Diversity Questionnaire Response
Candidate for Elected Director
Associate General Counsel, Real Estate and Finance, Habitat for Humanity International; Associate Pastor, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church
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.)
As a developer of global leaders in all sectors of society, the University should have as one of its top priorities, the creation of and respect for diversity in its student body, faculty, administration and alumni leadership. The University should continue to work to create a community that has racial, intellectual, religious, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic, political, functional, geographic and other forms of diversity.
I came to Harvard as a Black woman from the south with a public school background. So, I checked several “diversity” boxes. While at Harvard, I quickly found my “safe spaces” among my roommates and student organizations like the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, the Freshman Black Table, the Black Students’ Association and the Radcliffe Women’s Leadership Project Conference. During my undergraduate years there was a great need for diversity in the student body and faculty. I spent quite a bit of my time working with other student leaders from different ethnic, racial, religious and political groups to make sure that our views were expressed in the Harvard community and reflected in the make-up of the faculty and course offerings. For instance, I was involved with the students that took over University Hall to insist that the University create a “valid” and flourishing African-American Studies department. That protest led to the hiring of Professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates and the creation of a robust academic department. The experience of working, protesting, arguing, disagreeing and finding common ground with students from different backgrounds and experiences was just as important as my class work. I learned how to disagree while remaining civil and respectful. I remain friends with many of these people today. Through those experiences, I grew in ways that continue to influence my choices, leadership style and infuse my passion for justice, diversity and transformative change in the workplace and larger community.
In order for the University to continue to provide safe spaces for students to discuss, disagree and find common ground, it should find strategic ways to engage, expose and encourage the key stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators and alumni) of the University (https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail). The University should engage these stakeholders to create and instill an environment that allows for creative tension and yet, maximizes the possibilities produced by a diverse community. This can be done by creating advisory boards comprised of diverse stakeholders to design campus-wide community building events and symposia or also to provide input on admissions and faculty hiring decisions. In addition, these types of advisory boards can work together to create a field education requirement that would include students from diverse backgrounds and across disciplines to solve a current issue or problem in society. The accountability mechanism could be a grade, a separate certificate or a monetary prize at graduation. In addition, the University could work through these advisory boards to create practical mentoring or coaching networks that are diverse and focused on certain post-graduate trajectories and goals. These networks would be a great way to integrate more alums into the University community. Finally, the University should continue to adequately enforce policies that allow for free speech and not hate speech and insist upon the value of human beings and civil discourse.
2. How can Harvard encourage more diversity among its alumni leaders and activities? (If not discussed above.)
In addition to my suggestions above, the University can encourage more diversity among its alumni leaders by continuing to provide opportunities for its diverse graduates to come together and celebrate their connection to Harvard. I have now attended the University-wide Black Alumni Weekend and the 2016 Celebration of Black Alumni weekend at Harvard Law School. Those have been two of my favorite Harvard reunions. Unlike our class reunions, these reunions have provided great opportunities to connect with alums across classes who had similar experiences at Harvard and as Harvard graduates of color. These reunions have provided relevant programming, great social activities and networking opportunities to further career goals. They have been awesome reunions! I think that the alumni office should plan to offer these types of diverse-group alumni weekends on the same weekend with programming that can bring the different groups together in an intentional diversity-oriented event that encourages bridge-building dialogues, etc.
The success of these reunion events is often driven by the staff of the alumni office. While participating on the planning committee for the Black Alumni weekend at the Law School, I had a very positive experience working with a diverse staff in the alumni affairs office. In order to encourage more participation by diverse alums, the University must work to ensure a diverse staff in the alumni affairs office who are involved in planning these events with the alumni.
In addition, the University should continue to nurture its relationships with the alumni that attend these reunions and give them tools to encourage participation from other diverse alumni. For instance, the University can seek input from alumni leaders for virtual lunch and learns, speaker series and work with the state Alumni Associations to provide events and activities that encourage engagement from diverse alumni leaders.
3. Please state your views on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions.
Diversity must be led and not merely managed, especially in a society that has historically separated and segregated people because of their difference from the majority population. Research continues to show that racial segregation has led to socio-economic, housing, educational and healthcare disparities, among others (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/). Diversity must be intentionally encouraged, embraced, expected and an essential part of the cultural norms of the University as an institution. Many would argue that since its founding, this country and its systems have supported an affirmative action plan that has always benefited white people. As a result we must work diligently to expand that notion of affirmative action so that it includes diverse populations. I support a well thought out and strategic affirmative action and race-conscious admission plan that strives to identify diverse qualified students who will positively contribute to the University and our world as students and alumni. As a student-recruiter and now an alumni interviewer, I am aware of and support Harvard’s multi-faceted affirmative action admissions process. I do not think that race should be the only identifying factor in an affirmative action admission plan, but I do think that it should be considered. With Harvard’s affirmative action and race-conscious admissions, we can continue to identify brilliant and well-rounded students from diverse backgrounds that will promote a community where “iron sharpens iron” and produces leaders in every sector who will promote an equitable and civil society for all.
4. What do you think Harvard's role should be in creating a more equitable, inclusive and just society?
If ever we needed moral and transformative leadership in our world, we surely need it today. During this historical political period, and the passionate outcry of the #Metoo, Time Is Up, Black Lives Matter and the Parkland students’ gun control movement, Harvard must not only ensure an environment that encourages and embraces diversity at the University, but also must provide courageous leadership in the creation of a more equitable, inclusive and just society. These movements are similar to the strands of the Civil Rights Movement that were led by the youth of that day. The youth of today are calling on all of us to act and to lead. I believe that as a country and world we stand on the precipice of a decision - a decision to move backwards towards division, hate-mongering and segregationist “wall-building” or to move forward courageously to create a world where diverse voices are validated and heard and where human rights are protected.
This is the time for Harvard to use its power for good – to bring together diverse racial, political, gender, sexual orientation, religious and other groups to work together on collective solutions and proposals for the sake of the public good. As one of the world’s premiere institutions, Harvard is powerfully positioned to advocate for transformative leadership in corporate boardrooms, state and federal legislatures, academic institutions, courtrooms and the public square and to insist on civility and decency in the process. The University can lead campaigns and support existing “movements” through its powerful network of students, faculty, academic networks and alumni leadership on issues such as voting rights, access to healthcare, quality education, affordable housing options and economic disparities.
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 a black woman with a white mother who has grown up in the South. So, suffice it to say, I have grown up very aware of race and racial differences and all that it means – hair differences, skin color, eye color, what is beautiful, accepted and not. And, since I look just like a tan version of my white mother, I have also been keenly aware of how similar we are in spite of our racial differences. So the first time I read Dr. Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family” it resonated deeply with me and stirred me to look deeper into how people from different races relate to one another.
Dr. Angelou’s poem “Human Family” establishes a beautiful vision of how as members of the human family we appear different in many ways, but in reality we are more alike than we are unalike. She states:
“I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.”
“I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.”
This ideal expressed so poetically and visually by the masterful pen of Dr. Angelou has been echoed by many others and even supported by scientific research. The Human genome project revealed that we are more alike than unalike by determining that humans are 99.95% alike in their genetic make-up and less than 1% of the genome accounts for our differences in appearance on the outside or inside at the cellular level. Very small differences set one person apart from another, therefore proving that we are more alike than unalike. Sadly, there is such a focus on the very small percent of difference that we often overlook how much we are similar. And by doing so, we may very well miss the power of our unity and connection.
This understanding, that we are more alike than unalike, has compelled me from an early age to insist on diversity in my communities and professional spaces. As a female pastor in a predominantly male profession, I have created and founded women’s ministries at three churches including the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where I founded the Women’s Ministry almost ten years ago. Through this Women’s Ministry, I have worked to create ministry programs, teaching and preaching series that empower and equip women to understand their power and experience individual growth while also engaging in social transformation in their communities.
In my role as Associate General Counsel at Habitat, I work to develop financing programs and strategies to generate sources of capital to enable Habitat affiliates to provide decent, affordable housing to families that would otherwise not be able to own homes due their socioeconomic status. In addition, I am working with an internal team to lead a partnership with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change to build “Beloved Community” homes across the United States (https://www.habitat.org/support/beloved-community-pledge). Habitat affiliates throughout the United States will invite groups from different racial, religious and political groups in their communities to come together to build or repair a home for a family and ultimately a community. These builds restore relationships, enhance connections rather than differences and create community before our very eyes.
If elected and given the opportunity to join the HAA Board of Directors, I want to continue to challenge and contribute to an institution which has profoundly impacted my life and be part of making sure that Harvard continues to positively influence generations to come.