Harvard Faculty, Administrators Discuss Election Impact on Youth


UPDATED: November 12, 2020, 4:52 p.m.

Five faculty and administrators from three Harvard schools converged to discuss the 2020 United States election’s impact on young people in a virtual panel hosted by the Graduate School of Education Tuesday.

Moderated by HGSE Professor Martin R. West, the panelists — including Harvard’s chief diversity and inclusion officer and professors from the School of Education, School of Public Health, and Kennedy School — focused on how the election results will influence national and local responses to pressing policy questions such as the coronavirus, climate change, and systemic racism.

In light of social division, HGSE Professor Meira Levinson said, expanding civic education and ensuring it is racially sensitive is critical for children nationwide.


“There just hasn’t been much of it, which is kind of bizarre given that every single child who attends American schools has civic rights and responsibilities,” she said. “That form of civic education is going to need to be one that is much more racially inclusive and transparent.”

Sherri A. Charleston, Harvard’s newly appointed chief diversity and inclusion officer, said an administration headed by President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr., will likely have a significant impact on higher education, particularly in the areas of Title IX, implicit bias, and the rights of veterans and those with disabilities.

She added, however, that the Trump administration has been a disruptive force on some of these issues.

“That jack is out of the box,” she said. “And there’s some question about whether we’ll ever be able to get some of the trends that we've seen unleashed, reversed.”

Kennedy School Assistant Professor of Public Policy Desmond W. Ang said incidents of police brutality and ensuing protests – significant events during this year’s presidential campaign – were not just an isolated crisis, but a moment for national reckoning.

“This is objectively something that’s just long overdue,” Ang said. “One silver lining from the past few months and the tragic death of George Floyd is that we are now having these discussions around policing and racial discrimination that has been plaguing the United States for decades, if not centuries.”

Ang added in an emailed statement following the event that police violence can have a particularly negative impact on students.

“Aggressive policing can be bad for minorities; it has detrimental educational impact, it has detrimental mental health impacts,” he said.

School of Public Health associate professor Joseph G. Allen said structural investments like improved ventilation are needed to reopen schools successfully

“Ninety percent of schools don’t meet the minimum ventilation standard,” he explained. “These investments are things we’ve been neglecting for decades.”

A Biden presidency would foster a much-needed shift toward leadership grounded in scientific evidence, Allen said in an interview following the event.

“One of the first things [Biden] announced on Saturday was the formation of his coronavirus advisory group,” Allen said. “This is a diverse group of top experts that are well respected across the entire scientific community, so it’s an immediate shift and signal that we will go back to a science-based approach.”

Allen added that an increase in cross-disciplinary problem-solving like the Tuesday discussion was one positive outcome of the COVID crisis.

“I think this is the future,” he said. “This is the power of partnerships to solve these really complex challenges. Issues like this are going to really take all of us working together.”