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Harvard department sells sweeping diversity changes through sexual harassment allegations

Admissions, faculty promotion, curriculum and more

When Harvard University was looking for an easy way to sell punishments on unrecognized single-sex groups such as “final clubs,” it seized on their supposed role as facilitators of sexual assault.

This rationale, however, was largely missing from the report and recommendations issued by the task force on “single gender social organizations.”

Instead, it said these clubs must be eradicated because of their “oftentimes toxic atmosphere,” which reeks of “elitism and discrimination” and stands in contrast to the “diverse and socially conscious” students of Harvard. Activists accused the university of a bait-and-switch.

Nearly four years later, Harvard is at it again.

Its anthropology department is using sexual harassment allegations to propose sweeping changes that have little if anything to do with sexual harassment, particularly the further promotion of “diversity and inclusion.”

The “Anthropology Standing Committee for a Supportive Departmental Community” explicitly said it was created in response to reports last spring that three senior professors had sexually harassed students and faculty going back to the early 2000s.

Cited by Campus Reform earlier this month, the committee was conceived all the way back in May – two days after The Harvard Crimson published its first report on allegations against faculty. The professor facing the most allegations was then quickly put on administrative leave.

It has provided a handful of updates over late summer, when it was in “the process of forming,” and early fall, saying its work would start in earnest in November. It has made no further announcements since Oct. 26.

From the start, the committee used the sexual harassment allegations as a pretext for seven of its eight subcommittees to consider unrelated issues. Its frequently asked questions page says:

Although one subcommittee will focus specifically on identifying problems with current processes related to Title IX, the scope of the standing committee is much broader and includes all topics that fall under diversity, inclusion, education, community, research and training, professionalization, and wellbeing.

The word “sexual” appears once on that page, while versions of “diverse” appear three times and “inclusion” once.

Three subcommittees explicitly focus on diversity and inclusion issues. “Diversity in Student Concentrators, Graduate Admissions, and Faculty Recruitment and Promotion” will review historical data on diversity across graduate admissions, faculty searches and appointments, and make recommendations for “improvement, with explicit expectations and benchmarks.”

“Community Building and Inclusion” will evaluate the department’s “intellectual and social activities,” their budgets and physical spaces, in order to recommend “how to achieve better inclusiveness and cohesion.” The curriculum subcommittee is tasked with increasing “the curricular commitment to diversity and inclusion,” apparently including “important milestones” for graduation.

The committee plans to issue a report at the end of the academic year, which will include its findings and recommendations for “strengthening our community and fostering a supportive departmental culture in which our students, faculty, and staff can thrive.”

It hired Edith Onderick-Harvey, managing partner of NextBridge Consulting, to advise the committee and “provide support for confidential climate surveys” the committee will conduct within the anthropology department.

Read the committee page, FAQ and Campus Reform report.

MORE: Harvard tosses trans student’s Title IX complaint against anthropologist

IMAGE: Ionut Catalin Parvu/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.