BY JOSE SCHREIBER
On the weekend of April 19-22, 2007 hundreds of alumni will return to Harvard for the 10th Annual Latino Law and Public Policy Conference and the Latino Alumni Reunion. The conference entitled Advancing a National Leadership Agenda was organized by La Alianza and the Kennedy School of Government’s Latino Caucus. This weekend serves as an opportunity to not only advance the Latino agenda, but also reflect on the progress of Latinos in the U.S.
Over the past ten years Harvard has undergone significant changes dedicated to improving student life: sections have gotten smaller, the Hark has been remodeled, we have a volleyball court, professors are more available, and we have a wider selection of course offerings. As current students, we greatly appreciate the efforts and the results of such improvements. However, there remains one area where Harvard’s efforts have not yielded the same rewards. Why doesn’t Harvard Law have a Latino professor who is actively engaged in the U.S. Latino community at large or one that serves as a mentor to the Latino student body at HLS?
Institutions, including Harvard, market themselves as active promoters of diversity, and, when looking at the array of faculty, it is clear that there are professors from diverse backgrounds. Which poses the question: is there a need to include and emphasize the Latino experience? If the law truly is an all encompassing field that spans many areas of academia (economics and psychology to name a few) then the scholarship that makes up the legal canon should also be as inclusive and diverse. The scholarship created at Harvard is of the utmost importance and is on the cutting edge of legal academia – but it is missing a crucial perspective – that of the Latino experience. Until this unique viewpoint is incorporated, Harvard will be missing a key piece to the puzzle.
While we applaud Harvard’s efforts to hire faculty from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, we believe it should also be a priority to hire Latino professors who will actively engage and mentor the Latino student body and help them hone the skills necessary to create social justice in their communities. As minority students there have been days where we’ve looked around in a classroom or a seminar and realized that we were the only Latinos there. We are sure that this is a sentiment shared by many minorities at Harvard. While this may be a reality that we will continue to face, having a mentor during this time of academic and interpersonal development will ease the transition into our careers and life after Harvard.
Under the leadership of Dean Kagan, Harvard as an institution has proven to be responsive to student concerns. This is an issue her administration, unlike previous administrations, takes seriously. Furthermore, they are constantly reaching out to students for their input and are generally available for discussion, which raises another question: is this a systemic institutional problem or does it stem from a lack of student activism?
Many of the alumni that are returning this weekend were actively involved in advocating for greater attention paid to Latino issues, including the addition of a permanent Latino faculty member. As recently as the early 90’s students were holding sit-ins, organizing town hall meetings, and engaging in other types of grass-roots activism such as hanging empty glass frames on the walls of Pound with the words “Where are the Latinos?” written across them. These types of student organized protests are not necessarily the best solution to a problem, but it is undeniable that they are the manifestation of a true student concern.
Why then, when the Class of 2009 has more Latinos then ever before, does it seem as if this issue has fallen off the radar? If there truly is power in numbers, shouldn’t we as Latino students use our presence to bring this issue to the forefront? Or, have students decided that it is someone else’s problem? We sincerely hope it is not the latter. Conversations with faculty and current students have made it clear that there is genuine concern; however, this concern has not been translated into social mobilization. Currently, there is a small cohort of students attempting to organize a Faculty Diversity Initiative at Harvard. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to attract greater student and administrative support.
The Latino alumni have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to this issue. Now we must reopen the dialogue and exhibit the same dedication to the current and future Latino community of Harvard Law School. Although the theme of this weekend is focused on Latino issues on a national level, it is our hope that we will not pass up this valuable opportunity to examine these same issues locally. While alumni are an important resource for career related decisions, we should also remember that not too long ago they were students at Harvard Law and faced the same challenges we experience. This weekend offers the rare opportunity for past and present law students to come together and share their experience, knowledge and advice on making the most of our time at Harvard Law School.
It is our hope that through this dialogue we can continue to strengthen the Latino community so that ten years from now, when we return, the students will not be asking the same questions we ask now, but will have thought of new ways to create a dynamic presence of Latinos at HLS.
Jose Morales and Lauren Schreiber are students at Harvard Law School.