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Following the release of the final report of the University's Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging last March, John S. Wilson, senior adviser and strategist to Harvard’s president, said he is working to implement the reports' recommendations — including assembling teams of faculty and developing a University-wide survey.
Former University President Drew G. Faust announced Wilson’s appointment in March, writing that he would serve as the “point person” for the implementation of the task force’s recommendations. Wilson says that over the past few months, he, along with several other faculty members, have been strategizing about putting the task force's recommendations into action.
Wilson said that one of his first steps in the implementation process was assembling a team of individuals from around the University. Among them are Vincent Brown, professor of History and African and African American Studies, and Mayra R. Rivera, Divinity School professor of religion and Latinx studies, who are overseeing the task force’s call for an interfaculty initiative on “identity, politics, and culture.”
In addition, Psychology Professor Mahzarin R. Banaji; Khalil G. Muhammad, Kennedy School professor of history, race, and public; and Sociology Professor Frank Dobbin are spearheading an additional interfaculty initiative on “higher education, inclusion and belonging, and organizational change.”
“Among the first things we set out to do was to establish who around Harvard University is already in this space, and there are many people, particularly in the schools, so we established a committee,” Wilson said.
Wilson noted that while the second interfaculty initiative is, “at a slightly earlier stage in terms of its formation,” the first one on identity, politics, and culture has been discussing methods by which the wide range initiatives focusing on these themes around the ‘University can potentially work together.
“They may remain decentralized, but they’re looking at ways in which a greater awareness of who’s doing what might create some new synergy,” he said.
Wilson said he and his teams are planning for the release of a University-wide survey intended to gather data about inclusion and belonging — one of the task force’s recommendations.
“That’s a little more complex because the timing is absolutely critical on that, and we are aware that there are several other major surveys going on this year,” Wilson said. The Association of American Universities will administer a survey about sexual assault and misconduct on campus to Harvard students in the spring.
He said that he is in “active conversations” with a committee led by Andrew D. Ho, an Education School professor, to administer the survey.
When it comes to implementing the University-wide report at each of Harvard’s 12 schools, Wilson said that the decentralization of Harvard, while often considered a disadvantage, also has benefits.
“A lot of this inclusion and belonging work or the pursuit on inclusive excellence ties to, is grounded in relationships,” Wilson said. “It’s logical that the relationships that have to be formed have to be formed in smaller communities first, and then you build up.”
Wilson said that he is soliciting strategic plans, a set of guidelines for each of Harvard’s 12 schools curated by each school’s dean. Those plans are slated to be submitted to Wilson at the end of October.
“We’re going to assess all of the separate plans, and then we’re going to look for common themes and figure out what an overall strategy has to be,” he said.
Wilson encouraged further input from students throughout the implementation process. He said he has spoken with Claudine Gay, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, and Katherine G. O’Dair, the College’s dean of students, and about how to best reach undergraduates.
Wilson and his team’s ultimate goal is to create a model for inclusion and belonging in a university setting, he said.
“If we can get this right, if Harvard can be the model for inclusion and belonging issues and for what inclusive excellence means in higher education or in any sophisticated organization, that would be a good thing. That’s the goal,” Wilson said.
—Staff writer Olivia C. Scott can be reached at email@example.com
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