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Centering Diversity at HGSE

Always vital to the mission at Harvard Graduate School of Education, initiatives promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are now taking center stage
Tracie Jones
Tracie Jones introduces the Black Harvard Portraiture Project in Gutman Library, February 2020
Photo: Elio Pajares

For decades, while Harvard Graduate School of Education students have been driving change in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) from the ground up, the school’s administration has been amplifying that work from the top down. This year, the newly created DEIB Office is helping unite these efforts in the middle, with the aim of driving a DEIB ethos inescapably into HGSE’s core.

“We’ve always been doing this work, but this year, we are increasing capacity so we can do this work more deeply, with more people,” says Tracie Jones, HGSE’s first-ever director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Since last fall, the office has been busy working to support DEIB initiatives on all levels, such as Dean Bridget Long’s creation of the Anti-Racist Teaching and Advising (ARTA) Initiative, a multi-year professional development project designed to help faculty members engage in anti-racist practices and dismantle systemic racism in education. The office is also supporting faculty in developing new courses in equity and opportunity, which, as part of the school’s master’s program redesign, promise to give all students foundational DEIB instruction starting next fall.

Alex Galindo, a longtime member of the school’s Office of Student Affairs and the new assistant director of student diversity initiatives, echoes Jones’ sentiment about the school’s commitment to DEIB. “Not to brag or anything, but our office, Student Affairs, has been doing DEIB work for a long time,” he says. “We just didn’t call it that.”

A Community Commitment

When Galindo began at HGSE, there was no DEIB Office, but there were initiatives aimed at promoting equity, many of which, like the Alumni of Color Conference and the China Education Symposium, had been created by student leaders. As the years passed, the list of student-driven equity initiatives grew. Today, it includes those original conferences, but also HGSE’s affinity-group graduation ceremonies, the all-Harvard Black and Latinx graduation ceremonies, and several equity-focused classes, like Lecturer Christina Villareal’s Ethnic Studies and Education.

“DEIB has picked up institutionally in the last five years, but I think students and alumni have been doing fantastic stuff for the last 25 years, if not longer,” says Josh Bookin, associate director of instructional support and development at HGSE’s Teaching and Learning Lab, which has partnered with the DEIB Office in the development of ARTA. “The leadership of students and alumni has led institutional changes that are now valuable parts of our curriculum and our culture.”

"We will all have the same goals and be speaking the same language. If we aren’t speaking the same language and we don’t have the same foundational knowledge, how are we supposed to build this work?" – Tracie Jones

The combined effect of these changes, says Jones, is that everyone at the Ed School can be working in in alignment on schoolwide DEIB goals. “What we are making core for students, we are also making core for staff and faculty. The DEIB competencies that students will have to adhere to and develop are the same ones that we’re using in developing our staff training, and the same ones that our Teaching and Learning Lab is using in supporting and coaching faculty,” she says. “We will all have the same goals and be speaking the same language. If we aren’t speaking the same language and we don’t have the same foundational knowledge, how are we supposed to build this work?”

Adding Fuel to the Fire

Coco Rosenberg, the DEIB Office’s coordinator of programs and initiatives, is already seeing the impact of the school’s intensified DEIB commitment. Before Rosenberg’s role was created and Galindo’s expanded, Jones was responsible for organizing and facilitating all DEIB-focused work at HGSE and in the greater Harvard community — an impossible task for one person. With the creation of the DEIB office and its new positions, says Rosenberg, HGSE is now able to approach DEIB work more strategically. “We’re now able to look at our systems and our structures and see where there might be more space to make them more humanizing, equitable, and just,” they explain.   

An equitable HGSE is a better HGSE — but the goals of the DEIB Office don’t stop there. As the DEIB Office expands, says Jones, she hopes to extend its influence beyond Appian Way, so that the surrounding schools and communities can benefit from HGSE’s DEIB-centric work. Already, she explains, the 24 Equity and Inclusion (E&I) fellows, who work with their fellow students to identify and address emerging equity needs on campus, are partnering with Harvard’s other schools to facilitate equity-focused workshops and trainings.

Master’s student Samantha Fletcher, an E&I fellow who works with three of her peers to organize these initiatives at the Harvard Extension School, sees this work as part of her personal mandate to promote equity. Before coming to HGSE, she became an impromptu equity coach, designing DEIB trainings and workshops to address the problems she saw while working as a teacher. “Equity and inclusion [work] is a passion,” says Fletcher, explaining her decision to become a fellow. “When I heard about the Equity and Inclusion Fellows program, I didn’t know exactly what it was — but since it was about equity and justice for everybody, I was like, sign me up!”

Fletcher’s work as a fellow has extended into her Technology, Education, and Innovation (TIE) cohort, for which she devised an anti-racist initiative called TIE-DIE. A play on the acronyms for her program and for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE), the initiative brings her cohort members together in informal spaces to discuss DEIB concerns in the world of education technology. This sort of work is typical of the E&I fellows, who are given the resources, training, and encouragement to identify and address the DEIB needs they encounter across HGSE and in the field.

Carried forward by the dedicated work of students like Fletcher, administrators like Jones, and the many justice-oriented faculty who center DEIB in every class, HGSE is actively pursuing a more equitable world. This work, acknowledges Jones, is slow, but it is valuable. “One pebble makes a ripple, then a wave, then a tsunami,” she explains. “It takes time for this to work — it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a constant doing and redoing and adding and changing and pivoting, based on the nation or the world.”


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