Diversity Questionnaire Response
Candidate for Elected Director
University Architect, Brown University
New Orleans, Louisiana
1. How important should diversity be at Harvard?
Harvard’s strength comes from its diversity. The university cannot represent ‘veritas’ without representing the whole and all of its parts.
Is it important to shape the diversity profile of Harvard? Yes. Harvard’s long history of educating national, international and community leaders makes it imperative that Harvard represent the diversity of spheres into which its graduates will enter.
From its earliest days—381 years ago—to the present, Harvard has taken steps to strengthen its foundation, its mission and its impact through increasing diversity. Each step has required conceptual breakthroughs—what appear to us as obvious but each requiring an important (major) shift in assumptions—even to define anew what constitutes diversity. In its earliest days our Harvard had to grow in its awareness and inclusion of those representing simple geographical and religious diversity. It later came to understand the power and strength of including women as its own. It had to acknowledge and to remove the limiting prohibitions against free expression of—and benefits under unions irrespective of—sexual orientation.
Thirty-five years ago I was a ‘diversity’ student, from a large Acadian family of Louisiana whose grandfather, the youngest of twelve, could neither read nor write and spoke Cajun French. My classmate Michael Hughes, age 23 when he started at Harvard, came from a Native American reservation in New Mexico. My roommate Kim Jackson worked three jobs—including being a chimney sweep cleaning chimneys flues at the Harvard Houses we were living in—to make ends meet. At that time there was less understanding of what it takes to integrate fully the diversity that Harvard was seeking and valuing then.
Harvard today is a vastly more diverse community and institution than at any time in its past. It includes in significant numbers community members of diverse creeds, more than eighty nations, diverse races and ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientation, and socio-economic backgrounds. The current first year class is 14.6% African American, 22.2% Asian American, 11.6% Hispanic or Latino/a, and 2.5% Native American or Pacific Islander. The most recent entering class is composed for the first time of more than 50% non-white.
It is important for Harvard to redouble its efforts to have its faculty and student body represent the broader population and the world in which we live.
Representation is one aspect of diversity. Encouraging an environment of meaningful interaction between diverse groups is its corollary. Exposure to the diverse set of ideas, belief systems, cultures and traditions held by and at Harvard through its community—or its many communities—is a primary reason to attend college: to learn from differences, to learn about and to know the world in all of its complexity and diversity.
What strategies should the University pursue regarding this? (Please discuss specific programs and policies if you can.)
The University has been active and undoubtedly will push further to recruit, hire, retain individuals from underrepresented groups; to direct funding to professorships, courses and research on issues of diversity and social equity; to enhance funding and to create new programs for low-to-moderate income, first generation, non-traditional and underrepresented students (e.g., mentoring and counseling, living and learning expense funding pools, fellowships and internships); and to focus resources and faculty recruiting in academic areas of low representation by minorities and women. These are important programs that should continue to grow.
Perhaps the next focus will be to understand why women are underrepresented in the undergraduate population of Harvard (47% of Harvard undergraduates are women, compared to 57% of college students nationally) and to explore ways to even out the socio-economic spectrum of the Harvard undergraduate student body in order to address the notable gap in the middle section of the spectrum.
All efforts, programs and policies should be centered on the goal of creating and fostering an environment of excellence in which all thrive, all share their perspectives, and all develop their strengths, talents and knowledge base in service to society.
2. How can Harvard encourage more diversity among its alumni leaders and activities?
The Harvard Alumni Association is a powerful platform for gathering and representing all Harvard alumni—371,000 strong in 203 countries. Through the Harvard Clubs (geographical focus), the 50+ Shared Interest Groups, the Global Networking events, Class Reunions, the HAA website and its social media presence—through all of these means, the HAA is an umbrella reflecting and promoting the diversity of the Harvard alumni community.
Can the HAA encourage more diversity? The Shared Interest Groups are a great reflection of the diverse perspectives and interests of Harvard alumni. No doubt new Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) will be formed by alumni leaders.
With such a strong interest in diversity, the HAA and alumni leaders may, in organizing and promoting educational content and events, have the opportunity to present a view of Harvard’s diversity beyond ‘a collection’ of diverse backgrounds, and beyond a notion of assimilation and toleration, to a place of inclusion and engagement.
3. Please state your views on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions.
While there is currently a legal issue pending related to Harvard’s admission practices, it is clear that Harvard employs a holistic and balanced method in its admissions process in which race, among other factors, is taken into consideration.
4. What do you think Harvard's role should be in creating a more equitable, inclusive and just society?
Harvard must carry as an imperative creating a more equitable, inclusive and just society.
It is the underlying principle of a Harvard education and of Harvard’s mission ‘to educate citizens and citizen-leaders for our society.’
How we achieve a society that is equitable, inclusive and just must be—and is—rigorously discussed, and studied, and tried, and tested, and modeled, and practiced in all corners of the University and in the corners of the globe to which we have distributed ourselves.
Innovation, creativity and productivity come from a community that is inclusive, equitable and just. Fostering an environment that allows for and values diverse perspectives, opinions and life experiences asks that—and inspires--all to engage more thoroughly, to learn, to be asked difficult questions, to allow ourselves to be challenged on our beliefs and assumptions, to understand, to explain, to respect and to create common ground. Such a community challenges itself to be its best. From it comes good.
5. What steps have you taken to bring diversity and inclusion to your workplace or to an organization that you have been involved with?
In my practice of architecture, Design for Public Spaces, though a small practice, I employed superbly capable interns who were African American and Latina/o. While Executive Director of the City Planning Commission for the City of New Orleans, roughly 50% of my staff was African American, and I was able to recruit and to hire an African American deputy director who followed me as executive director. At Tulane as university architect, I was able to offer two of the first three approved positions to two talented African American women, and I felt fortunate as well to be able to offer an intern position to an African American architecture student (she was one of only about five African American students in the program at the time). At Eskew Dumez Ripple Architects, I participated with the other firm principals in actively recruiting and hiring individuals from groups underrepresented in the field particularly in New Orleans (Middle Eastern, Pakistani, African American, Asian). At EDR I began a women’s resource group to promote women architects in the profession in general (still so surprisingly underrepresented!) and within the firm in particular. As a member of the New Orleans Building Corporation, we assessed project teams for their minority inclusion practices. At Brown I created and offered a new position to a young Asian woman, one of only about three among the 250+ staff members of Facilities Management. Within Brown’s Planning, Design and Construction staff, in the two years here, I am pleased to have attracted and been able to hire three talented and highly capable women architect-planners, which has shifted the overall percentages of women to men in professional roles within the division. Finally I participated in the establishment of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan for Facilities Management, a part of Brown University’s overall Diversity and Inclusion Plan.