Diversity Questionnaire Response

Candidates for Elected Director

Bella T. Wong AB ’82, EdM ’91

Superintendent/Principal, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School
Weston, Massachusetts

1. How important should diversity be at Harvard? What strategies should the University pursue regarding this? (Please discuss specific programs and policies if you can.)

 

Promoting diversity is a critically important priority for any modern institution of learning whose purpose is to educate citizens for the future. My perception is that Harvard has done well on the endeavor to ensure a diverse student body at the College. I hope that Harvard continues to make this a priority. An important strategy is adhering to its practice of affirmative action. I appreciate and support that this policy has evolved in an effort to recognize trends over time. I also appreciate that the admissions process takes the time to consider applicants in holistic ways to determine how one applicant will more likely make positive contributions to society than another. I feel considerations of factors of diversity are clearly and positively embedded in that process. At the heart of all institutions of teaching and learning is its curriculum. An implicit understanding is that we teach what we think is important to learn. How much Harvard devotes a portion of its curriculum to reflect diverse cultures and content reflects and demonstrates to students and others how much Harvard values cultural and intellectual diversity. The prominence of culturally diverse curriculum offerings sends a message that this is a priority for the College. What makes an institution of learning effective is the face and quality of its instructors. As students we are drawn to teachers who we admire and want to emulate and are most motivated to do our very best by those who know and understand us. Appointment of a diverse faculty enhances the capacity of the university to have teachers who will be able to know and connect effectively with a broader range of students and makes a positive statement that the faces of excellence are indeed diverse.

 

2. How can Harvard encourage more diversity among its alumni leaders and activities? (If not discussed above.)

I know it has made a huge difference for me to receive direct communication from Harvard alumni organizations encouraging me to be involved in alumni leadership and activities. To the extent possible personal contacts to encourage participation from other alumni is helpful. Providing lists that of who is planning to attend an event might be helpful, too.

 

3. Please state your views on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions.

 

As a person of color I cannot help but have thought about this throughout my life. I entered Harvard with sophomore standing in 1978. My Harvard essay was a reflection on the impact of the recent Bakke decision on my application as a dilemma. On the one hand I resented affirmative action because I felt, for myself, it diminished the merit of my acceptance. On the other hand I recognized it was an important policy to ensure an equitable outcome on behalf of the larger whole. 40 years later I don’t doubt this emotional paradox continues to exist for many students today. Every one of us bears this cross for the benefit of the whole. It is a cross we bear for one another until we don’t have to bear it any more. I see the admissions process as a means of rewarding those who have demonstrated they will more likely make the most of their education and opportunities at Harvard, and after. Every student does not have fair and equitable access to resources that may support best performance. In fact, some students have access to extraordinary advantages that others do not. I think it makes sense to level the playing field in ways to make this assessment more authentic. It makes sense to evaluate an applicant through various lenses including giving credit to an applicant who has overcome barriers to achievement. I think it is fair to assume a judicious consideration of race can be one of those factors. Moreover, I trust that an institution like Harvard does its best to implement fair practices. Honestly, there are probably fewer more scrutinized institutions on this point in the world. Just like I believe there must be life other than us in this huge universe it’s just not logical that with a gazillion eyes watching, Harvard wouldn’t be doing its darndest to be beyond reproach.

 

4. What do you think Harvard's role should be in creating a more equitable, inclusive and just society?

 

Similar to what I wrote before, I believe any institution of learning must take this on as a critical role for itself. I believe we all must work toward achieving world peace or face annihilation. As a school leader I seek ways for students to explore different perspectives and practice inclusion for them to develop empathy. It is critical for student to learn skills that help them work with one another. For me it is important to embed the concepts you’ve listed into the teaching and learning of core values such as fostering cooperative and caring relationships and cultivating community as a means to ensure every one gets what they need. It is also a way to establish a healthy framework to live peacefully and productively among one another. No one thrives without being a part of a caring and compassionate community, no matter how finite. Everyone needs a place where they feel they belong.

 

5. What steps have you taken to bring diversity and inclusion to your workplace or to an organization that you have been involved with?

 

I am in my 23rd year as a full-time public school educator. 16 of those years I have been a High School Principal, Assistant Superintendent or Superintendent of Schools. While I have lived in urban areas I have worked primarily in suburban school districts where the population has been over 80% White. Nevertheless, recognizing the diversity of our student body and focus on inclusion has always been a priority over my career. In this context diversity is defined for me to include race, ethnicity, immigration status, religious affinity, social emotional health, cognitive or social disabilities, socio economic status, gender orientation, identity or expression. Educators are supposed to help students overcome barriers to learning in order to be able to fully access the curriculum. Equity isn’t about everyone getting the same thing but about ensuring everyone gets what is needed to optimally access learning. Differentiated supports should not be confused with double standards. We should hold the same high expectations for personal excellence in behavioral, social and academic outcomes for all students. Strategies should be culturally responsive and also take into account that there is tremendous variance among learning styles within any particular subgroup of students. It is informative to disaggregate data by to ensure equitable outcomes across sub-groups, and we must never lose sight of the importance of evaluating and capturing individual outcomes. With this outlook in mind I have in collaboration with various school teams nurtured partnerships with families through two way communication and created shared leadership opportunities to support initiatives brought forth by students, teachers, administrators, and, parents. In this same way I have supported the use of data to adjust and inform our practice and professional development to enhance our understanding of the diversity represented by our youth culture. Together we have promoted collaboration, consultation and training to sustain high quality instruction that encompasses a broad repertory of tools of engagement that is culturally responsive and rigorous. While diversity and inclusion have always been critical foci of my work in leading schools, at this time, when our political climate feels increasingly polarized, the work has become even more challenging and exciting at the same time. I cannot express enough how meaningful it is to have the opportunity to be a part of educating our youth for the future. As the world threatens to become more polarized there is no other job I would rather have than the one I do now. I am only hopeful when I look at our students and see the potential of what they will become. The last two weeks have been an extraordinary example. Before classes had even resumed the student survivors of Parkland Mary Douglas High School launched a nation wide movement to walk out on March 14 in order to commemorate the lives that were lost, and advocate against gun violence and support mental health. Frankly, the nature of our national political and social climate has only offered horrible role models. One might have thought a student-generated movement like this would have been all the more unlikely because of that. It is clear something very right was happening in that school and community to have produced such impressive student leaders.

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