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Building an Inclusive Campus

An HGSE fellowship program that encourages equity and diversity — and spreads the message across Harvard.

Equity and inclusion fellowsWhen Tracie Jones, assistant director for Student Diversity and Inclusion Programs, relaunched the Equity and Inclusion Fellows (EIF) Program last year, she hoped that it would be a bridge for students across Harvard Graduate School of Education to work toward a more equitable and inclusive campus. What she couldn’t foresee was that the program, which trains Ed School students to facilitate difficult conversations, would reach beyond HGSE to the rest of Harvard as people across the university sought training on issues of bias, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

“This fellows program is really about how to deeply engage in work around diversity, equity, and inclusion in ways that go far beyond the classroom to how to facilitate these difficult conversations, how to work with people with identities different from your own, and how to develop the skills to go into the community and conduct workshops,” Jones says. “Ultimately, this is really about how to talk with each other.”

Developed and administered by the Office of Student Affairs, the EIF Program was an evolution of earlier efforts at HGSE to structure programming around the school’s diversity competencies and its community conversation on fulfilling the promise of diversity, Jones says. Last year Jones was able to update the program by adding a toolkit with the assistance of Lecturer Candice Bocala, Ed.D.’14, and a grant from the Teaching and Learning Lab. In 2017, 13 fellows – all HGSE master’s candidates – were chosen for the revamped program.

“As opposed to just talking about diversity, we look at why this is important, what does equity mean,” Jones says. “The work aims to develop a skillset fellows can use in their cohort, the community, and then the larger Harvard community, as well as once you leave Appian Way.”

Selected fellows must undergo training and commit significant time to the work. The 98-page toolkit acts as a guide and teaching tool, providing fellows with the skills to facilitate group discussions among students and the larger HGSE community, as well as with weekly readings from the foundational text, activities, and resources related to issues of equity and inclusion. During the fall, fellows also meet weekly to speak about relevant topics, work on developing activities for other students, and practice facilitating group discussions.

Signing on to be a fellow last year was an easy choice for Rolesia Holman, Ed.M.’18, who saw her background as a teacher and coach focused on closing the achievement gap as a good fit for the program. “It’s critical and important work,” she says. “If an institution like Harvard wants to take the lead, then others will follow.”

Driven by the inequities she witnessed while working at the New York City Department of Education, Shah Powell, Ed.M.’18, saw value in the EIF Program and immediately applied to be a fellow last year. Powell admits that their work really “spiraled in a good way” as the year went on and requests to run workshop outside of the Ed School started coming in. “People loved it,” Powell says. “It felt like everyone always wanted us to come back and facilitate more.”

Jones hadn’t intended for the fellows to conduct trainings and workshops outside of HGSE, but once word about the program was out around the university and inquiries started coming in, it made sense for other parts of Harvard to take advantage of the resource. Over the past year, EIF fellows have held workshops at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, the Harvard BRIDGE Program, Harvard Art Museum security, and the Harvard Medical School’s Health Professions Recruitment & Exposure Program (HPREP).

As the mentoring director for HPREP — a science enrichment program aimed at recruiting high school students from the Boston area, particularly those from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds, into science and medicine — Harvard Medical School (HMS) Ph.D. candidate Xavier DuMaine saw a need to better train HPREP’s 60 mentors in issues of diversity and inclusion. He reached out to the EI fellows to help create an original training session that focused on providing mentors with a better understanding of and sensitivity toward the student population they work with, including what it means to come from a disadvantaged background.

The response to the training was tremendously positive, DuMaine says, adding that one big take away was how important it is to not assume that all disadvantaged students have the same story. “These students we work with are more than the challenges they face and more than being low-income or first generation,” he says. “It’s just an aspect of their identity. There is so much more that we can learn from them. It’s not a one-sided relationship.”

DuMaine says that the experience was so great that they are asking this year’s EI fellows to come back and offer similar training. Additionally, he thinks this training would benefit all graduate students at HMS. “This can be one small way of trying to change the culture,” he adds.

The impact of these sessions is not limited to the people and groups being trained; it is also felt by the fellows themselves. “It really became a bigger phenomenon for myself, the school, and the people we were able to train,” Powell says. “It’s a heartwarming experience to see people come to realization in front of you. To watch people have these ‘a-ha’ moments. I feel like every facilitation we had that happen. Not only did I teach someone something but this might change how they think about life, their work, and how they treat someone. That was really awesome.”

Jones is currently recruiting the 2018–19 fellows, who must apply by August 30. An added component for this year’s selected fellows will be course credit through the Field Experience Program. She anticipates that the fellows will continue to conduct workshops and trainings beyond HGSE. Ultimately, Jones hopes that every year the graduating fellows take the experience with them after they leave HGSE in their work as leaders, teachers, or consultants.