washington, D.C. in front of a crowd of 600 at a “Your Harvard” alumni event.
The event, which featured remarks from U.S. Representative John R. Lewis, took place at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that banned racial segregation on buses in 1956.
The evening was the latest in a series of “Your Harvard” appearances Faust has made around the country and world, including in Beijing, Mexico City, New York, and Boston. Tailored to alumni and Harvard supporters, the events have coincided with Harvard’s ongoing capital campaign, which has raised more than $8 billion as of June 2017 and will end in June 2018.
Calling Lewis one of her heroes, Faust recalled the education efforts of 1,500 volunteers who registered voters and started “freedom schools” during the summer of 1964.
“What Freedom Summer volunteer could have imagined that we would still be discussing today, in this museum, the persisting gap in educational attainment in a nation where, after more than 50 years, access to education is still not equal?” Faust said.
Lewis talked about how civil rights leaders inspired him, adding that he commended Harvard graduates who challenge injustice.
“Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and my teachers inspired me to get in the way, to get in trouble,” Lewis said, “what I call today ‘the good trouble.’ And I want to thank you, as graduates of Harvard University, as leaders, for getting in the way. Thank you for getting into trouble.”
Faust reflected on Harvard’s role in educational equity, calling for continued efforts to close the education gap.
“The pursuit of truth and the pursuit of education have defined Harvard’s purpose. And that purpose has led inexorably — even if far too gradually and sometimes haltingly — toward increasing access and inclusion, toward opening the gates of learning,” Faust said. “We must continue to advance the hope and the reality of what education can achieve.”
The event also included a faculty panel about inequity in education with Law School professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin, economics professor Roland G. Fryer, and Dean of the Graduate School of Education James Ryan.
Fryer, who is the faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory, said that schools can be “accelerators” for students who attend them. But he added that students' backgrounds can influence how much they’re able to bring to their educations.
“Some of the best schools in the world can take kids who are in poverty and get them to ‘pass the test.’ But if we got them kids who just got more sleep or were ready to learn when they got there, they would be ready to excel more,” Fryer said. “I believe in parents having more choices. We need to decouple the relationship between exactly where you live and the quality of education.”
At past “Your Harvard” events, Faust has spoken about and hosted panels on the importance of the University’s global reach.
—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.
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