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Those Who Have Gone Before
HGSE Students Honor Black Alumni

Harvard Graduate School of Education
May 13, 2002
 

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While perusing a book on African-American students at Harvard, Technology in Education (TIE) student Mellody Parchia was dismayed by what she saw—and what she didn't see. Stories of African Americans at the other Harvard graduate schools were plentiful, but she found next to nothing about the accomplishments of black HGSE alumni.

Mellody Parchia at the 'Those Who Have Gone Before' exhibit in Gutman Library
The 'Those Who Have Gone Before' exhibit
The 'Those Who Have Gone Before' exhibit
Mellody Parchia at the "Those Who Have Gone Before" exhibit in Gutman Library (top); images from the exhibit (middle and bottom)  

The issue wasn't a lack of black students; Parchia says that HGSE records suggest there were African-American graduates from the School as early as the 1920s, and certainly in the 1940s. A journalist by training, Parchia was inspired to research and share the untold stories of some of these alumni with the HGSE community through an exhibit in Gutman Library. Says Parchia, "It's not a new phenomenon to have people of color at the Ed School or at Harvard. Maybe the numbers are higher today, but there have been blacks here for decades."

From Inspiration to Implementation
The exhibit, "Those Who Have Gone Before," currently on display at Gutman Library, turned out to be an exercise in teamwork, efficiency, and speed. First inspired in February by preparations for a Black History Month project, Parchia—along with fellow students Maame Aba Coleman, J. Victor Milner, and Tiffany Quivers—had one month to contact as many black alumni as possible and figure out how to condense years of life stories and accomplishments into a paragraph or two per alumnus/a. The project revealed to Parchia how durable the connections between alums have remained over time and space: talking to one alum invariably meant coming away with lists of other graduates who also had interesting stories to tell.

The exhibit also metamorphosed into an expression of inter-office cooperation at the Ed School. In the two months that Parchia and the three other HGSE students had to put together the piece, they received support—financial, strategic, and motivational—from four HGSE offices: HGSE Admissions, Student Affairs, the Office of External Relations, and the Career Services Office.

Kevin Harrington, director of the Career Services Office, shared his enthusiasm at being able to contribute to a project that would inspire present students and honor alumni: "When Mellody described the project to me, I thought it was a natural choice for the Career Services Office to support it in our own small way. So many of our programs and services, like the Students and Alumni of Color Networking Breakfast, are made possible by the active support and participation of our alumni. It seemed only fitting that we support a project that honors and recognizes the achievements of some of our African-American alumni in such a creative and public way."

As for Parchia's own future, she is thinking globally. An immediate goal of hers is to continue to strengthen relations between alumni and students. Says Parchia, "I see a disconnect between alums and students. We are taught to make connections here [at HGSE], and I think that there could be more done to strengthen these connections between alums and students."

In the meantime, she remains hopeful that her exhibit has inspired and encouraged current Harvard students who will soon be a part of the alumni community. Of the subjects of her exhibit, Parchia observes, "These alums have gone before all of us—and not just African Americans—these are people who have shown us what is possible."

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