Letter to the Editor: Promoting an Inclusive Community for All GSAS Students

To the Editor:

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is dedicated to promoting a diverse and inclusive community for all members of our student body. Recent Crimson reporting and an editorial by The Crimson Editorial Board have criticized the diversity efforts of GSAS without a clear representation of the many programs, activities, and people that have advanced — and continue to advance — these efforts. These reports have inferred that named members of the GSAS staff are culpable in holding diversity back at the school. What I have found most troubling is the way in which reporting has drawn attention to and magnified personal attacks on GSAS staff, leaving no room for respectful dialogue and constructive conversation.

Less than 10 years ago, underrepresented student enrollment in GSAS stood at 4 percent. Since then, thanks to recruitment efforts led by the GSAS Office of Diversity and Minority Affairs working with our faculty, that number has tripled. ODMA runs a number of pipeline programs that give undergraduates the research experience necessary to pursue graduate study at Harvard and elsewhere. They work with student groups to provide advice and other support. Their activities — too numerous to mention here — during and after business hours and on weekends, are a labor of love and a testament to their exceptional commitment to our students.

Inclusion and belonging are a priority for me as dean, as it was for my predecessors. I’ve seen firsthand the efforts of the Dudley House leadership, staff, and fellows to make Dudley a welcoming home for all students. In October, it was announced that Dudley House will transition to form the Dudley Community for undergraduates and the GSAS Student Center for graduate students. As The Crimson has reported, GSAS launched a yearlong information gathering process, which will inform our search for the inaugural center director and provide direction for the shape of the student center to come. We have surveyed students, met with student groups to hear their perspectives, and asked students to serve on the executive director selection committee. As has been mentioned, GSAS received a proposal on diversity from concerned students. It has been closely read, has been and will continue to be discussed with student leaders, and will be considered, along with other suggestions, as we continue the review process over the next academic year. I want to stress that we are currently in the information gathering phase and have not yet determined what shape the GSAS Student Center will take. No changes will be made without a thoughtful, inclusive process that ensures all students have the opportunity to participate.

Can GSAS do better? Of course we can, and we must: GSAS, like the rest of the University, has taken to heart the sobering message from the final report of the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging and is committed to furthering change that will ensure that all the remarkable students who have chosen to come to Harvard feel welcome here and have what they need to reach their full potential. That is why we are dedicated to soliciting and gathering feedback from students. That is why we develop new programming and initiatives, such as the creation of the diversity and inclusion fellows. That is the work of GSAS. We look forward to continuing to engage in respectful, rational discussion that advances the needs of everyone in our community.


Emma Dench is the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History and of the Classics.