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Harvard Kennedy School Still Mostly White and Male, Newest Report Indicates

HKS New Campus
Harvard Kennedy School.

A demographic report at the Harvard Kennedy School last year provoked outrage when it revealed the school was mostly white and male and struggles to recruit and retain minorities. A year later, that remains the case, according to the latest data.

The data, released to Kennedy School affiliates in a four-page report Thursday, indicates little change in the low numbers of underrepresented minorities who attend, teach, and work at the school.

“The report shows that the Kennedy School community is not as diverse along various dimensions as it should be in order to achieve full excellence in our mission,” Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote in an email introducing the report. “We are not satisfied with the current situation and are committed to taking further steps to improve diversity, as well as inclusion and belonging.”

The Kennedy School last collected internal data on the demographics of its students, faculty, and staff as part of a task force on diversity in 2017. A draft report of the data, leaked to the press, presented stark statistics: African-American and Latinx faculty members numbered in the single digits, women made up less than a third of faculty members, and the yield rate among African- American students was declining, among other findings.

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Addressing the lack of faculty diversity it found, the 2017 report read, “Without that diversity, we risk taking narrow views on policy issues important to our students and to the world and to missing important issues altogether.”

Its findings sparked protests and conversations among students and faculty about the dearth of minorities and women at the school. Acting on the recommendations from the report, the school hired Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Robbin Chapman and instituted bias trainings for senior administrators.

Still, a year later, the numbers have hardly budged. According to the latest demographic report, men represented 53 percent of the student body and 71 percent of the faculty — nearly the same percentages as in the 2017 report. Women maintained a significant majority among staff, making up again 70 percent of staffers at HKS.

The 2018 report — which only examines U.S. citizens at the school — also provided a breakdown of the demographics of each degree program. In the Masters in Public Policy program, the largest the school offers, the percentage of African-American students increased from 4 percent in 2015 to 7 percent in 2018. Last year’s report found that students who identified as Hispanic constituted 7 percent of the student body in 2015; in 2018, “Hispanic/Latinx” students made up the same proportion.

The number of Asian-American students pursuing the MPP degree, however, increased noticeably between this year and last. In the 2017 report, Asian Americans made up 7 percent of MPP students, whereas the 2018 report showed Asian-American students represented 17 percent of students.

Chapman said the dean and senior staff — the team which produced this inaugural public report — could not explain the jump.

“That’s part of the work we are going to be doing moving forward,” Chapman said.

The faculty data showed even less of a shift from previous reports. In the 2018 report, 79 percent of professors identified as white. Only one professor identified as “Hispanic/Latinx,” and the report said two professors are Black or African American.

Elmendorf wrote in his email to HKS affiliates that the 2018 report followed a recommendation from the 2017 task force to conduct follow up studies. He said administrators plan to update these reports “each fall,” and Chapman said the school will release demographic breakdowns every October moving forward.

Several Kennedy School affiliates said the very existence of the report shows the school’s commitment to improving diversity at the school.

“The timing of the report was really important because as students, a lot of us have continued meeting on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues,” Kennedy School Latinx Caucus Co-Chair Amanda R. Matos said. “For us, it was timely in the sense that we have a lot planned for this year to make sure that this is still on our administration’s radar.”

Some students pointed to what they consider to be several flaws in the report’s methodology.

HKS Black Student Union President Akina E. Younge said she was “happy” to have concrete numbers but is still concerned about the details of the report.

“I think that’s really important that we have data and information that we can all talk about,” Younge said. “That doesn’t mean that the data is completely correct or representative.”

Specifically, Younge worried the inclusion of students who are completing dual degrees at other Harvard graduate schools inflated the numbers of minorities — rendering the data less representative of the Kennedy School’s full-time student population.

“By including the joint degree [students], it means that, if the purpose is to tell us what the experience is like for people on campus, it’s not actually doing that because this isn’t representing the folks and the experiences of being on campus if we’re including people who are not on campus and who are not in the classroom with us,” she said.

Chapman said the number of students completing joint degrees is “very small compared to the overall number of students” and did not “skew” the data.

HKS Professor Khalil G. Muhammad said the report showed “room for improvement,” especially because it did not contain demographic or admissions data collected from previous years. The document presented only statistics from 2018.

“I’m surprised that this report, if it is the final template, does not reflect historical data. It seems to be a moment in time report,” Muhammad said. “It seems to be the only way to measure progress or retrogression over time is to actually see what's happened in prior years, and this report doesn’t have that.”

In light of the numbers, Elmendorf wrote that the school has begun expanding student recruitment to include more candidates from diverse backgrounds and is “revisiting” the procedures for faculty searches to “de-bias selection processes.”

Still, while racial and ethnic minorities remain very much in the minority, Matos said it is difficult to be confronted with that reality.

“No matter how often I think and breathe and live about issues tied to race and ethnicity, it is still no matter what, very jarring to see when for me, as a person of color, sometimes called a minority, seeing myself reflected in small numbers,” Matos said. “It hits my heart in a way I can never fully be prepared for.”

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

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