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Diversity Questionnaire Response

Candidate for Overseer 

Marilyn Holifield JD ’72

Partner, Holland & Knight LLP
Miami, Florida

  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)

I appreciate this opportunity to discuss diversity with you and invite you to get in touch with me if you have questions.  For Harvard to continue to be great, it must pursue diversity at all levels—faculty, administrative, students, staff and in its business dealings.  The University should regularly review diversity in academic, administrative and staff leadership positions and in its undergraduate and graduate student bodies to address areas where increased diversity would enhance the University. The review could also identify where increased attention to diversity is needed to promote harmony and a sense of belonging or where benefits of diversity to the University and communities can be made more visible. While it is important to achieve diversity within the academic setting, Harvard should also promote inclusiveness in its roster of vendors and service providers.  Supplier diversity initiatives can leverage Harvard’s economic impact to promote diversity beyond the university campus.      


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

The path to alumni leadership begins with the first stages of engagement and participation.  Through Alumni Affairs, Harvard should continue the message that all alumni are encouraged to share their views and perspectives in shaping club and SIG programs.  Increased participation by alumni across the diversity spectrum will help reshape the perception of the composition of various Harvard alumni communities.

Harvard can encourage diversity among its alumni leaders and activities by promoting collaborations among clubs and alumni affinity and interest groups. Clubs and Shared Interest Groups could be provided incentives to co-sponsor events.  For example, the University could consider building on its existing Harvard Professor Speaker program and expand it to provide additional options to Clubs that co-sponsor the Harvard Professor Speaker event with one or more affinity SIGs. Or the event could be co-sponsored by several SIGs where one or more of the SIGs is an affinity group.  As with the existing Harvard Professor Speaker program available to some clubs, the University would reimburse airfare and perhaps lodging for a Harvard professor to speak at the event.  The goal would be to create co-sponsored speaker events that promote collaborations among diverse leaders and enhance the potential for diverse attendance at alumni events. 


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

I support an admissions policy that takes into account race as one of multiple factors. I believe admissions officers should have the tools to build a diverse student body, especially as our society becomes more diverse. It is up to admissions professionals to determine the extent any factor should weigh in the process.  Including factors such as race and economic and first generation status creates opportunities to enhance the educational experience of all students. Taking into account multiple factors, including race, permits development of leaders who can more effectively navigate an increasingly complex world and take advantage of benefits of resourcefulness and creativity that flow from decision-making that includes input from persons with diverse backgrounds and experiences.


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

Harvard has a strong network and great influence in virtually all facets of business and society.  There is an important role for Harvard to expand conversations and debates about education to engage broader audiences, to hear concerns of the general public and restore good will towards education, science-based policies, liberal arts and diversity.  As we work to listen and implement Harvard’s continued leadership in education and innovation at home and around the world, Harvard should defend and support policies and programs that promote a more equitable, inclusive and just society.

Harvard should leverage the power of its pulpit to continue to be a spokesperson and champion for the importance of higher education to advancing our global society. Over generations, higher education has been an important ladder for economic and social progress. The critical role of higher education in scientific and medical advancements cannot be understated. In the current environment, higher education is subject to attack along multiple fronts, including measures that reduce financial resources available for financial aid and teaching. Improving the understanding of the important role in society served by Harvard and other universities may influence policy makers and, directly or indirectly, advance access to education and promote equality and a more just society. 


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

When I received the Chesterfield Smith Lawyer Award at my law firm, Holland & Knight, the brochure for the program contained the following:

‘Throughout her life, Marilyn has given much and asked for little or nothing in return.  When asked why she helped desegregate Leon High School, Marilyn once said:

            ‘I did it to bring Leon High School and Tallahassee closer to a democracy.

            I did it to honor those who had struggled before me.

            And, I did it to make a path for those who were to come after me.’


Likewise, as Holland & Knight’s first African-American lawyer and partner, Marilyn Holifield has indeed ‘made a path’ for both minority and non-minority attorneys to follow.  She has trained her associates to think, and she has taught them the true value of diversity.  Marilyn’s contributions to Holland & Knight have made the firm a better place for those who have had the wonderful opportunity to work with her, as well as for those who will follow***Her receipt of the 2000 Chesterfield Smith Lawyer Award is a fitting recognition for what Marilyn Holifield has meant to the firm’s partners, associates , staff and clients.”

Thank you for considering my candidacy.  With your support, I would be honored to serve on the Harvard Board of Overseers.

Respectfully submitted,

Marilyn Holifield

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