Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Successes and Shortfalls

Student Interviews

In order to understand what the Harvard Foundation can be doing better, I thought it best to turn to the students that we support. Here, I include two full length interviews conducted for this project; this was an opportunity to engage with two members of Harvard's community that belong to communities the Harvard Foundation has struggled to support-- Muslim and LatinX students. Because the interviews are so long, we had to split them up into two segments each. Below, we hear their stories.


Anwar Omeish '19

The interview with Anwar, an activist at Harvard University, was illuminating for what it said about the structural issues within the Foundation. For example, she says,

“The problem with the HF is in the founding of the thing in itself, as in the very idea of it… When other universities were building multicultural centers, Harvard didn’t want its students to self segregate [and created the Harvard Foundation instead].”

It seems that from the start, the Foundation was doomed to be compared to something that it is not; as the debate for the multicultural center rages on, administrators often point to the Foundation as an alternative, but the Foundation was never meant to be that and, as it stands, can never be that.

In all, it seems as though Anwar is appreciative, yet critical. She has had mostly “positive” experiences with the Foundation and believes that it “holds very important space for students of color”, citing specifically that the Foundation ought to remain in its position outside the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). She feels, however, that the Foundation’s model for diversity is a bit “outdated” and that it “certainly is not the space that [students of color] deserve.”

Moving forward, Anwar would like to see the Harvard Foundation interns do a better job of organizing the Student Advisory Committee and give students within the committee a better platform to share their opinion. Additionally, where the Foundation has been intentionally apolitical in the past, she would like to see the Foundation take a more principled stance-- she explains that, “being a racial or multicultural center is a political thing in itself”. While she doesn’t currently see the Foundation as central to the most recent push for a multicultural center, she does see the value that the Foundation adds and would like to see the Foundation as part of imagining that future.

Anwar also recognizes just how uncertain the future of the Foundation is,

"I worry about the Foundation now [because of the expansion of EDI, the push for the multicultural center, and the Foundation having no director]. I worry that it will become subsumed."

It is clear that the Foundation needs to do some reimagining in order to adequately support students on campus. 

Brenda Esqueda '20

Brenda Esqueda, intern at the Harvard Foundation and a member of the LatinX community, has done so much to support LatinX students on campus, but she describes that this work is sometimes exhausting, unsupported and misunderstood. Even at the Harvard Foundation, for example, she explains that “people don’t know when we had the last LatinX intern, and I don’t know when we’re going to have the next one.” Structurally, too, there are few LatinX administrators and faculty.
She loves her work at the Foundation but certainly recognizes problems within the institution. She explains that the Foundation doesn’t seek help until way too late in the planning process; additionally the conversations that are had often forget large communities of people until one person says, “Don’t forget about these people!” Often, she feels as though that responsibility falls on her—

“I feel a lot of pressure because of the tension that has been going on in the LatinX community; people want resources and I am in one of the offices that is supposed to provide resources.”

She would like to see the Foundation continue to seek more support from people outside of it, be more outward looking in its focus rather than relying on the knowledge of its interns to make decisions.
In all, however, Brenda acknowledges the need for a multicultural center and explains that the Foundation cannot be it for two reasons—one, it does not have the physical capacity to serve as a gathering place. And two, the Foundation is inherently intersectional in its mission. Brenda believes that,

“[a focus on intersectionality] was needed when the Foundation was created, but now we need more than that. Just the sole support of intersectionality is hurtful for our communities. When people are asking for a multicultural center, they are asking for a space that will allow them to just be.”

The Foundation, she argues, would work hand in hand with a multicultural center, “making both of our lives easier.”

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