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The Citizen

Students Speak Out on Campus: Identity & Diversity Issues Raised

IMG_6490 IMG_8021By Tommy Tobin

If you’ve been in any of the classrooms this past week at HKS, chances are quite high you’ve seen a question about identity or diversity on campus. If you’ve not happened to attend class or look at the board, the same questions were placed all around the Forum and other public spaces around campus, along with colorful and conspicuous boxes to collect them.

Identities and diversity comes in many forms, including political points of view to socioeconomic background.  Creating a culture of diversity can mean maintaining safe and welcoming spaces for learning and teaching drawing from students, faculty, and staff from a range of various backgrounds and experiences. “One of the goals of the campaign is to find out what diversity looks like at HKS and to have people question their assumptions about identify and diversity,” according to Debbie Chen, MPP’ 15.  Chen went on to say that “all too often diversity is just thought to be racial or ethnic diversity, but this campaign is meant to show a broader view of diversity.” Recognizing the importance and challenge of diversity, HKS recently creating the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion to further raise the institutional profile of these issues. The student Speak Out campaign may demonstrate that there is further work that can be done.

Each day on campus, a dedicated group of students—drawn largely from the M.P.P. program—has gathered in the early morning and posted cards and questions around campus. These prompts range from “What identifies you at HKS?” to “Tell me of a time when you felt uncomfortable speaking at HKS because of your identity.” Students have responded to these calls with hand-written notes and online on the HKS Speak Out Tumblr. According to Amanda Dominguez, MPP ’15, the website had 100 unique visitors in just one day. Students, faculty, and staff have shared their stories.

On the Tumblr site, some students have written about their experience with a particular skin color or gender. Some students took to Tumblr to talk about their experience being Conservative at the Kennedy School, noting that other students have been vocal about their liberal beliefs. Other students discussed times where their identity as a woman of color had been challenged and the pain and discomfort she sometimes experienced by unintentionally hurtful comments by classmates and faculty.

While most voices on the blog are sharing experiences, other students have written in to the campaign to say that they have never felt uncomfortable because of their identity at HKS. Another student wrote that isolated incidences do not rise to the level of a “massive case of discrimination” at the school. Even if such a “massive case” does not exist, such experiences may represent missed opportunities. Dominguez, one of the student organizers, said, “I think we are missing opportunities to understand ourselves and each other better and address how ‘misunderstandings’ in the classroom can perpetuate biases and stereotypes that then impact our decisions as policymakers.”

The current Speak Out campaign extends the work of student organizers going on since Autumn. Students from across degree programs have been meeting regularly to actively share stories and spark conversations. The campaign has set out to get the community to think about range of identities and diverse voices on campus and to consider how personal experience affects policy views. As the Citizen went to print, student organizers are meeting to decide how to use the stories shared to advance the conversations they’ve already started on campus.