Kennedy School Professors Speak Out Against Trump’s ‘Shithole’ Comment

Harvard Kennedy School
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in 2017.
Several Kennedy School of Government professors and administrators said President Trump’s recent comments about “shithole” countries were not only disappointing but damaging for the future of institutions like the Kennedy School.

During a meeting with lawmakers earlier this month about a bipartisan immigration deal, Trump asked, “Why are we having all of these people from shithole countries come here?” in reference to El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries, according to The Washington Post. He continued by saying the United States should accept more immigrants from places like Norway and Asian countries.

Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf responded to Trump’s comments in an email sent to Kennedy School affiliates a few days after the story about the controversial remarks broke.

“The term that was reportedly used by the president should not be used by any national leader to describe any other nation,” Elmendorf wrote in the email. “We should all expect better from our public leaders, and I certainly expect better from the president of my country.”

The Kennedy School admits students from 104 different countries, according to school spokesperson Doug Gavel. Forty-seven percent of students and approximately 23 percent of faculty come from outside the U.S.


Professor Matthew A. Baum, who studies global communications, said the rhetoric coming from the White House is damaging to goals the government may want to achieve both domestically and internationally.

“It’s very empowering to people that share his views to verbalize them more aggressively and loudly, which coarsens public discourse and reduces trust and raises misunderstanding, hostility—just basically the opposite of what you would want if the goal is to foster dialogue, communication, understanding, respect and those sorts of things,” Baum said.

Dara Kay Cohen, an associate professor of public policy, conducted research for her first book in Sierra Leone and El Salvador. She is currently researching public opinion, political violence, and gender in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Cohen said she observed the challenging lifestyles people faced in these countries, citing high infant mortality and outbreaks of disease.

“The people who I met, the sort of ordinary people who lived their lives in those countries, struck me as living their lives with immense amount of dignity and hope and resilience, given the incredible challenges they have faced in all three countries in recent decades,” Cohen said.

Baum said President Trump’s comments make it difficult for the Kennedy School to recruit students, especially those who hail from foreign countries.

“It’s a really tough situation for institutions focused on building or attracting smart talented people to be public leaders because the role of a public leader is being challenged or undermined and it makes recruitment of the best and the brightest more difficult,” Baum said. “The more people are cynical and distrusting and don’t think the government works or don’t think they can rely on the institutions of government, the less likely they are to want to make that their career.”

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @a_achaidez.