In Wake of Diversity-Related Protests, HKS Implements Bias Trainings


In the wake of criticism over a lack of diversity at the Harvard Kennedy School, the school has begun “unconscious bias and micro-messaging” training for senior administrators, school leaders said in an interview Tuesday.

The Kennedy School also plans to issue a second report on the status of diversity initiatives at HKS; the first report was released in May 2017 by the school’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, a group of students, staff, and faculty that gathered data about minorities at the school and presented a list of recommendations to Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf.

The data indicated trends that sparked much student activism and conversation surrounding diversity at the school. The draft report showed a steady decline of African American, “Hispanic-American” and Asian students at HKS within its largest degree program — the two-year Masters in Public Policy program — between 2005 and 2015.

The report revealed similar trends among minorities at the faculty and staff level, especially those who had received tenure or a senior administrative position. According to the report, HKS had only two tenured African American professors and two tenured professors who were classified as “Hispanic” out of 55 total professors in 2017.


The Kennedy School also saw a number of high-profile departures of women of color at senior administrative levels; one woman, former assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, Alexandra Martinez, specifically cited the “lack of support” she received from other school leaders as the reason for her exit.

One of the main recommendations of the task force report called on the school to hire an “associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and belonging.” After an eight-month search process, the school hired Robbin Chapman, who assumed the role in April 2018. Chapman has begun meeting with senior staff, leaders of the school’s various research centers, and students.

“A part of what Robbin has done so wonderfully is to work with everyone around the school, and the whole leadership team is very committed to working with Robbin,” Elmendorf said.  

Another recommendation of the task force was to regularly collect and analyze demographic information about Kennedy School affiliates in order to mark progress. Elmendorf said another report will come out next week.

“This report is meant to have the framework for presenting information that we hope to use in future years as well,” Elmendorf said. “We've been busy.”

Chapman has begun to run trainings with senior leaders, department heads, and directors of the 11 research centers at HKS. These trainings — centered around topics like unconscious bias — require participants to complete homework in preparation for future sessions to “understand how to better support the community as it begins its learning,” Chapman said.

“Whatever learning that we have the expectation for the community to be involved in as part of their being able to contribute to making the Kennedy School more diverse, inclusive and belonging, is first understood and undertaken by senior leadership,” Chapman said.

The training has also been extended to several “student-facing” departments or roles, including faculty assistants and degree program directors, according to Chapman.

Chapman also addressed how admissions affects the diversity of the Kennedy School — a point raised in the first task force report. According to the report, from 2005 to 2015, the yield rate of African American students dropped from 85 to 66 percent. For students who identified as Latinx, the yield dropped 92 to 71 percent in 2015. Asians saw their yield rate increase from 67 percent in 2005 to 77 percent to 2015.

Chapman said she has been “working very closely” with the admissions office; she has met twice thus far with the entire staff.

“We are focused on outreach,” Chapman said. “What is our footprint, where are we known to be, and where are we not known to be and how do either redistribute — what do we do strategically around that.”

Elmendorf said in order to remove bias from the hiring and recruitment process, the school has started developing “new guidelines” for faculty search committees to “ensure they are casting the widest possible net” to find people interested in joining the faculty.

“One of the things that we're really focusing on as well is developing and growing the additional networks, or the wider networks that will give us the kind of footprint we need to have with the groups that we are interested in, the talent we want to attract,” Chapman said.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.


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