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An Over-Checked Pulse

By Justin F. Gonzalez
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Currently, students’ Canvas dashboards for class assignments are overwhelmed by an advertisement for a ten question, three minute pilot “Pulse Survey.” The survey was one of several recommendations of a University-wide Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, which released its final report last spring under then-University President Drew G. Faust.

But that’s not the only request Harvard students have received over the course of the last couple weeks to complete a climate survey. Harvard College Institutional Research emailed the student body to ask that it complete a 10-to-15-minute survey on “academic, social, and extra-curricular experiences over this past year.” Some departments have asked their concentrators to complete a new Bureau of Study Counsel survey to gauge the need for improved student support services. And, in light of controversy surrounding Winthrop Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.’s legal defense of former film producer Harvey Weinstein, the College has asked Winthrop House residents to complete a climate survey about their sense of inclusion in the House. In short, Harvard students — particularly undergraduates — have been inundated with requests for surveys. But to what end?

Harvard is overusing surveys. While we recognize that the administration is employing them as a tool to better understand the needs and feelings of students — especially in respect to diversity and inclusion — we believe that the high frequency of use has rendered surveys as both redundant and increasingly ineffective. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, students have made their perspective amply clear.

Among other such positions, this Board and other student groups have consistently advocated in favor of a multicultural center. In fact, the 2015 report of a College working group on diversity and inclusion identifies that “cultural centers can have a positive impact on their institutions.” The report further details how many peer institutions have provided such a space for many years now. In comparison, Harvard lags notably behind. In 2017, the implementation committee for the College’s policy on single-gender social organizations produced a report which once again called on the creation of a “multicultural agora.” The administration should not need another survey to realize that a multicultural center is long overdue.

The demands for ethnic studies department is another long-standing issue that students have been petitioning for the past 47 years. The latest petition and rally by students and alumni occured after the departure of two tenure-track professors specializing in Asian-American studies. Does the University really need more evidence of the need for this department?

Harvard can also show its commitment to taking students concerns of diversity and inclusion seriously by working to improve services for non-binary students and mental health services for the student body in general. In fairness, the creation of a working group comprised of the Harvard University Health Services and the Office of BGLTQ Student Life — following last year’s student health survey — constitutes a valuable first step. The specific mission of this group is to “gain a deeper understanding of the data and to develop data-driven interventions to improve the emotional wellbeing of BGLTQ students.”

A student health survey has already been completed. A working group has been established; students await concrete actions. Still, Harvard releases yet another survey.

Ultimately, the sheer number of surveys speaks to a pervasive institutional deafness. Harvard is eager to say that it hears students. Indeed, the University has entirely adopted this claim as the title of its upcoming summit on gender equity, ”Harvard Hears You.” Yet ironically, this summit is set to coincide with the start of still another climate survey — now on sexual misconduct. This proclamation of hearing reminds us of our attempts to be heard. Students have made their opinions known; another survey is not a substitute for meaningful progress.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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