Approximately one-fifth of Harvard’s freshman class say that the school’s “community conversations” about identity are “very/generally ineffective.”
On Thursday evening, a “yuge” crowd of about 20 discussed the “programming” (their term — an accurate one at that) for incoming students that “centers on race, identity, and inclusion.”
US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography My Beloved World was required reading for freshmen this year, and students had to “discuss the work with their entryway in a facilitated setting.”
That’s right, a “facilitated setting.”
“There’s no point in bringing everyone together in the way that Harvard brings people together if we’re not actually going to learn together,” said Katherine W. Steele, Director of College Initiative and Student Development at the Freshman Dean’s Office.
Polling collected by Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research found that about a fifth of the over 1300 polled freshmen considered this year’s conversations “very/generally ineffective” across three categories. Notably, male respondents were significantly less likely to rate the conversations as effective compared to their female peers.
Audience members offered several suggestions for ways the conversations could be made more effective. UC representative for Oak Yard Olu Oisaghie ’19 said he thought that part of the problem with this year’s conversations was the required reading.
“It was an interesting memoir and it was nice to read, but I don’t know if it was very conducive toward the kind of issues that community conversations is meant to be addressing,” Oisaghie said. “There are much better readings out there that could capture what we’re going for in terms of sparking conversations about diversity and race relations on campus.”
Other students, including UC vice-president Daniel V. Banks ’17 questioned the length of the required reading, which he said students were unlikely to read in full.
“Something that might be easier to accomplish is making the reading short and having it be Harvard-specific,” Banks said. “A lot of the heated personal debates going on now are things that directly involve Harvard and its complex history.”
Or, maybe — just maybe — students are simply fed up with virtually everything in the college experience these days being somehow made to intertwine with race, gender, and sexuality.
Ever consider that?