By Litcy Kurisinkal, MPP ’13, Correspondent
Inclusivity and diversity have been buzzwords in the recent years.
While there have been several initiatives aimed at ensuring diversity at most Harvard graduate schools, the main focus has been on proportional representation in admissions and faculty hiring. How do students of Harvard handle their daily life issues concerning inclusivity and diversity?
Yes, I know that our health insurance provides 12 free mental health counseling sessions per years. But are these really individual mental health issues or common university practices that get overlooked callously on a regular basis?
“I am a black student, which implies that I have to work double or triple than my counter-parts to prove my worth before my faculty in Harvard” – PhD student at GSAS
A feeling of exclusion could exist in many forms – be it different political opinions, status as a parent, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, language, region, status as international students or others. It would be unfortunate if Harvard University, the best known in the world, is no exception to such basic prejudices and practices. As a group that often aims at transforming this world through their expertise in many fields, it is indispensable for each student in Harvard University to perceive our academic environment as a safe space to unleash one’s unique experiences and thought processes.
When a new student arrives in this university, he or she should be given the assurance that they can maximize their academic merit and potential without having to compromise it, owing to peripheral issues related to underlying exclusionary practices. A student should have the confidence to exercise her rights as an individual without having to search for similar identity groups and regional affiliations.
“I am from Asia, where our cultural upbringing is different. We are overly respectful to our professors and elders in general. Students from western culture are different in the sense they can easily build relationships with the professors here because they can talk to them in equal terms like buddies. Our inhibition to do that due to our cultural respectfulness is many times perceived as lack of confidence about ourselves. I feel I lack a level playing field in that sense” – HBS student
It is with this purpose in mind that Harvard Graduate Council (HGC), the student government representing the twelve graduate schools in Harvard, is developing a new concept to address issues related to inclusiveness for all graduate students.
As Vice President – Advocacy for HGC, I take pride in announcing through The Citizen that we have established a Harvard University-wide committee for graduate students, namely, “Inclusive Harvard”.
HGC will act as the voice of the students to advocate for the common concerns they face related to inclusivity. “Inclusive Harvard” will serve as a liaison between the university administration and graduate students advocating, on behalf of students, for structural changes that will make Harvard a better place for its diverse student body.
“Every single time I hold myself back from giving my opinion about religious issues because I fear being tainted as a fundamentalist. I am an American Muslim and hence I have to be cautious during class room discussions.” – HKS student
Through “Inclusive Harvard”, we plan to develop an information exchange system among diversity committees in graduate schools as well as diverse identity groups among graduate students to share successes and failures and strategies for achieving diversity and inclusion in Harvard University. For the first time in the history of Harvard, graduate student leaders of diversity committees and student affinity groups representing all twelve schools came together on Feb. 15.
We plan to establish a permanent mechanism through which the voices of all graduate students would be brought to the table regularly in order to address them as they arise, rather than compelling students to wallow on their own and risk compromising their academic achievement and individual rights.
“I cried and cried for days without knowing how to balance my academics with my responsibility as a parent. I came here with my mother who was supposed to help me with my child. Unfortunately, she had health issues and had to leave the country. Child care options are exorbitantly expensive in Harvard, which I cannot afford. Moreover, the waiting list for the admissions is almost 12-18 months. What can I do in my crisis situation? Finally, I decided to part with my child with utmost pain in my heart. I left her back in my home country in order to complete my Harvard degree. Is it worth it? I question myself every night I sleep without my baby at my side.” – Female parent
Our proposals include establishing regular town hall meetings, where students can speak their mind without intimidation. We plan to have an online platform for students to express their thoughts and share their stories. We have also proposed that the university administration establish training programs for students, faculty and staff to nurture the sensitivity required for each us to make Harvard truly inclusive.
Let “Inclusive Harvard” be the leading light that sparks a positive change toward all-round inclusivity on our campus and in the outside world when we step out.
HGC welcomes all ideas and thoughts to make “Inclusive Harvard” effective. Mail your responses to Litcy_Kurisinkal@hks13.harvard.edu.