Office hours are rarely associated with strong emotions, as academic exchanges generally tend to be more cerebral than heartfelt.
But when Cesar Alvarez ’13 met with University President Drew G. Faust yesterday, emotions were at the fore.
Alvarez said that as he watched tourists visiting Harvard last fall, he realized that students in his home community would never have the opportunity to come to Harvard—or any other elite university, for that matter.
Inspired by the realization, Alvarez returned to his reservation in his native state of North Dakota to speak to students about the possibility of attaining opportunities in higher education. When Alvarez told Faust during her office hours that she had served as a major source of inspiration after he overcame the challenges of growing up on a reservation—areas that have been plagued by poverty and alcoholism—the president barely held back tears.
About twice a semester, Faust devotes an allotted period of time to meeting with students in her office. The chance to meet with the University’s chief administrator attracted an eclectic group to Mass. Hall yesterday, ranging from anti-slavery activists to a group concerned with investments in Iran.
But the afternoon’s most poignant moment came when Alvarez presented Faust with gifts from his tribe—a traditional blanket, a book, and a pin—and praised the University’s efforts to encourage minorities to attend Harvard.
“There can be more done,” Alvarez said, “but Harvard is way ahead of the game.”
In another ten-minute encounter, Faust met with students from Harvard College Free the Slaves, which has designed a course on modern-day slavery. The group hopes to get the course approved for the General Education curriculum and wants to promote broader awareness of slavery.
Group members said that they were encouraged by Faust’s interest and advice, but still face significant obstacles in the creation of the course, including the search for a professor with expertise in the field.
“Slavery isn’t something you hear about a lot these days,” said Eric Goodwin, a project coordinator with the Harvard Initiative for Global Health, who joined the students in their meeting with Faust yesterday.
Several students from Harvard Law School united with a College freshman to advocate divestment from foreign companies with ties to Iran’s energy sector.
Though comprehensive information about Harvard’s investments are not made public—and, consequently, students do not know what holdings the University might have in Iran—Harvard’s prestige could help make the University a leader in the protest against Iran’s nuclear program, the students said.
They said Faust advised them to write a letter about the issue, which she said she would present to the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. The students said they believed that Faust’s acknowledgement that Harvard did not move quickly to divest from South Africa during Apartheid boded well for their cause.
“As the most preeminent university in America, Harvard could take a stand,” said Alexander Chester, a third-year law student. “It would be a good moral stance and financial one as well.”
From her end, Faust said that hosting office hours offer her the opportunity to be more accessible, to hear from students, and to entertain unique points of view.
“Every time I do this, it’s just filled with amazing surprises of things that students have done or are thinking about,” Faust said.
—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer William N. White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.