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An Introduction to the Joint Committee on Diversity

Few of us will ever get to study or work in a place nearly as diverse as HBS: 1,800 students, scores of nationalities and countless points of views. The JCD tries to ensure that the benefits of that diversity are widely enjoyed. So where did the JCD come from, what does it do, and who is involved?

In the spring of 2005, student representatives from the African American Student Union, Latin American Students Association, Asian American Business Association, South Asian Business Association, Jewish Students Association, Islamic Society, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Student Association and the Women’s Student Association gathered as a “Diversity Council” to discuss diversity at HBS. The purpose was to provide a forum for student leaders to discuss the challenges their members face here at HBS and brainstorm ways to make the business school more inclusive.

What emerged from the discussions was a consensus that although HBS is an amazingly diverse place, many people here struggle to feel included in the community, both inside and outside the classroom. For example, some students who were openly gay before coming to HBS opt to keep their sexual orientation private upon arrival at the business school.
To address these concerns, AASU, LASO, LGBTSA and the Leadership & Values Initiative partnered with the administration to create the Joint Committee on Diversity (JCD).

During the past three years, the JCD has found its unique voice on campus. Its vision is “to change the culture of HBS so that all students feel included, safe and valued within the HBS classroom and community.” It is comprised of six students who work with the administration to make HBS more inclusive. Last year’s committee ran a survey to identify the most pressing diversity issues experienced by students on campus. The core message from the results was that there were a significant number of students who felt unable to fully be themselves on campus. Consequently, this year’s JCD determined that “Come As You Are” would be its overriding theme.

To address this theme, we have launched three projects: 1) a community values “mini-module” that will be part of the pre-matriculation web site; 2) the development of a community page on the pre-matriculation web site that emphasizes our “Come As You Are” theme and prepares students for what to expect when they arrive on campus; and 3) an investigation of ways to make pre-matriculation discussion boards more inclusive of diversity related issues.

So who is on the JCD? And what motivated them to become involved? Although some members of the group serve as ambassadors for the student groups that first got together to set up the original JCD, the committee overall aims to be a voice for all students. This year’s JCD members are Alec Detwiler, Meredith Hamilton, Anita Lynch, Frances Messano, Charles de Segundo and Melissa Wu. Each brings a unique passion to the question of diversity, yet all share the view that there is a difference between surface diversity and real diversity. At a micro-level, the committee’s members bear that out. One member, for example, identifies as “straight, white and American,” wrote her senior thesis on the self-identification of gay black men and has been involved in diversity issues for as long as she can remember. Another member’s pre-HBS resume of Harvard College and Morgan Stanley belies her “Colombian-Italian-American” background and the working class New York neighborhood where she grew up. As a group, the committee members agree that surface diversity of the school is impressive but that the community’s real diversity does not fulfill its promise.

The JCD is now beginning to recruit next year’s committee. The info session will take place on February 12th at 3pm in Hawes 201. Applications will be due at noon on February 19th, with interviews scheduled for February 27-29. For more information, please contact Alec Detwiler at adetwiler@mba2008.hbs.edu.

February 11, 2008
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