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Harvard Hears Us, But Is It Listening?

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

The University recently announced that on April 2 — the first day undergraduates will be able to access the 2019 Association of American Universities’ sexual conduct climate survey — Harvard will also hold its first ever gender equity summit. Entitled “Harvard Hears You: The 2019 Summit for Gender Equality,” the summit brings together the University’s Title IX Office and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs to host events around gender equality.

The summit is a laudable and important effort, especially as it convenes influential public figures, such as Laverne Cox, and administrators together to discuss this issue. Gender inequality continues to trouble our campus, as it negotiates a number of allegations, investigations, and climate-improvement initiatives related to sexual misconduct and gender inclusivity; this is a significant step in bringing attention to this conversation. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore several problems with this in its initial stages.

As described in the announcement, the summit purports to address not only campus issues, but national and global gender equity as well. While such large scale issues are important to discuss, we feel it is more pressing for the University to address the vast and varied instances of gender inequality on our campus. The conference threatens to become less effective if it stretches its focus on the global implications of gender equity. Instead, it should seek to discuss localized issues and actionable methods to combat gender inequality here at Harvard.

In addition, we feel the intentional alignment of the summit and the second iteration of the AAU’s sexual conduct climate survey seem too convenient for comfort. Such a concurrence may undermine the genuine intentions of the University in spearheading this inaugural event. The University should continue to pursue discussion and action against gender inequality, even when there exists no impending campus climate evaluation.

As administrators continue to plan and organize this event, we hope to see women of color from the administration included in the available list of speakers. The summit offers an enormous opportunity to address the intersectionality of gender by including speakers and topics that address the theme from diverse perspectives.

Laverne Cox’s participation demonstrates the University’s commitment to thinking about gender in a broad and nuanced way. One speaker, however, is not enough. To avoid tokenism and over-simplification, the University should involve a more diverse group of its own faculty and staff in this event. Actively bringing diverse voices to the table and podium should continue to be a priority of the University, both in its more public events — like the summit — and in other less-visible initiatives.

Overall, we commend the University in its work to further discussion of gender equity. Holding large scale conversations is an important first step, and we look forward to further information on the summit as it is planned. Still, the University, both in its organization of this summit and in general, needs to do a considerable amount of work before they can truthfully claim that they not only hear us, but are really listening too.

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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