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Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Holds Diversity Conversations After Climate Survey Results

Francis J. Doyle III is the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Francis J. Doyle III is the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. By Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara
By Luke W. Xu, Crimson Staff Writer

As the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences grapples with the results of its first comprehensive climate survey, Dean of SEAS Francis J. Doyle III said last week the School will strive for transparency and release a “completely candid, transparent disclosure of the things we learned.”

“We didn't sugarcoat things, we didn't try to hide behind the averages of the population because quite frankly, that was one of the compelling messages: that averages are deeply misleading,” he said. “When we drilled down into groups within that overall demographic, there are very different messages. So we felt it was critical that we address these. That we own the challenges and issues that we've got.”

The survey, conducted last spring, polled SEAS affiliates about their experiences with aspects of the school including its overall climate, career growth, and bias and harassment. Of the more than 2,100 members of SEAS, 436 members responded, representing a 21 percent completion rate.

The report on the survey identified “a breakdown in confidence” in the school’s ability “to meaningfully address negative behaviors and actions in the workplace, lab, and classroom.” The results also spotlighted statistics for incidents of harassment or discrimination: Twenty-seven percent of survey respondents indicated that they’ve experienced harassment or discrimination at SEAS.

Given the low response rate, Doyle said SEAS has been hosting a series of conversations with School affiliates to better account for the voices of people who did not respond to the survey. Doyle said SEAS invited Judy “JJ” Jackson, a diversity and inclusion administrator at MIT, to facilitate the conversations.

In order to keep the meetings “candid” and “open,” Doyle does not attend most of the meetings. He said he attended one staff meeting, where he fielded anonymous questions by text.

“Eighty percent of the people haven't weighed in, and you can speculate on a wide range of possible reasons for why that may be. From apathy — disconnected, unconcerned, uninterested — to so alarmed that they're afraid to reply for fear of being singled out. That's a wide spectrum. That's the entire spectrum, right?” he said.

The School’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, led by Alexis J. Stokes and Doyle, held off from developing plans from the survey results in order to ensure more voices could be heard first, according to Doyle.

With the meetings almost over, Doyle said the committee will soon develop a list of priorities for the school to take moving forward.

—Luke W. Xu. Staff writer Luke W. Xu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @duke_of_luke_.

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