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HKS Students Discuss Diversity at New Admits Day

Harvard Kennedy School students handed out information sheets about issues of diversity and inclusion at New Admit Day Friday to raise awareness of their concerns about minority representation at the school.

The school has faced internal criticism recently about the lack of minority students, faculty, and staff. Students have been at the forefront of pushing for more diversity at the school, urging administrators to hire and recruit more minority faculty and students. Student activists have met on several occasions with Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf to raise their concerns and offer recommendations about improving the numbers of underrepresented minorities.

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New Admit Day was a venue for many of these students to voice concerns about the current state of diversity at HKS while also highlighting the school’s recent progress, organizers of the initiative said. The flyer—handed to prospective students as they attended panels and speeches throughout the day—discussed recent Crimson articles about diversity at the Kennedy School, listed “ongoing” diversity initiatives including the engagement of more faculty around these conversations, and invited admitted students to various events centered around this work.

The flyer also included a link to an open letter the students plan to present to new Diversity Dean Robbin Chapman at a meeting of the Kennedy School Student Government Tuesday.

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Students who organized, designed, and handed out the sheets said they wanted to educate new students about the work they said still needs to be done.

“There’s been a lot of momentum building around issues of diversity and inclusion and wanting to keep the conversation going, and wanting to make sure that the first year students who are going to be here next year are part of the conversation,” Meredith Davis-Tavera, a co-chair for the HKS Latinx Caucus, said.

Davis-Tavera also said conversations about diversity have not been a part of New Admit Day, adding that the initiative’s organizers wanted to emphasize ongoing student activism around minority recruitment.

“Part of it was wanting students to be aware of the fact that we know that HKS isn't the most diverse place, but also that there's a big contingent of students that really care about the issue and have devoted a lot of time to the issue,” Davis-Tavera said.

Kennedy School spokesperson Thoko Moyo wrote in an emailed statement that the school supports conversations around minority representation and inclusion.

“At the Kennedy School we encourage open and honest dialogue on a range of important issues, including how to enhance diversity, inclusion and belonging at the Kennedy School and in the world,” Moyo said.

Some current students at the school expressed their concern about the flyers discouraging students from ultimately attending.

“I’m glad that these important issues are getting the attention that they deserve, but not thrilled with some of the tactics used,” Sasha Ramani, a current student ambassador with the HKS admissions office, said. “This instantly created a combative atmosphere, and I don’t think that this would be helpful at recruiting minorities.”

Rosi Greenberg, a current student who helped plan the flyers, said organizers “talked a lot” about not wanting to push prospective students away from the school but said she believed they were able “hit the sweet spot.”

Newly admitted student Aaron Huang said he was “undecided” before coming to New Admit Day but that the presence of students interested in promoting diversity tipped his decision in favor of the Kennedy School.

“I think along with other people interested in policy we're really looking to see how we can effect positive change in the world, and with this flyer, it was a call to act at the Kennedy School,” Huang said. “I felt like that was one immediate way that I could affect change is to join the Kennedy School and figure out how I could improve diversity at one of our country's top policy schools.”

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

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