Cultural and Intellectual Diversity at HGSE

At Harvard, intellectual curiosity is leveraged not only in classrooms and the myriad places around campus, Cambridge, and Boston more broadly, but within warm, welcoming, and supportive spaces that fuel our unique sense of community. I cannot emphasize enough how important this sense of community is in extending our thinking in new directions and applying knowledge vis-à-vis innovative programs that reflect a deep sense of care for others; whether it’s for the students we hope to inspire in classrooms, designing evidence-based interventions that buffer the effects of toxic stress in high-risk communities, protecting the legal rights of children around the world, or helping young people find meaning, passion, and purpose in their everyday lives by nurturing skills and abilities unique to their individual learning styles and personalities.

But to accomplish all this, we first ‘learn to learn’ from others by opening our minds and ears to both the renowned scholars here at HGSE – and perhaps more importantly – to our incredible peers who bring to Appian Way a diverse range of cultural and intellectual experiences. During my time at Harvard, I’ve had the privilege of learning from students who arrived by way of China, Japan, Thailand, India, Australia, Ghana, Nigeria, Spain, Russia, France, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Singapore… The list literally goes on and on.

In addition to a rich cultural diversity, our community consists of students and faculty spanning an array of intellectual disciplines and ideological differences. A typical classroom will be full of students studying health, medicine, law, government, physics, and engineering. Furthermore, our classes often intersect with surrounding universities including Tufts and MIT. This interdisciplinary exposure puts us in a unique position to collaborate with experts (and emerging experts) from diverse domains of knowledge, and equips us with real-world skills needed to sift through dilemmas with fresh lenses. For instance, a recent discussion with students in one class illuminated the ways in which different cultures view American youth identity as portrayed in westernized new digital media. On the same day in another class, I learned about conceptions of childhood, labor, and marriage from a student growing up in Ghana. Yet in another course, our project team consists of a psychology student, educator, and medical student confronting social-emotional learning difficulties among refugee children. In our SSP cohort, we recently established a working group on justice, power, and privilege to better understand how these concepts manifest in our personal and professional lives.

At the core of each example above lies a thirst for shared knowledge and deeper understanding within and across cultures and experience, all nested within a supportive environment where we look forward to every opportunity that propels discussions into uncharted territories. We learn from one another, share our personal stories, and navigate all this through an established culture of intellectual curiosity and social support. A critical element embedded in our shared learning is openness to understanding and respect for diverse points of view. Engaging in such collaborative discourse has had profound implications for shaping how I listen, learn, and express myself. And I feel fully supported in this initiative by our faculty, students, and staff.

During orientation, our program coordinators shared with us a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (recommended viewing for all!), which underscores the “danger of relying on a single story.” Coming to terms with how biases are shaped provided a platform for generating iterative dialogue where so many “Eureka!” moments take place. Indeed, a willingness to question our own preconceptions is needed for making lasting, innovative change. In the spirit of avoiding the pitfalls of single stories, I encourage each of you to reflect on what you currently know, what you think you know, and to bring with you a sense of wonder as you explore new ideas with those around you; because there is no better venue for reflecting on past experiences and exploring new ideas than with your fellow peers and colleagues here at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

A glimpse into Daniel’s life at HGSE…

Bill Damon (Stanford) and Howard Gardner discuss virtues and character during the 50th year anniversary of Project Zero.
Yohannes Abraham, Dan Balz, Karen Finney, Jason Chaffetz, Sally Jewell, and Mark Strand square off on “Protests, Partisanship, and Fixing Politics” during a JFK Jr. Forum event at the Kennedy School.
Classroom view
Typical view from a classroom window in October.

Blog and photos by Daniel T. Gruner

Daniel Gruner

Daniel T. Gruner is an Ed.M. candidate in the Specialized Studies Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is concurrently pursuing his PhD in Positive Developmental Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. As a member of SSP, Daniel is focusing on cognitive development, education policy, technology, and international human rights. His research synthesizes three overarching themes that fall at the intersection of young peoples’ engagement with learning, their development of moral and ethical sensibilities, and the broader sociopolitical institutions that shape daily human experience with particular emphasis on inequality, political freedom, and digital democracy.