Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Methodology and Literature Review

Research Design

In setting out to create this project, I want to better understand the feelings of communities of color on this campus, to identify gaps in service between campus offerings and the needs of students. I felt as though this is important in making Harvard a more inclusive, welcoming place.
Right now, students of color are going through a lot, especially given the current political climate. Our university needs to be dedicated to helping them because it has an obligation to provide a positive academic experience, but hopefully also because it cares about them. More specifically, through my research, I want to look at ways to help these students through the Harvard Foundation, an office backed by administrative support but one that is receptive to the concerns of students by sheer virtue of the fact that students work there (Harvard Foundation interns). The Harvard Foundation is experiencing a time of transition, so refocusing and redefining our priorities is more important now than ever before.
The question I have set out to answer is -- How do the communities that we serve perceive the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and what do they believe we can be doing better or differently to serve as a more effective resource for marginalized groups on this campus? I hope to come to conclusions based off of interviews with students representing a variety of communities on campus, especially communities that are underserved by the Foundation, such as the LatinX and Muslim communities. I also hope to speak with Harvard Foundation interns and administrators. Drawing on existing academic literature will be fruitful to my pursuit, as it will supplement my personal experience. Finally, a field visit to Northeastern University’s Center for Intercultural Engagement will allow me to understand how other race relations focused offices operate; there, I will be speaking to student leaders about the efficacy of the space and its related programming so as to bring back best practices to the Harvard community.
In the end, this project is meant to be a deep dive into the problems of the Harvard community. I cannot say the extent to which it will be generalizable beyond this community, mostly because I do not know other communities as well as I know this one, but there will undoubtedly be parallels that may help students doing similar work at universities across the world.

Literature Review

Race relations are a very personal topic, which means that any approach to understanding this type of work must be as deep as it is broad. Understanding these issues at a one-on-one level is incredibly important (and speaks to the depth of one’s research), but there is so much existing scholarship on diversity and multicultural centers. We turn to this research in order to expand the scope of our understanding beyond the individual and toward the institution, to learn from those that have been able to generalize the experience of the individual by hearing the stories of so many.
To start, the social costs of homogeneity, especially as they contribute to a lack of belonging for so many students, are incredibly high. In their paper, Oppression and Its Effect on College Student Identity Development, Howard-Hamilton et al. advance the idea that while oppression is certainly harmful for those from minority backgrounds, it is just as big a problem for those from majority/ privileged groups.[1] The social costs of oppression are as follows—socialization into roles and patterns of behavior, denial of emotions and empathy as a result of not having to grapple with privilege, and diminished mental health as a result of relying on unhealthy psychological mechanisms to deal with fears of minorities. This is particularly important for what it says about the importance of intercultural dialogue; diversity is important for educational and personal outcomes, and thus, no institution of higher education can shirk this responsibility. In this respect, the existence of the Harvard Foundation is central in Harvard University’s mission to educate the future citizens and citizen leaders of the world.
Because the costs of homogeneity are high, it is important to understand how to make the diversity of numbers into a diversity of action; what steps can be taken to make others feel included? Milem et al. attempt to answer this question in their article Making Diversity Work on Campus: A Research-Based Perspective.[2] They leave the reader with three main notes. First, to take a multidimensional approach. Second, to engage all students. And finally, to focus on the process because diversity is a means toward achieving important educational outcomes, not an end in itself, they contend. Gurin and Nagada take this conversation a step further in describing the specifics of how to engage all students effectively through a multidimensional approach. In Getting to the What, How, and Why of Diversity on Campus, they propose an “intergroup dialogue” approach, which requires that individuals personalize their stories; rather than viewing members of other groups as simply being part of some group, it is important to understand the depth and complexity of each individual.[3] Then, the individuals comprising the groups are asked bigger questions about how they can work together to achieve some end goal, building intra group solidarity. This information is important as the Harvard Foundation begins to imagine its future dialogue programming; we can use the tools mentioned in the Gurin and Nagada reading to advance relations between groups in a productive way by being conscientious of our intended audience and asking the right series of questions.
Many of the arguments that advance a true, productive diversity can be fostered via a multicultural center. It is important to note that the sheer designation of a space as a “multicultural center” is not a panacea to the issues described above and also that the work of administration in fostering belonging does not stop after the creation of a center. Jessica Weed discusses the importance of an effective multicultural center in her paper The Culture of a (Multi)culture Center: a Quantitative Analysis of the Use of a Multicultural Center at a PWI.[4] Weed explains that a body of literature exists that supports the notion that students of color are more likely to persist if they feel as though they have built a community at their institutions. She contends that, “While much of this is premised on the basis of individual identity centers, the same principles can conceivably be transferred to an all-encompassing multicultural center.”[5] While she defends the ability of multicultural centers to create change, she maintains that intergroup dialogue within a multicultural center can help to create cross-community bonds that improve the racial climate of a campus.
All of this is important in understanding the work of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, for it shapes the types of conversations that we have. Right now, we cannot be a multicultural center, and there are certain resources that we do not have the institutional capacity to provide for students of color (space, for example), but if our programming can advance diversity in the productive ways mentioned above, we will better race relations on this campus. More specifically, I would like to see the Harvard Foundation hold additional discussion and panel based events, smaller scale events, that meet the criteria outlined above. Furthermore, we ought to be conscientious of the fact that we are not a Multicultural Center, but the student interns of the Foundation should definitely be a leading force in the charge for a space for communities of colors.
Works Cited
Gurin, Patricia, and Biren (Ratnesh) A. Nagda. “Getting to the What, How, and Why of Diversity on Campus.” Educational Researcher, vol. 35, no. 1, 2006, pp. 20–24., doi:10.3102/0013189x035001020.
Howard-Hamilton, Mary F, and Kandace G Hinton. “Oppression and Its Effect on College Student Identity Development.” Multiculturalism on Campus: Theory, Models, and Practices for Understanding, 24 Aug. 2016.
Milem, Jeffrey F, et al. “Making Diversity Work on Campus: A Research-Based Perspective.”Association American Colleges and Universities, 2005.
Weed, Jessica. “The Culture of a (Multi)Culture Center: a Quantitative Analysis of the Use of a Multicultural Center at a PWI.” University of Nebraska, 2016.

[1] Howard-Hamilton & Hinton, Oppression and Its Effect on College Student Identity Development
[2] Milem, Chang & Antonio, Making Diversity Work on Campus: A Research-Based Perspective
[3] Gurin & Nagda, Getting to the What, How, and Why of Diversity on Campus
[4] Weed, The Culture of a (Multi)culture Center: a Quantitative Analysis of the Use of a Multicultural Center at a PWI
[5] Ibid., 16

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