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Amid Harvard protests, school president speaks up for inclusion

In solidarity with other schools protesting racism on their campuses, Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health students, faculty and staff gathered in the Kresge Courtyard.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Harvard students stood up for racial justice Thursday in solidarity with campuses across the country, as President Drew Faust said it is "well beyond time" for the school to ensure it is an open and accepting community.

"We will not all always agree on the best ways forward. But we owe it to one another to shape an environment in which every one of us is fully included," Faust wrote in the letter to Harvard students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

About 100 graduate students at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health demonstrated on their campus in the Longwood medical area. Dressed in black, students walked out of class to a "Blackout" rally in support of students at the University of Missouri and Harvard Law School, where controversy also erupted Thursday when students discovered that strips of tape had been placed across photographs of black professors outside of a lecture hall.

On Wednesday, dozens of Harvard students gathered in the Science Center Plaza and marched to Porter Square, where they joined with demonstrators from Tufts University.

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Taken together, the demonstrations and Faust's comments elevated the discussion of race on the Cambridge campus.

Faust's letter coincided with the release of a report by a Harvard committee commissioned last year to assess the university's commitment to inclusion and diversity. Faust praised the findings of the 37-page report.

The document gave several broad recommendations and cited examples of how some students feel marginalized. One program that was intended to help needy students backfired instead, it said.

The "student event fund" program was created to allow poor students to attend up to five campus events each semester for free. But the report found that students who received free tickets had to enter events through specially marked entrances that students jokingly called the "welfare line" or the "poor kids line." The report recommended doing away with those special lines.

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It also recommended adding more diverse faculty and more courses in some disciplines, such as the sciences, that address diversity.

Focus groups found that the Harvard's science, engineering, technology, and math programs are less welcoming to women and some minorities and contain "implicit and unintentional biases" and a lack of mentors for women and minorities.

The report suggested making sure the physical appearance of campus, down to objects hanging on classroom walls, reflect the diverse student body. It also recommended cultural competency training for all staff who work with students.

The report suggested addressing "perceived inequities among the residence houses, both real and imagined." Harvard students are divided into houses where they live and engage in social activities.

It also recommended that the university streamline its administrative structure "into a much tighter and integrated set of offices with a greater level of collaboration" that would make it easier to foster diversity.

"We cannot have a healthy, diverse environment without coordination across all departments, schools, administrative offices, and allies across the University," Jonathan L. Walton, a professor of Christian morals who led the committee, told the Harvard Gazette.

The report commended the university for steps it already has taken, including a recent decision to keep two dining halls open during spring break for students who did not travel during that break, to help them save on food costs.

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana also emailed students Thursday and asked them to read the report and consider how to be more inclusive.

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"While the college has made progress in supporting historically underserved groups at Harvard and removing unnecessary markers of social distinction, we have much work to do," Khurana said.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.