Diversity Questionnaire Response
Candidate for Elected Director
PhD Student, Vanderbilt University
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.)
Diversity should be one of Harvard’s core goals. There is a historical legacy of unjust treatment of minorities in our country that needs a dedicated commitment to improve and reverse. As much as Harvard is a leader in academic accomplishments, it should also be a leader in forming a just and equitable society. Moreover, the presence of a diverse student body is important for creating bonds for the next generation of leaders who will benefit from learning from classmates with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. Diversity in terms of race, religion, economic status, social background, gender, etc. should be valued and prioritized.
Harvard’s commitment to diversity (fitting in with a broader support for generating positive impact on the world) should manifest itself at all levels of the university. In the student body, the staff, and the faculty, diversity should be prioritized. This can be manifested in targeted programs for outreach for both students and faculty from under-represented backgrounds, or the provision of financial aid packages that allow students from less privileged backgrounds to attend Harvard without undue financial burdens. It also means evaluating the research and teaching priorities of the university to assess whether the views and academic focus of the university prioritize specific and/or biased viewpoints, even unintentionally. As a specific example, groups of students and alumni have, for many years, asked the university to create a dedicated ethnic studies department. I support this effort, and hope that the university seriously considers and pursues these proposals.
On the issue of religious diversity where I have more direct experience, I applaud the university’s recent decision to fund a full-time Muslim chaplain to provide religious support and mentoring. The formation of specific programs, created in consultation with communities on campus to fit their needs, is an important step in fostering the growth of and support for communities of many different backgrounds at Harvard. This is an ongoing process that requires open channels of communication between administration representatives and the student body to match the constantly-evolving needs of the campus community.
2. How can Harvard encourage more diversity among its alumni leaders and activities? (If not discussed above.)
As a first step, a diverse alumni community is impossible without a diverse student composition, but this is mainly addressed via the first question.
Because the growth of alumni communities is driven by the efforts of their own members, the University and HAA have a difficult challenge in that their efforts can encourage alumni to organize, but cannot create these communities on their own. As member of the Muslim Alumni community, I have found strong support by the university/the HAA in contacting potential members, in connecting with graduating potential members, and in assistance in reaching out to peer organizations – these support structures should continue to be built and expanded. One important piece of the answer is in assisting the capability of alumni groups to bridge the gap between current students and alumni. Very often when alumni come to campus, whether for reunions or other alumni-related activities, there are few to no students present. Engaging current students while they are on campus and encouraging events that have overlap between student and alumni populations is very important and should be an area of focus.
Cross collaboration between clubs and shared interest groups is also an important step. Harvard’s history is long, and so within existing alumni communities there is a great deal of institutional knowledge. Newer alumni groups, which are also often more diverse due to changing demographics, need to have clear channels to communicate and collaborate with more established alumni organizations.
3. Please state your views on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions.
I am a strong supporter of affirmative action by race, as well as by other social and economic factors. Inequalities in our society are multi-dimensional and compounding, meaning that certain groups are disproportionately disadvantaged throughout the application process and in the level of preparation they have received to go through that process. Our approach to limit factors of inequality must reflect the complexities of the reality that we live in. Discrimination and biases on the personal and institutional level affect people of different races, ethnicities, genders, religions, classes, and cultures, among many other identifiers. Harvard should work to actively reverse the iniquities in our society through affirmative action and a race-conscious admission process.
Additionally, the creation of a vibrant student community that can tackle global challenges and create growth across different aspects of our society requires a holistic admission criterion. Harvard produces engineers, doctors, artists, activists, historians, et cetera. The metrics for accepting leaders in these diverse fields cannot be judged by numbers alone and the campus climate that facilitates intellectual and personal growth for these individuals requires an admissions regime that has a variety of objectives.
4. What do you think Harvard's role should be in creating a more equitable, inclusive and just society?
I mentioned above that Harvard’s support for diversity should sit within a broader goal of generating positive impacts on the world. This should be true in Harvard’s search for truth, in expanding and increasing human knowledge, and also in Harvard’s role as a pedagogical institution and a leader on the world stage. The values that Harvard teaches and espouses through its actions should be those that promote a just world and that improve the human condition.
Diversity is an important component of this equation, but only one among many other factors that must be considered. In addition to making sure that Harvard inducts students from under-privileged backgrounds, Harvard should be elevating society with its actions.
As one example, Harvard’s actions toward promoting an environmentally sustainable future are an important step that should be complemented with further fossil fuel divestment. The endowment is an important element of Harvard’s role in society as it not only acts with the power of its capital but also with the example it sets that other universities follow.
Harvard also has responsibilities to the local community it is a part of. An ethic of service to the Cambridge community should be an important part of Harvard’s mission. This includes just pay for Harvard’s workers, support for community outreach programs, and collaboration with local community members. Harvard is a hugely important part of the city it exists alongside and should take into account the effect that its actions have on the people that live in the area.
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 local community since moving to Nashville to study at Vanderbilt University, I have worked on a weekly basis with a local non-profit to serve the immigrant/refugee community: first teaching English and currently teaching math. At UCLA, I participated in a tutoring program for incarcerated youth and was also part of an organizing committee for a “college day” to bring minority students to campus to match high schoolers with college-aged mentors and encourage minority students in applying to college.
As current president of Harvard University Muslim Alumni (HUMA), an HAA-affiliated shared interest group, I have worked to strengthen the Muslim community at Harvard as well as among alumni of the university. Part of improving diversity and inclusion is creating spaces where members of different communities can gather together in comfort and support, which I have tried to do in my time with HUMA. An important milestone for HUMA was hiring Harvard’s first paid Muslim chaplain a few years ago, a position that has since been filled by a full-time staff member hired by the university. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish, and will continue to work with HUMA to support Muslims on campus and in the alumni community.