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Harvard SEAS Releases Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Strategic Plan

SEAS Sign
The John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences sign stands in front of Pierce Hall.

Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences released a five year strategic plan to address diversity, inclusion, and belonging at the school in an email to faculty, staff, and students earlier this week.

The report was created by the SEAS Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging in response to the data collected from a 2018 SEAS climate survey, which found more than a quarter of its respondents said that they have experienced harassment or discrimination during their time at SEAS.

The plan includes eight goals ranging from recruiting more diverse faculty, students, postdoctoral researchers, and staff to reducing and preventing instances of harassment or discrimination. It also includes expanding outreach programs promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in Cambridge and Allston.

Each of the eight goals has an associated set of recommendations for achieving that objective within the next five years. Each recommendation is also categorized as low or high cost, low or high effort, and identifies a timeline — either immediate, short-term, medium-term, or long-term.

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Alexis J. Stokes, DIB committee chair, wrote in an emailed statement that she is “hopeful” the report will advance the committee’s efforts.

“This was truly a collaborative effort and the actions to come will require the same collaborative approach,” she wrote.

Recommendations in the report include creating a community standards document to post throughout SEAS buildings and classrooms in order to “demonstrate an institutional commitment” to these issues, and a pledge to fund more diversity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives.

Another proposed initiative suggested developing bystander training specifically for SEAS faculty, meant to address harassment and discrimination. A version of the training was piloted this past summer and is planned to begin its official rollout this fall. Krzysztof Gajos, DIB committee vice chair, said he was “particularly hopeful” about this initiative.

“We believe we can immediately improve the culture at SEAS by giving faculty tools to recognize problematic situations and ways to intervene,” Gajos wrote in an emailed statement. “We focus on the faculty because the results of our climate survey indicate that what faculty say and do carries a lot of weight.”

Gajos added that he is focusing on a “bottom up approach” because he believes University-level administrators are ineffective.

“I feel powerless to change our policies and institutions, both of which are inadequate,” he wrote. “I am very hopeful about the future of [the Faculty of Arts and Sciences] under the leadership of Dean [Claudine] Gay — in several specific situations that were under her control, I saw her take decisive actions even though in some of those cases she encountered major resistance. However, many of the policies and institutions that impact climate at Harvard are under the control of the Provost and the President.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Gajos’s comments Tuesday evening.

The report also states that SEAS will continue to monitor their metrics by administering a climate survey every three years and publishing longitudinal demographic data online to “monitor data relevant to the reporting and evaluation of [diversity, inclusion, and belonging].”

Some proposed metrics for future reports include year-over-year change in concentrators based on demographics, course retention from registration to drop deadline, and recording participation in activities related to diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

This year’s report presents data related to current SEAS demographics. Undergraduate and graduate students, ladder and non-ladder faculty, and postdocs all overwhelmingly identify as male, while racial demographics differ across parts of the school. A majority of Ph.D. students at SEAS are international, while a large majority of both ladder and non-ladder faculty identify as white.

The report states a number of initiatives to improve these metrics, including fundraising to support post-undergraduate programming for students who lack preparation for graduate school. They also pledged to expand SEAS participation in diversity and STEM conferences, following complaints that SEAS did not attend the annual National Society of Black Engineers conference this past March.

Stokes said she is excited to begin implementing these recommendations, but understands the challenges that lie ahead.

“I am also acutely aware that this process will be uncomfortable and will require us to push through that discomfort until we see change,” Stokes wrote. “I am not saying this will be easy. There is nothing easy about diversity, equity, and inclusion work but I would argue it is some of the most rewarding work.”

— Staff writer Ruth A. Hailu can be reached at ruth.hailu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ruth_hailu_

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