Harvard University wants its students to feel like they belong.
Harvard President Drew Faust announced Wednesday the creation of a university-wide Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, which she says is a way to help the school's community thrive as it becomes increasingly diverse.
Harvard has come under fire in the past on diversity issues. Last year, a lawsuit argued that the university violated civil rights laws by holding Asian-American students to a higher standard and thus capping their admissions.
This year, a variety of ethnicities saw an increase in their representation on campus compared to previous incoming classes. The class of 2020 included more than 26 percent of students who identify as Asian, 11.4 percent as black or African-American and 13.1 percent as Hispanic or Latino compared to 23.5 percent, 11.2 percent and 12.5 percent respectively for the class of 2019, according to a school newspaper survey.
“Harvard’s commitment to excellence is deeply connected to our efforts to attract students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives,” Faust wrote in a letter announcing the task force. “Exposure to difference fosters creativity, challenges settled assumptions, and helps make possible the advancement of knowledge central to our educational mission.”
But Faust wants to make the move from being a diverse campus to one of belonging among all its students. Essential to this, she continued, is Harvard’s responsibility to provide channels of access and opportunity for everyone.
“[The task force] will engage in active outreach with an eye toward gaining a broad understanding of the lived experience of the diverse populations on our campus,” she wrote. “It will also solicit ideas about ways to strengthen our shared commitment to building a community in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”
Faust encouraged students to make their voices heard by participating in task force-held events throughout campus this fall.
The task force will focus on diving into four major issues: “demographic realities,” in which the school asks how it can increase diversity and bring about positive change; “the fabric of the institution,” which involves looking into the lived experience of its students, staff and faculty; ensuring that its academic resources advance issues of diversity and inclusion; and “Harvard’s organizational structures,” which will examine how the school’s abundant diversity officers, programs and initiatives work together.
“At its best, life at Harvard is transformative for the people who are here, because they experience new ideas, encounter people with different perspectives and experiences, and become members of communities of learning and exploration,” Faust told the Harvard Gazette. “Only people who feel that they belong here, that they are at home, will be able to take full advantage of these opportunities to develop and flourish.”
The task force is co-chaired by Danielle Allen, a professor of both government and English and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics; Archon Fung, academic dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and professor of democracy and citizenship; and Meredith L. Weenick, vice president for campus services. Learn more about it at inclusionandbelongingtaskforce.harvard.edu/