The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has begun several new initiatives this semester which aim to fulfill its Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging priorities for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Outlined in a July letter to SEAS affiliates from SEAS Dean Francis J. Doyle III, the initiatives include developing a post-baccalaureate bridge program for students who have lacked resources to prepare for a graduate program; increasing the recruitment of underrepresented minority graduate students; and establishing a fellows program to compensate SEAS graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for their work in advancing equity.
Alexis J. Stokes, the director of diversity, inclusion, and belonging at SEAS, said these 2020-2021 priorities stem from a reworking of the original 2019-2024 SEAS DIB Strategic Plan in the wake of this summer’s national movement racial justice movement. The post-baccalaureate bridge program, which was originally intended for implementation in Year 3 or 4 of the Strategic Plan, is now slated to come into force earlier, in Year 2.
“Within the nature of the curriculum and what we are teaching, there are ways that STEM has been used to advance racism,” Stokes said. “Even to this day, we see within the health field, the inequities that exist there; the lack of representation in trials for different vaccines.”
“So, what is our responsibility? Making sure that we are graduating students that are aware of all of these issues,” Stokes added.
SEAS reprioritized the plan based in part on feedback from the “ShutDownSTEM” action on June 11, which put a pause on STEM-oriented activities for the day and instead focused on discussions of racial justice, according to Manager for Advising Programs and Diversity Outreach Christina Zaldana.
The SEAS Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging — which Doyle established in 2017— is composed of a variety of Harvard affiliates, including undergraduates and faculty, working towards diversity and inclusion policy change at the school. The committee meets about every month.
Joey Feffer, an undergraduate member of the committee, said most of its work is long-term.
“No one on the DIB Committee really thinks DIB is something that you accomplish in one year or one semester,” Feffer said.
Feffer added that the group identifies many areas in need of improvement using data, then breaks them up into manageable pieces for the SEAS committee and the school at large to work on over the course of the year.
“There was a climate survey done at SEAS 2 years ago that sort of highlighted a lot of major flaws,” Feffer said. “Priorities were sort of taken from that climate survey and most of those priorities are longer term. Each year, each semester we cut that into actionable chunks.”
Zaldana, who is also a member of the Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, said feedback and data are essential to driving forward new initiatives at SEAS and ensuring they can be tracked and improved upon.
“I think every initiative that we talk about now, we know it’s important that it has to be measurable,” Zaldana said. “How can we track that this is working in some way?”
SEAS Faculty Coordinator Gladys Prins, another member of the committee, said the last few months have ultimately been critical in evaluating and working to improve the culture and climate not only at SEAS, but across the University.
“We’re just here to better this community,” Prins said. “We just want to make Harvard the one Harvard that we all strive for.”
—Staff writer Brie K. Buchanan can be reached at email@example.com.