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Coalition for a Diverse Harvard Announces Endorsements for 2023 Board of Overseers Election

The Coalition for a Diverse Harvard endorsed five candidates for the upcoming Board of Overseers election.
The Coalition for a Diverse Harvard endorsed five candidates for the upcoming Board of Overseers election. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

The Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, an alumni advocacy group that aims to promote diversity and equity at the University, announced endorsements for five candidates in this year’s Board of Overseers election.

The Harvard Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body, offers advice on the direction of the University and provides guidance to top Harvard administrators. The Harvard Alumni Association Nominating Committee announced eight candidates in January for the five expected vacancies on the Board.

The Coalition on Thursday endorsed Arturo Elizondo ’14, CEO of a climate-conscious food tech company; Fiona Hill, a former adviser to President Barack Obama and chancellor of Durham University; Vanessa W. Liu ’96, a former Harvard Alumni Association president and tech entrepreneur; Robert L. Satcher Jr., an associate professor at the University of Texas and former astronaut; and Luis A. Ubiñas ’85, a non-profit leader.

Michael G. Williams ’81, a member of the Coalition’s board of directors, said in a Sunday interview that the group looks for candidates that have “the strongest history of advocacy and accomplishments in terms of diversity initiatives, equity and inclusion, and also issues related to racial justice.”

The Coalition supports the creation of an ethnic studies department at Harvard, calls for greater transparency from the Board of Overseers, and promotes race-conscious admissions policies at the University.

Williams said that all five Board of Overseers candidates endorsed by the Coalition pledged to advocate for the expansion of ethnic studies offerings if they are elected.

“Ethnic studies advocacy is a key part of the Coalition’s work going back to the beginning,” Williams said. “We appreciate the progress that has happened over the past couple of years, but definitely there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“Because of that, that was an important consideration as we decided which candidates to endorse,” he added.

The Coalition also endorsed six candidates for HAA elected directorships: Barbara R.J. Barreno-Paschall ’07, a lawyer and vice chair of the State of Illinois Human Rights Commission; Rudy N. Brioché, vice president of global public policy for Comcast; Judith L. Norsigian ’70, an author and women’s health advocate; Yvonne O. Osirim ’01, co-chair of the HAA’s Anti-Racism Working Group and executive director of human health ethics and compliance at Merck & Co.; Theodora M. “Theo” Skeadas ’12, executive director of Cambridge Local First; and Jason W. Young ’04, tech entrepreneur and former adviser to President Obama.

The endorsements were co-signed by eight other alumni affinity groups, including the First Generation Harvard Alumni, Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance, and Harvard Black Alumni Society.

Eight of the 11 candidates endorsed this year are members of the Coalition, while all but one of those endorsed for the HAA elected directorship positions are members of the group.

This election cycle is the eighth year the Coalition has endorsed candidates for the Board of Overseers. Last year, 10 out of 12 candidates endorsed by the Coalition won election.

In addition to the eight candidates put forward by the HAA Nominating Committee, Harvey A. Silverglate — a free speech advocate — is staging an outsider run for a seat on the Board. Silverglate is hoping to win election through a write-in campaign following an unsuccessful signature-gathering effort earlier this year to appear on the ballot.

Harvard Forward, a student and alumni group that supports increased recent alumni representation and support for fossil fuel divestment, did not field candidates for the Board of Overseers election for the second year in a row.

Harvard Forward-backed candidates who joined the ballot through petition campaigns enjoyed success in previous elections. Three candidates supported by the group won election in 2020 and one candidate won a seat in 2021. Harvard’s governing boards, however, approved recommendations in 2020 that limit the number of Overseers who are nominated through petitions to just six seats at any given time.

Voting — which will be conducted through both online and paper ballots — is scheduled to open on March 31 and close on May 16. All Harvard graduates who have received their degree by Jan. 1 are eligible to vote in the elections. Alumni currently in positions of governance or instruction at the University are not allowed to vote in the Board of Overseers elections.

Correction: March 20, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 11 other alumni affinity groups co-signed the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard’s endorsements. In fact, eight affinity groups did so.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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