Dear Speak Out Community,
First of all, thank you to everyone who participated in the privilege walk. We had seventy-seven people turn out and a powerful discussion afterwards. A big thank you to Kai and Nada who led the walk. Look out for news of the walk in the Citizen and the Crimson.
We have exciting news to share — the administration has officially expressed its desire to collaborate with us on designing a training component that will examine systems and identities for Orientation week for every HKS degree program! We are really proud of all of your work, as we are setting a precedent for how the administration responds to students. Your commitment compelled the administration to also commit, thank you!
BUT we’ve still got a lot of work to do. As of right now, the content of the training has not been decided, and we need to make sure we have student involvement in that process. HKS has also not yet approved funding for the training, which will be essential. So, here’s our plan going forward:
1. We will be putting together a committee of students who will liaise with the administration over the summer to design the training. Some people have already come forward to say they’d like to be involved in this side of things, including Jessie Landerman, Reetu Mody, Mick Powers, and Paul Monge Rodriguez. If you would like to be part of this committee PLEASE contact one of the core organizers!
2. We will be meeting with the Dean sometime this week or next to make sure this training is institutionalized across school, rather than being included or excluded at the whim of the various program directors. We need your presence. The Dean should also be able to help us with making sure HKS secures funding.
Last but not least, we will be having a get-together this week to honor everyone who has committed time and energy to creating a new legacy for incoming HKS students that enables them to become better policy-makers. The HKS Speak Out Celebration is Friday, May 9, from 5-6pm (i.e. after everyone has finished their last exam and has grabbed free pancakes from IHOP!) in Taubman 275. We would like to use this time to thank everyone for their commitment, no matter how big or small, and to allow people to reflect on the Speak Out in general.
Hope to see everyone there!!
Your Speak Out Crew
-Miya Cain, Debbie Chen, Amanda Dominguez, Samantha Jordan, Markus Kessler, Reetu Mody, Paul Monge Rodriguez, Jennifer Rowland, Anna Stansbury, and Jonathan Welle
Correction: This article incorrectly said the administration has agreed to design a “privilege training.” The new training will encourage students to examine how systems and identities play a role in the way policy affects different groups, but the exact content and title of the training is yet to be determined. We regret the error and have edited the sentence.
An Open Letter to the Harvard Kennedy School
We came to policy school to do more and to do better. We gravitated to Harvard Kennedy School, in part, because of its explicit mission to “train exceptional public leaders and generate the ideas that provide solutions to our most challenging public problems.” As aspiring policy leaders, we recognized that our ability to diagnose and solve the problems of tomorrow depends on our ability to develop the right analytical skills today. As part of our core curriculum, we spent hours poring over case studies, STATA problem sets, and economic models to develop tools that will deepen our impact.
Yet shortly after arriving, we noticed holes within the HKS core curriculum that stymied our education. We could not grapple with hard questions about the role of government, the impact of a particular social welfare program, or the root cause of poverty. To consider these questions, we needed the additional benefit of interdisciplinary frameworks from fields like sociology, gender studies, and ethnic studies. Without understanding the socio-historical context in which policy is made, we cannot analyze the disparate ways various groups are affected by public policy, nor can we determine the best path forward.
The exercise of public leadership must draw upon more than the principles of organizational management, the tactics of negotiation science, or the psychology of implicit biases. It requires an honest assessment of structural power dynamics, of in-group and out-group dynamics, and of privilege. It requires that we continue to dissect the ways in which social structures operate to endow some individuals with certain advantages, and others with marked disadvantages. It requires that we remain critically attuned to power dynamics, both micro and macro, that undergird the institutions many of us will operate within throughout our careers.
Never ones to wait idly for change, HKS students from across the ideological spectrum began to organize. Irrespective of personal or political identity, there was a resounding consensus that the HKS experience could be improved, particularly on issues surrounding difference, privilege, and diversity. Students agreed that too many opportunities were missed this year to penetrate beneath the surface of sensitive conversations; to leverage the different forms of diversity that we each bring to the program; and to develop a more nuanced understanding of the present barriers that impinge upon social progress.
Over one hundred students invested their time and ideas at meetings throughout the year. We launched a public forum for greater dialogue and engagement across the entire school community, and dozens of students shared their stories. In just one day, we collected over 180 signatures for a petition requesting a power and privilege training for all entering students.
Out of this movement and the accompanying tumblr page, the HKS Speak Out is asking for a mandatory power and privilege training for every incoming student every year, and has specified the following terms:
This month, we met with administrators to voice our concerns and offer our active participation in instituting a power and privilege training for entering students that would fill some—though not all—of the gaps in our MPP curriculum. We presented the following arguments:
We applaud the administration’s commitment to continuing the conversation. Given the breadth and depth of student support for substantive institutional change on this issue, we strongly urge the administration to move towards institutionalization of a comprehensive training that would allow us to critically analyze power structures and the complex sociological fabric of our society. Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and Berkeley’s Goldman School provide excellent models for HKS to follow. It is the responsibility of the Harvard Kennedy School to do right by its students and to do right by the world that it impacts through its students. And it is our responsibility as current students to hold HKS accountable to its mission.
After a brief break, we’re back with more questions for you all!
We’ve decided to open the floor to the HKS community by asking:
What have you wanted to ask at HKS?
Submit your questions at tinyurl.com/speakouthks and you may find your question plastered all over campus later this week!
I’ve been reluctant to participate in the Speak Out because I’m not upset about anything. My life is pretty great, up to and including the past year at HKS. But this isn’t a space just for people who have been offended or oppressed or judged or riled up. HKS is a community, and getting to know each other should be a positive, enjoyable, inclusive process. This is also important professionally: I keep thinking about Prof. Chandra’s comments on the last day of API 202. He talked about his own projection bias, and that the whole reason for doing studies is that you can’t get any answers by sitting around “having a conversation with yourself.” You need a lot more data points to understand how the world actually works and how to accomplish anything in it. Sometimes that data comes from RCTs, and sometimes it comes from talking to people with different perspectives. I would love to hear more from all my classmates about their struggles, their successes, their military service, their religion, their work in developing countries as expats— and I should probably speak out about some of those things too.
“Our white friends should remember that they are white.”
“I never felt silenced at HKS and here is why that is a problem.
I’m a white, religious, American-born bisexual woman. I’m aggressive, opinionated, quick on my feet and vocal. I got plenty of air-time in class.
I have worked domestically with a diverse group of impoverished and oppressed Americans for many years. Because I was mouthy in class, people knew this to be true. Because they knew this to be true, I was called out to speak for experiences and groups that I had no right to speak for. It’s not that I minded raising hell on issues like systemic racial discrimination or economic oppression, but I was keenly aware that deference to my (second-hand) experience was badly misplaced.
I graduated just a few years back and am reminded daily that the people I work with are, on the whole, enormous jerks who don’t just fail at promoting diversity, they don’t even give a s**t. I miss even the bungled attempts at inclusion that HKS worked for. However, the point is not that HKS tries harder than the real world; gold star, whatever. The point is that it could and should be better and will only get there if people keep raising hell. HKS is a lab: let’s prove that these high ideals can work in practice.
Keep sharing your stories. They matter.”
- Anonymous, MPP Alumna
“Ask people to be realistic of their capacity to understand stuff outside of their domain!”
Note that the views expressed below do not reflect that of the HKS Republican Caucus. They are my views.
As a card-carrying Republican, I find it deplorable that HKS has not done more to promote political diversity . When I first arrived on campus, I was astonished to not find a functional conservative or Republican student organization, especially since HKS is the nation’s premier policy school designed to produce the next generation of public leaders. This requires building a student body that reflects the true diversity of ideas that span America, but that isn’t the case here since the school’s student body and faculty tend to lean left already. During a time when 41% of the country self-identifies as conservative, it’s unrealistic to assume that when we enter our civil service careers we will always be surrounded by like-minded people.
However, perhaps our numbers on campus would grow if there was a climate wherein people would feel comfortable to participate in respectful debate. Several conservatives have already told me that they refrain from contributing their thoughts on topics like abortion or immigration for fear of being perceived as sexist, racist, or homophobic. Among those that do talk politics, they have urged me not to disclose their identities so as to avoid being outed as a conservative. The saddest incident I saw all year occurred in class. A young woman was challenging her classmates to reassess the merits of Obamacare and offer healthcare alternatives — a reasonable action in a place that is supposed to encourage intellectual inquiry — only to find herself dismissed as “heartless” and “backwards” by her classmates. She hasn’t spoken again on that topic, and I don’t blame her.
If this type of atmosphere persists, HKS will experience a chilling prospect for any higher learning institution that prides itself on being a marketplace of ideas: students muting themselves. To prevent that, we need to build a space in which conservatives (and other ideologies) will feel comfortable contributing to classroom discussions. A Diversity Training Program would accomplish this goal. It’s critical to the Kennedy School’s mission, and it’s why I support this HKS Speaks Out movement.
Last note: I know there are some conservatives on campus who are skeptical about HKS Speaks Out, and that’s alright. My message to them — I urge you to attend one meeting if not for your fellow classmates, then for the incoming class of HKS students who may feel similar alienation if this diversity program isn’t implemented.
To enable my fellow conservatives to speak up, HKS needs to Speak Out.
Un fuerte abrazo,
Isaac Lara, MPP1
"My identity as a woman and a mother does not exist within the HKS community. There are many discussions about leadership here but none in the broader community about the tradeoffs one makes in life to be a leader and an involved parent. I should not have to go to WAPP only to feel that this issue matters.”