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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at HGSE

A message from Dean Bridget Long regarding HGSE's DEIB strategy and initiatives for 2020-21
September 2, 2020

As we begin a new year together, I can think of no more important work than to ensure our community continues to welcome and support a diverse and vibrant community of faculty, staff, and students. We must build on and strengthen our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), and while I am proud this commitment is ever-present in our work, now is not the time for complacency. We are confronted regularly with discriminatory and violent practices that terrorize, marginalize, and serve to exclude and disenfranchise members of certain groups, and though the burden of those heinous acts may be felt disproportionally by some of us, as I noted in a message earlier this summer, the act of George Floyd calling out for his mother as his life was slipping away is a reminder of the universally human aspects of these devastating moments. We must not sit idly by in the face of injustice and malicious attacks on people around the world due to their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual identity, and physical abilities. 

We each share a responsibility to respect the rights, differences, and dignity of others, and to sustain an environment that is conducive to fostering the highest levels of engagement and learning for all. Our shared mission requires us to carefully examine our own practices and strive to create the kind of community we wish to see in other settings. Moreover, we have a responsibility to prepare ourselves to make contributions in the broader world as education professionals adept at creating and supporting inclusive environments. This is true regardless of whether we choose to work in a school in Nashville, Tennessee, or start an ed tech firm in Ghana, or lead an early childhood education center in China. With the importance of this work in mind, I write today to share an update on our ongoing DEIB activities and to describe the next steps in our journey.

Building on Earlier Foundations

At HGSE, we are fortunate to be building upon a strong foundation in DEIB, which is the result of the successful efforts of many in our community. The Dean’s Advisory Committee for Equity and Diversity (DACED), founded in 2007 and comprised of faculty, staff, and students, has long led the development of programming and professional development activities, and DACED drafted the first set of diversity competencies to give our community a set of learning goals. Then, several years ago, the HGSE community participated in a multi-year initiative entitled, “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity,” which centered on the premise that active engagement and exchange are essential to realizing the benefits of diversity. We inaugurated a series of new courses on a range of topics, signature events and conferences, developmental experiences for faculty, students, and staff, and curriculum resources for equitable classroom practices. Under this umbrella, we hosted guest speakers who sparked important conversations, established the Equity and Inclusion Fellows Program for students, and created the Chen Yidan Visiting Fellows Program to expand international perspectives at HGSE. Our Usable Knowledge platform also released a series of resources to help educators protect children who feel targeted by their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political beliefs. Our work has continued in recent years with numerous trainings and an inclusive teaching seminar series for faculty. Last year, we also devoted time during faculty meetings to focus on issues of gender identity and the special concerns of international students. Meanwhile, staff have participated in workshops and brown-bag seminars focused on creating inclusive work environments and mitigating bias in the hiring process. 

I particularly want to recognize the work, over decades, of faculty and staff leaders who have helped HGSE name its goals, consider its gaps, and build its approach to addressing DEIB work generally and antiracism specifically. While I cannot fully acknowledge here everyone who has invested in our efforts, and some key contributors are no longer at HGSE, I want to offer my appreciation for historical moments in our work together. From Karen Mapp, who wrote a foundational qualitative study of the racialized student experience at HGSE in the 1990s, to Pamela Mason, who led the efforts to articulate a set of profession-facing competencies in our degree and professional education programs, we have visionary leaders among our faculty colleagues. In recent years, Gretchen Brion-Meisels and Tracie Jones have led our DACED governance committee in competency development and amplifying student voices in our work, and Candice Bocala and Aaliyah El-Amin have engaged as powerful peer-to-peer mentors. In developing our new equity-focused curriculum for master’s education, Meira Levinson, Jarvis Givens, Gretchen Brion-Meisels, Xin Xiang, Paola Uccelli, Tim McCarthy, Josh Bookin, and Becca Miller are helping us focus on justice-oriented engagement and action. Meanwhile, colleagues Adriana Umaña-Taylor, Christina Villarreal, Eric Shed, Jen Cheatham, Lisa Maxwell, and others have advised us on needed improvements at HGSE, and Lisa Lahey, Mandy Savitz-Romer, Gretchen Brion-Meisels, and colleagues have been instrumental in work focused on White antiracist educators. Tracie Jones, Maritza Hernandez, and colleagues have worked steadily to support students as they navigate issues of identity, highlighting areas of need and building additional institutional supports. And Kelly DeLiberato, working with Tracie Jones and staff members across the school, has created numerous resources and opportunities for individuals and departments to engage in DEIB activities.

This short overview does not fully capture the incredible work and continuing effort by so, so many at HGSE to increase our awareness and create opportunities to develop our skills as individuals and as a community. It is also important to recognize that there have been numerous innovative and important contributions from students that have greatly benefited this community. I am extremely grateful that HGSE is presently at a place in which the value of DEIB work is recognized broadly and that many have adopted a growth mindset for what is required to make progress. Still, as we look ahead, we must not only continue but also deepen our DEIB work, and we must consider new ways of working in order to make sustained improvements.

A Focused Effort in 2020-21

Over the last year, even amidst the disruptions caused by the ongoing pandemic, we have taken the time to evaluate where we are in this journey, what has worked well and what has not, and where there are opportunities for improvement. Input and advice from key faculty members, student coalitions, and staff administrators and managers has been important in guiding our way to a more ambitious strategy, especially at a time of reckoning with the legacy and continued presence of anti-Black violence and other forms of societal oppression. With tremendous thanks to the convening and coalition-building efforts of Tracie Jones, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, Josh Bookin, Associate Director of Instructional Support and Development in the Teaching and Learning Lab, and Matt Miller, Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching and Senior Lecturer, our outreach and engagement during the past several months has identified three major focus areas for the next stage of our work: (1) Increasing our Capacity; (2) Making DEIB Core; and (3) Engaging with the World.

Increasing Our Capacity

To strengthen the infrastructure and effort needed to continue growing our DEIB work, we are adding new staff positions focused on DEIB work.  While careful stewardship of our resources has never been more crucial, I am confident that investments in deepening our DEIB-aligned pedagogical, professional, and personal development are wise and urgently needed given HGSE’s role as a leading school of education:

  • As Tracie Jones assumes a broader portfolio, we will hire a new professional colleague in the Office of Student Affairs whose work will be dedicated to supporting students, including the specific needs of historically-marginalized students, and the learning and development of all students across a range of DEIB issues and priorities.
  • A professional instructional coach focused on antiracist and equitable pedagogy will join the Teaching and Learning Lab team, extending the availability of group and one-on-one pedagogical support for HGSE faculty and instructors and deepening the TLL’s demonstrated commitment to DEIB-conscious practices.
  • Additionally, a new position in HGSE’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, led by Tracie Jones, will support School-wide planning, coordination, events, and outreach and will work closely with our Human Resources department to focus on the learning and development of our staff. 
  • We also seek to increase the expertise we have available in our planning and work by engaging experts in the field from outside HGSE to help us candidly assess our strengths and weaknesses and bring new perspectives to bear on our day-to-day practices. 
  • Finally, for those already in our community leading this work, we are making greater efforts to recognize their time and effort.  We have been working with key faculty to credit their DEIB work as service into their workloads, and for students, we are increasing the number of Equity and Inclusion Fellows and awarding stipends in recognition of the importance of their work.

Making DEIB Core

To date, DEIB work has mostly been offered as an optional or voluntary exercise.  However, as demonstrated by recent events, it is clear that this work is essential for any professional — whether a faculty member, staff member, or student who is a current or aspiring education professional. We must better integrate our DEIB activities into daily practice and more clearly articulate our goals for improvement. For all members of our community, we are building from the diversity competencies recently updated by DACED to focus on reflective self-work, developing interpersonal and group dialogue, and teaching individuals to identify and analyze harmful systemic norms and threats to equity.

  • For students, we have begun to require courses that touch on the themes of equity and inclusion, and we will be adding new opportunities, courses, and requirements in the coming years, including a foundational course requirement on equity and opportunity — an investment that is a significant part of our master’s curriculum renewal, which is also focused on exposing students to more global perspectives.
  • For faculty, we are increasing training focused on antiracist pedagogy and inclusive teaching and offering more coaching opportunities to help faculty incorporate DEIB principles into the classroom, the syllabus, and the learning environment we shape. We will also be devoting time during regular faculty meetings for professional development experiences. We will ensure this work is intentional and sustained and part of our shared culture of ongoing learning and growth as teachers and mentors.
  • And for staff, we are increasing the learning experiences and training available, including case-based discussion sessions and other group-learning activities. We are also helping departments to set specific equity goals, planning an Equity Ambassadors Program, and participating in a set of workshop experiences with Radcliffe entitled, The Beloved Community: Racism and Paths to Healing.

Engaging with the World

We are also committed to ensuring that DEIB topics are a focus in our engagement with communities across Harvard and around the world. For example, HGSE recently co-led the development and implementation of the university-wide Black & Brown Community Connections Orientation for Students of Color, which drew more than 750 participants from across the university; we have also regularly hosted the university-wide Black and Latinx Graduation Ceremonies. HGSE recently partnered with the University Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Office and Harvard Libraries on the Black American Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic Library Guide, and HGSE Librarian Alex Hodges provides direction and support for the university-wide Anti-Black Racism book club. We are proud of this leadership and look forward to doing even more. 

Externally, our HGSE Education Now series has highlighted topics related to DEIB, including a recent webinar for thousands of educators on Practicing Antiracism in Your School, and providing numerous resources to educators and the general public. We will continue to lift up the voices of those who are remaking systems in support of learners and offer hope that change is possible. Expert teachers, school leaders, counselors, and community leaders in the U.S. and beyond have much to teach us, too. And our work does not end when our students graduate. Our Alumni Relations team has worked with alumni to establish the Alumni of Color Alliance Advocates to support student programming, provide mentorship, and develop internship opportunities for our current students.

As you can see, we have laid out an ambitious agenda that in many ways feels like the next leg of a long journey, a process that very much mirrors our own individual journeys to greater understanding, awareness, and insight as we strive to make our world more just and inclusive. I have no doubt that this work is not only an investment in our own community but also in those that we hope to serve in educational contexts around the world. In the days and weeks ahead, please look for updates to our website and other communications channels as we seek to make our ongoing work more visible. You can also expect announcements about upcoming events, and I hope you will take the opportunity to share, learn, and contribute to this next stage in our growth. I look forward to working together and welcome your thoughts about this central and evolving work.

I extend my warmest welcome to an academic year like no other — and a chance for all of us to learn to change the world.

Best,
Bridget

Bridget Long, Ph.D.
Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education
Saris Professor of Education and Economics