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Black Womxn Deans Discuss Diversity in Women’s Week Panel

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Three Harvard administrators who were appointed in 2020 to lead diversity and inclusion efforts at the University gathered to discuss their work at a panel discussion hosted by the Harvard College Women’s Center Wednesday afternoon.

Entitled “Black Womxn Deans at the Forefront of DIB Work,” the panel featured Harvard Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston, College Associate Dean for Inclusion and Belonging Alta Mauro, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean of Diversity, Belonging, and Inclusion Sheree M. Ohen. The event marked one of several held by the Women’s Center this week as part of the annual Women’s Week — a series of speaker events and discussions around feminism, female achievement, and womanhood.

Charleston said she and her colleagues are focused on advancing “research and data-informed practices,” “organizational effectiveness,” “community and campus engagement,” and “inclusive excellence” in their roles.

“We want to build structures that outlast us, such that at a minimum, they are annoying to uproot so that they can never be dug up right,” Charleston said.

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While transitioning into her role last year, Mauro said she encountered a “tricky barrier” between empowering students to champion diversity efforts while reminding them of the institution’s responsibility to solve diversity-related issues.

“What is the balance between them demonstrating agency and them saying, ‘This is a barrier that the institution has the responsibility to eliminate?’” Mauro asked. “I personally want people to feel empowered to drive the change that they want, but I also know that that’s not a student’s job. The priority is for you to be a student and to practice self-care.”

Looking ahead to future events, Ohen said she and her colleagues are planning a conversation on the intersections of academic freedom and free speech.

“How do we highlight marginalized voices while also protecting the right to be able to have open discourse?” Ohen said. “One of the early initiatives is the Faculty Liaisons for Inclusive Excellence, which is launched in all three academic divisions: Arts and Humanities, the Sciences division, and Social Sciences.”

In the Q&A segment of the panel, Mauro explained how the equity, inclusion, and leadership projects she took on within her sorority helped prepare her to pursue a career in diversity advancement.

“It was really activating with me that there was a way to commit myself professionally to the things I was already committed to at a gut level,” Mauro said. “The priority of my job is really translating this lofty institutional language around equity and pulling that down into something that is strategic.”

Kayla Martinez, an FAS academic planning specialist who attended the event, wrote in an email that she was “in awe of the incredible work” of the panelists.

“As many institutions seek to become anti-racist, it’s important to be intentional about policies and culture,” she wrote. “This involves not using diversity solely as a buzzword, but rather thinking critically about structural inequities and ways to effectively enact change.”

—Staff writer Audrey M. Apollon can be reached at audrey.apollon@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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