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Diversifying the Kennedy School

In May 2017, an internal task force on diversity and inclusion at the Kennedy School completed a draft report detailing disappointing but unsurprising statistics. Despite an increase in applications across all racial and ethnic groups, minority admissions rates have leveled off, and yield rates of minority students have declined. The Kennedy School has had a diversity problem for a long time—but rather than improving, the issue appears to be getting worse.

We recognize the difficulties that the Kennedy School in particular faces in cultivating diversity. As a relatively new school, the Kennedy School has had less time to grow its endowment. As of March 2017, the school had raised $580 million in its capital campaign. At the time, Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said the school will use the funds in part to bolster student financial aid.

That being said, the Kennedy School has still failed to see expected returns to its financial aid and minority recruitment efforts. In light of this, we believe more can be done. In particular, the Kennedy School should further expand its financial aid program. In its draft report, the task force specifically indicated that there was a higher yield rate for the group of admitted students receiving some aid than for those receiving no aid. And of course, increasing the amount of financial aid available will also help diversify the Kennedy School in terms of socioeconomic status, another aspect of diversity in which Harvard, across all its schools, has struggled.

However, it is especially important not to make the mistake of assuming that all students of color require financial aid, or similarly, that only students of color require financial aid. In addition, money is not the only factor in the Kennedy School’s struggle to attract more minority students. To that end, HKS should more actively investigate non-financial factors contributing to its lack of diversity and work to combat these root causes beyond the scope of extending financial aid programs.

We also urge for the immediate expansion of the the Kennedy School's Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which currently consists of just two employees, one of whom is part-time. It is no surprise that such a small, low-funded office, even with the best of intentions, cannot tackle such a long-standing problem. However, with more funding and manpower, we hope that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be better equipped to explain the reason for the low minority yield in the past decade, and work to counter that root problem. The Kennedy School has already turned to promising recruitment strategies like hosting an annual conference for prospective minority students and traveling to historically black colleges and universities, and we hope to see those initiatives expanded in the future.

Striving for student diversity is not a purely ideological pursuit. Very tangible harms fall upon the minority students who do attend the Kennedy School. They often feel uncomfortable speaking about issues that impact underrepresented groups, and notice an overall lack of interest in issues of race, ethnicity and gender more generally. When minority students feel this disparity at the Kennedy School, a vicious cycle is produced. Their experiences discourage future admitted students from attending, thus perpetuating a lack of diversity.

For a school that focuses on governing, having a student body that represents the national populace is absolutely essential toward achieving its core purpose. We hope that the Kennedy School invests the time, money, and personnel necessary to combat this salient matter and ensure that its students represent the diversity of the country they hope to lead.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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