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Doctoral Students Charge Insufficient Support for Cultural Affinity Groups in Proposal

Lehman Hall is the main building for the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Lehman Hall is the main building for the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. By Jessica M. Wang
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Luke A. Williams, Crimson Staff Writers

Leaders of several Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student groups submitted a proposal to administrators in December calling for major changes to the way GSAS and Dudley House support affinity groups.

Graduate students from Harvard Graduate Women in Science and Engineering, the W.E.B. Du Bois Graduate Society, the Harvard GSAS Latinx Student Association, and the Harvard LGBTQ@GSAS Association signed the proposal last semester. They wrote that Dudley House Faculty Deans James M. Hogle and Doreen M. Hogle — who will step down in June 2019 — and Dudley House administrator Susan Zawalich have declined to fully support their groups.

“Dudley House has perpetuated — particularly in the charge of Jim Hogle and Susan Zawalich — perspectives, politics, and policies at the GSAS organizational level that treat underrepresented students and LGBTQ students as separate and unequal,” the proposal reads.

In the document, the graduate students proposed a new framework for how Harvard handles diversity-related programming aimed at graduate students. Their suggestions come after GSAS Dean Emma Dench announced in October that Dudley House would split into two groups — the Dudley Community, which will serve undergraduates that live outside the House system, and a graduate student center housed in Lehman Hall.

The document calls on GSAS to implement 12 changes including replacing Zawalich, creating a GSAS Diversity Student Center, and increasing funds for affinity groups. The students also advocated for the creation of a diversity and inclusion committee within each department and a student-led board to oversee programming at Lehman Hall.

The students wrote that administrators should increase support structures for underrepresented minorities and BGLTQ students. They called for an increase in the number of Dudley Fellows, students who organize programming in fields including music, art, and public service. Under the proposed framework, half of the fellows would oversee diversity-related programming and half would support extracurriculars.

The proposal claims that events held at Lehman Hall have long been imbalanced and unrepresentative of the GSAS student body.

Graduate students have submitted grievances concerning the lack of Black History Month programming as early as 1996, according to the proposal. The students cited Zawalich’s February 2016 decision to host a French Film Festival in lieu of planning any Black History Month programming. They also charged that Zawalich showed “racial bias” by placing a statue of a “silent black butler” in her office.

“It may be useful to hire an independent content analyst to review and code all Dudley programming for the last five years to see how much programming has been given to represent and highlight the white European cultural experience and popular idiom,” the students wrote.

When affinity groups do host diversity-related events, Dudley House administrators have been unresponsive, according to the proposal.

In response to the criticisms laid out in the proposal, GSAS spokesperson Ann Hall wrote in an email that the school remains committed to diversity-related programming.

“Staff works closely with student leaders from multiple student groups, providing administrative support and serving in an advisory capacity,” Hall wrote. “In addition to making funding available, the GSAS [Office of Diversity and Minority Affairs], Student Affairs, and Student Services teams work in an advisory capacity with all student groups in a variety of ways, including by providing grant-writing support, professional development opportunities, and through attendance at meetings and events.”

GSAS alumna Leena M. Akhtar, who graduated in 2017 and is currently a lecturer in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, provided information for the proposal in December. She wrote in an email that she believes the proposal is a positive step because of what she considers administrators’ previous inaction.

“In the course of advocating for marginalized students, I noticed that issues would be brought to the table, and perhaps meetings would be held, but that little tangible action resulted,” Akhtar wrote.

LBGTQ@GSAS member Madeleine F. Jennewein — who wrote in an email that she also gave feedback for the proposal — agreed with Akhtar. She wrote that Dudley House administrators have failed to create a positive environment for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“At the end of the day, Harvard lags massively behind its peer institutions in matters of diversity and inclusion, and has for at least a decade,” Jennewein wrote. “This is a massive disincentive for minority students to enroll, regardless of the resources of Harvard, if we don't feel welcome, we won't come here, and I'd venture that many minority students do not feel welcome here.”

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Luke A. Williams can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @LukeAWilliams22.

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