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Learning from the Past, Building a More Inclusive Future

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Last spring, like many members of the Government department, we were shocked and deeply concerned by allegations of persistent sexual harassment by Professor Jorge I. Dominguez, a faculty member in the department. In the weeks that followed, it became clear that the alleged behavior was well-known by many students long before reaching faculty and administrators. This revealed a problematic departmental climate: one that lacked transparency, equality, and accountability.

These events also provided an opportunity to reflect on and improve the climate in our community. This past fall, a committee in the Government department fielded a comprehensive survey of the department, looking specifically but not only at instances of exclusion, discrimination, and harassment. With high response rates from students, faculty, and staff, we feel confident that the results of this survey present the most accurate picture of the department to date. We have made this survey and the anonymized data available to all members of the community.

In many respects, the results of this survey give us reasons to be proud. 77 percent of our community would recommend the Government department to a peer, and most members have a strong feeling of belonging within our department. A majority of our undergraduate students believe the department provides them with the training necessary to be successful in their career and that faculty care about student success in the classroom. Similarly, 82 percent of graduate students believe faculty care about the success of their research.

But, importantly, the results also firmly point to shortcomings and further emphasize the urgency of the situation: Most significantly, women in the department, particularly women graduate students, are less satisfied with the climate than are men. Many political conservatives feel they are not able to fully express their opinions in the classroom. These findings reflect that members of our community — disproportionately women — reportedly have experienced some form of harassment (3 percent) or discrimination (9 percent). While these proportions indicate that harassment and discrimination are not widespread, they are not zero, which is the only acceptable number.

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And, of course, harassment and discrimination have a chilling effect beyond the direct victims — affecting the ability of others to work and learn in an uncomfortable, hostile, or even unsafe environment. Because of this, harassment and discrimination cost us talent, make us less diverse, and inhibit our students’ best work.

As stated in the survey report, “all members [of the department] must be able to work and learn in an environment that is free of harassment and discrimination, and in which resources and support are available to all members as needed to fulfill their goals and to be commensurate with the merits of their endeavors.” The Harvard Government department is a significant part of undergraduate education at the College and is a leading political science department in the world. As such, we have a responsibility to set an example as a place where all members of our community can thrive while being treated with dignity and respect.

Last spring, a Committee on Climate Change of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff began examining our past failures and for teaching, mentoring, hiring and promotion, internal governance, and community building. The committee strives to develop norms and practices that are more transparent, inclusive, and supportive for all members of the Government department community. Their efforts have already yielded concrete actions, including a series of lectures and social events designed to bring students and faculty together across ranks and fields, an ongoing review of our graduate mentoring, and restructuring of our Teaching Fellow training, including expanded training on issues of diversity in the classroom.

Our survey has given us data to make informed decisions. In light of what we’ve learned, we will now renew our efforts for inclusion and gender equality. But the process of reform is only beginning: To become the department to which we aspire, we welcome and value the input of all members of our department and concerned members of the wider Harvard community.

In the past, the Government department fell short of the standard to which we should hold ourselves. As we move forward, we invite members of our community to examine the survey report and join us in our efforts to build a department that is diverse, democratic, and excellent.

Ryan D. Enos is a Professor of Government. Sarah E. M. James is a Ph.D. candidate in Social Policy and Government at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Danielle T. Roybal, ’19 is a joint concentrator in Government and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Kirkland House

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