Editorial | Provost Harris' past is promising for the Hill
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 09:09
The start of this semester marks the end of a years-long effort to bring an Africana Studies program to fruition. Now offering students the chance to major and minor in the discipline, the program represents the university’s solidified commitment to not only bringing a diversity of voices to the Hill, but also a diversity of academic offerings that validate and give background to those voices. With this in mind, the decision to bring David Harris, the new university provost and senior vice president, to Tufts is a particularly apt and welcome choice given his background in promoting diversity on college campuses.
Diversity does not happen naturally. Traditional academic institutions are not structured to benefit marginalized groups and highlight their stories, and so it is a university’s responsibility to develop academic departments that allow students to learn about narratives that differ from and challenge the traditional educational frameworks.
Harris’ record demonstrates a commitment to this responsibility. While the Vice Provost for Social Sciences at Cornell University, he chaired a working group that looked at key issues in diversity on college campuses and then analyzed a range of programs that addressed those issues. The group detailed why those programs were compelling initiatives for colleges to implement, and then hosted a conference at which they shared their findings in an attempt to bring similar programming to Cornell.
Harris has a unique and multifaceted take on how he approaches issues of diversity, saying that he thinks about it in four dimensions: composition, engagement, inclusivity and achievement. By bringing this “breadth-and-depth” perspective to Tufts, Harris will challenge and encourage the university’s developing programming to grow in new directions.
As provost, Harris says that he sees it as one of his primary responsibilities to ensure that students’ learning opportunities are diverse, and that his work in interdisciplinary education is something he undertakes because “it’s required to answer critical questions you want to answer.”
Tufts has finally taken a step forward in creating a diverse learning environment with the implementation of the new Africana studies program — hopefully the first step of many. Those next steps will only be that much easier to take with David Harris’ arrival on the Hill. The melding of Tufts’ efforts to move forward and Harris’ distinctive perspectives on diversity may, with time, yield further progress in an area where it is long overdue.