On Campus, Student Club

Perspectives: Engaging with and Embracing Differences at HBS & Beyond

Melanie Sperling, Contributor

Join us on November 13 in Klarman for the Campus-Wide Discussion.

Can you respect, and perhaps even love, those who have fundamentally different views from you? Today, we’re living in a time of heightened polarization, when people are not engaging constructively with those who differ from themselves. The result is tribal politics, ideological siloing, and a reluctance to share ideas. While I’d like to say that the HBS community is immune to this issue, that just isn’t the case. 

The SA and HBS community is working to change the way that we engage in difficult conversations across campus.

Two of the key SA priorities for this school year are to create a community where (1) we better understand the human condition: we learn about each other’s backgrounds, hear new perspectives, assume good intent, and have fun along the way; and (2) we care and invest beyond our “easy” campus relationships: peers outside of section or clubs, different classes, non-MBAs (faculty, staff, admin, Exec Ed, etc.), and our larger Boston community. Freedom of expression and inquiry in the pursuit of understanding is a key value we should all have at HBS, and the SA is taking steps to push this vision forward in many ways, including hosting the first ever “Perspectives” event.

“Perspectives” is a new series that will start on November 13 at 3:30 p.m. in Klarman. This event aims to spark candid and eye-opening conversations that will challenge us to listen generously and grow as people. During this event, Arthur Brooks will discuss the polarized political conversation that is sweeping the United States and beyond, the dangers of that polarization, and how building a respectful and open competition of ideas can be a positive force in each of our lives. Brooks, the former president of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank) and now a senior fellow at HBS and HKS, has recently published Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.

According to a 2017 Reuters/Ipsos survey, one in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election. This inability to find love with those with whom we disagree is harmful for the world, and Brooks believes that “the solution is not for people simply to agree with each other, or to prevent disagreements from occurring. There is nothing wrong or inherently destructive about having ideas that differ from those of others. On the contrary, disagreement is necessary in a pluralistic society to find the best solutions to problems. The ability to disagree freely is one of the great blessings of modern democracy.” We hope that “Perspectives” can spark this sentiment across the HBS community, including in sections and classrooms.

After Brooks speaks, MBA chair Jan Rivkin will reflect on what Brooks’s ideas might mean for the HBS community, and then we will open the floor to a community conversation—an opportunity for folks with experiences or views to share a word with the community. The event will be followed by a 30-minute small-group discussion (also in Klarman Hall).

The SA invites all community members not only to attend Perspectives but also to submit a short letter with YOUR perspective on the HBS political climate at https://bit.ly/2pLm4VP. Some of these letters may be read at the event. We encourage the entire HBS community—students, faculty, staff, partners, and more—to attend. We hope to see you there!

Melanie Sperling (MBA ’20) is currently a second-year student at Harvard Business School and the Student Association Chief Community Officer. Before attending HBS, she worked at the One Love Foundation, building the organization from a team of two to a team of over 30 employees with four offices and a national presence. Melanie was One Love’s Chief of Staff, serving as the liaison between the CEO and each department. She managed special projects, including launching One Love’s #LoveBetter campaign and creating One Love’s educational content. She provided key insight on strategy, hiring and resource management, and strategic growth, and she is currently a member of One Love’s Regional Leadership Council in Boston. Melanie has a passion for social impact work and graduated from Duke University with a major in Psychology focused on education and adolescent development. Throughout college and business school, Melanie interned at Social Finance UK, the BELL Foundation, New Profit, Inc., and Girls for Gender Equity.

November 10, 2019
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