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Harvard Announces 2020 Culture Lab Innovation Fund Winners

Massachusetts Hall houses a number of administrative offices, including the Office of the President.
Massachusetts Hall houses a number of administrative offices, including the Office of the President. By Sydney R. Mason
By Jessica Lee and Christina T. Pham, Crimson Staff Writers

The Office for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging recently announced the winners of the 2020 Harvard Culture Lab Innovation Fund, a grant launched by the Office of the President and the University’s Office for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging last fall.

Out of 98 applications, 10 proposals received funding to address critical challenges regarding diversity and inclusion at Harvard, and two projects received scaling grants to expand their initiatives.

The judges selected winning proposals based on their alignment with goals set by the Presidential Task Force Report on Inclusion and Belonging, which was released in March 2018, as well as other review criteria, such as inclusive design, innovative approach, measurable impact, and multidisciplinary collaboration.

Jainaba M. Seckan, a project manager at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said the winning proposals target the needs of Harvard’s most vulnerable populations.

“Just looking at undocumented students, students with disabilities, LGBTQ community members, first-gen low-income, racial minorities, marginalized minorities, we're really happy to see that the communities that are certainly in need, those issues are being addressed,” Seckan said.

The grant is dedicated to funding projects that advance a “culture of belonging” at Harvard, according to its mission statement.

“Each of the awarded projects directly enhances the experiences of those from Harvard’s groups previously excluded or marginalized, while indirectly improving the overall campus culture,” John S. Wilson, senior adviser and strategist to University President Lawrence S. Bacow, wrote in an emailed statement. “That is both long overdue and especially important during these difficult times.”

The winning projects aim to increase inclusivity at Harvard via a range of methods. Some focus on academics, like “SySTEMatic,” which will create software to aggregate mentorship opportunities for women interested in STEM. Others are visual, like “A Walk in My Shoes” and “Map of Inclusive Symbols and Spaces,” a project which maps Harvard’s campus using portraits and other artifacts representing marginalized groups.

Nicolas W. Freeman, a Harvard Medical School student and project lead of “A Walk in My Shoes: Fostering Empathy for Gender Diversity Across Harvard,” said their project aims to address unconscious bias surrounding gender identity through an immersive film event.

“I think that an area that Harvard continues to work on is making sure that we have an inclusive space for people of all various gender identities to come together, to see each other, and to have really meaningful and empathetic conversations with each other across these differences,” Freeman said.

Citing nationwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, several project leads said Harvard has a particular responsibility to support Black students.

Amanda K. Sharick, senior program manager of the Graduate Commons Program and leader of “NextGen Initiative,” which aims to aid first generation and low income students, said that “even within the first-generation student experience, we really need to focus in on our Black and brown first generation students and peers and colleagues.”

LaNell A. Williams, a Ph.D Candidate in Physics at Harvard University, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and project lead of “The Women+ of Color Project @ Harvard,” which guides women of color through graduate school applications, also said Harvard must focus on Black students.

“When Black students don't continue to leave this space feeling as if they don’t belong, when students of color stop leaving this space feeling as if they don't belong — because it is historical and it continues to happen — that's when we’ve done our job,” Williams said.

—Staff writer Jessica Lee can be reached at

—Staff writer Christina T. Pham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Christina_TPham.

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