Update the MPA/ID curriculum to address racism & colonialism in International Development

Update the MPA/ID curriculum to address racism & colonialism in International Development

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Elevate MPA/ID started this petition to Harvard MPA/ID faculty and administration

Dear MPA/ID faculty and administration:

As alumni and students of the MPA/ID program, we are writing to express our continued interest in working with you to elevate the program’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, to boldly address the legacy and continuing reality of racism and colonialism in international development, and, in so doing, to ensure that the program we love so much remains the preeminent global institution for educating practitioners of international development. 

We deeply appreciate your sincerity, openness and trust, the time and energy you have given, and the initial steps you have taken during the 2020-21 academic year to improve the program: you met with the Elevate MPA/ID founders several times; you invited them to an orientation to discuss issues of racism, colonialism and development; Professors Andrews, Rodrik and Walton incorporated materials on race and colonialism in their classes; and Professor Andrews invited several MPA/ID alumni to talk about their experiences of racism and colonialism in development.

On our end, we have: 

  • Created and presented to faculty a framework to help think about race and colonialism in international development. 
  • Created and analyzed a survey of the 20 MPAID cohorts on alumni experience with racism
  • Compiled and shared with faculty and alumni an index of readings and resources on race/colonialism and development
  • Facilitated a “Social Justice” discussion with first-year students
    Supported concerned first and second year MPAIDs as they navigate race at Harvard
  • Reached out to alumni to build a pipeline of tentative speakers for a speakers series
  • Met with Carol and faculty, including Matt Andrews, Michael Walton, Rema Hana and Celestin Monga, to chart a path forward
  • Drafted an outline for a potential 2-3 week long course on race, colonialism, and development for all new MPA/IDs (will soon be shared with faculty)
  • Created a facilitator’s brief to design and execute workshops to promote anti-racist, multi-cultural leadership, empathy, and communication skills for discussions of racism and oppression (this workshop has not yet been scheduled)
  • Participated in Matt Andrew’s Wednesday Session to share alumni experiences about racism/colonialism
  • Supported current students’ efforts to encourage more applicants from underrepresented countries, specifically African students in the program.

Together, these were no small feats given the challenges of the pandemic 2020-21. However, we believe much more must be done. The alumni survey conducted by the Elevate MPAID group confirmed how unprepared alumni have felt in addressing issues of race and development in the workplace and in their careers.  A majority of alumni respondents observed racism in the development sector, and a majority felt ill-equipped to do anything about it. Also, within the tight knit MPA/ID community, discussions on race emerged for the first time amongst alumni classes as well as current students. These discussions included personal stories from our fellow classmates that show a wide gap in the professional experiences between the alumni of color and their white counterparts. This gap in experience and understanding creates sometimes obvious - and sometimes unspoken - rifts within the MPA/ID community. As alumni, out of a deep love and concern for our fellow classmates and for the longevity of the MPA/ID program, we ask the question: why is racism and colonialism still not explored more explicitly as a subject matter in the MPA/ID program despite its central role in development outcomes, in society at large, in so many of the problems we face today?

Despite early enthusiasm and progress among administration and faculty, since December 2020, we have perceived much less progress in general and (also less responsiveness) from the administration and faculty. We kindly request 1.) a meeting with the key program faculty and administration and with representatives from alumni and current students to lay out a plan of action for the coming school year or 2.) a report back to us responding to the proposal below and a plan of implementation. Among the actions supported by a majority of MPA/ID Alumni survey respondents include:

  • Supplementing core courses with scholarship on racism, colonialism and development
  • Implementing a speaker series explicitly on these topics and in relation to development
  • Modifying the pedagogy to be more inclusive and supportive for students of color and members of non-dominant identity groups
  • Creating a SYPA track or award on the topic of racism and colonialism
  • Creating a two-week “Math Camp” style intensive course on racism, colonialism and development, that can then be developed into a full semester course over time.
  • Hiring a facilitator to design and execute workshops for students and faculty to build multicultural, anti-racist leadership, empathy, and skills for holding difficult discussions on topics like racism and oppression

Once a plan has been made, we ask the program to communicate these goals and timeline widely to all alumni and students

Alumni are a valuable asset of any educational program and are a reflection of its core intentions. We alumni hire MPA/ID grads, mentor them on jobs, donate to HKS, and help the program recruit students from across the world. We care deeply about the program and want it to continue to accomplish its goal of producing the next leaders in international development. If we do this together, the program will not only survive the current reckoning on race and colonialism but perhaps even emerge as a leading voice.

In Solidarity,

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