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HKS Reports More Than 50 Percent Drop in Black and African American Students Since 2021

By Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Kennedy School saw a more than 50 percent drop in enrolled students identifying as Black or African American in 2023 as compared to 2021, according to an annual diversity report released by the school Tuesday morning.

The number of Black or African American students at HKS dropped from 68 in 2021 to 31 this year. The school has also seen a drop overall in the proportion of enrolled American students and does not provide race and ethnicity data on international students.

The proportion of HKS students who identify as Black or African American dropped to nearly 7 percent of American students in 2023, compared to 9 percent in 2022 and 11 percent in 2021. The report also showed a decrease in the proportion of Latinx students — from approximately 13 percent of American students in 2021 to 10 percent in 2023.

The percentage of U.S. students who identify as Asian American increased from 18 to 25 percent of American students over the last two years. The proportion of white students from the U.S. remained the same at 51 percent.

The Kennedy School does not present data about the race and ethnicity of its international students because “race and ethnicity are interpreted differently in different settings around the world,” according to the school’s diversity report.

In an email to HKS affiliates announcing the results of the diversity report, Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said HKS must “redouble” efforts to diversify the student body.

“The reports are crucial in our efforts to understand demographic diversity at the Kennedy School and to see where we need to improve,” he wrote.

Elmendorf also announced the formation of a new diversity task force made up of faculty, staff, and students, which will aim to increase the demographic diversity of the student body while complying with the recent Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action.

The task force will be run by criminal justice professor Sandra Susan Smith and Assistant Dean for Enrollment Services Meredith C. Siegel.

According to the email, the Kennedy School is also mandating implicit bias training for degree program admissions readers as well as several initiatives to increase financial aid services at HKS, including the creation of an application fee waiver.

In February, Kennedy School students advocated for need-based application fee waivers in a letter to Elmendorf. Prior to this initiative, HKS was the only Harvard school aside from the extension school that did not provide a fee waiver for financial need.

The Kennedy School will also shift from a merit-based financial aid system to “a greater focus” on financial need in determining aid awards, according to Elmendorf.

History, race, and public policy professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad said in an interview last month that he noticed a significant drop in the number of Black students in the master in public policy program just from his own classes — a change he called a “severe problem.”

Faculty have said increasing the school’s diversity should be a major priority in the ongoing search for a new Kennedy School dean.

“I think the new dean should be as aggressive as possible to ensure that the population of the school at all levels from administration to faculty, staff, and students, reflects the lived and professional experiences of people from every group in society,” Muhammad said.

While the percentage of international students increased 4 percentage points to 56 percent according to the report, the percentage of international faculty dropped from 3 percentage points to 14 percent.

In interviews with The Crimson last month, several HKS faculty raised concerns about the discrepancy between the number of international students and what they described as a U.S.-centric slate of course offerings — another issue that will factor into the search for a new Kennedy School dean.

“If we’re going to continue to build classes that are at this level of international students, we will have to diversify the curriculum and enhance the faculty’s skill sets to meet their particular needs,” Muhammad said.

“The school remains U.S.-centric in terms of the expertise of its faculty, and that mismatch is a source of some challenge in the classroom, both for me and for many of my colleagues,” he added.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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