Sarah Cole is an upcoming junior at Harvard University. She is an organizer of the Diversity Report, a movement that led to the “We are Here” demonstration, part of the attempt to increase support for minority students on campus.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did the Diversity Report begin at Harvard?
The Diversity Report really began as a very organic kind of collection of leaders in both the black and Latino student communities and we were having conversations about problems that we faced as students of color on campus and then we looked at those problems and wondered in what ways could the administration address those problems so that in the future, decades from now, students wouldn’t have to have those same problems.
We were really looking at a lot of the structural issues that are currently occurring on our campus, Harvard is just like every other place in America, and definitely has an interesting history with race. Were looking at what remnants of that type of structural racism still existed on campus and ways that we could help the administration find ways to overcome those barriers.
That was really our primary goal, targeting faculty and staff, diversity, the different policies and programming they have, and also resources and funding.
What about your experience at Harvard sparked you to start the “We Are Here” movement?
Often times whenever there is a dialogue about race at least on Harvard’s campus and from conversations I’ve had with student leaders at other schools on other campuses as well, a lot of times this dialogue is started about race by white students and its often about just whether or not we belong at Harvard; its about affirmative action and whether that policy is a good policy.
The purpose of the “We are Here” demonstration was really to push the conversation past the very old conversation regarding affirmative action and talk about what systematic changes can we produce to support the students of color once we’ve gotten here, because “We are Here.”
That’s what the main inspiration behind that was; we wanted to find a way to make a statement to the administration but in that was approachable so we didn’t want to do a loud protest. That’s why we chose a silent demonstration because we wanted to be approachable for our own, for the members in our own community, because a lot of people aren’t comfortable necessarily with protests.
Did you have an ‘Aha’ moment where you suddenly knew what you wanted to achieve with the “We Are Here” movement? How did you take advantage of that moment?
The Diversity Report evolved when I was the Arts & Entertainment Chair for the black students association this year, which is just a fancy title for the event coordinator. I planned the ‘Every Voice’ Black History Month kick off event. Our keynote speaker for that event was a former black students association president and he was talking about a lot of the activist work he did and a lot of changes that he and the rest of black community were able to affect and like push the administration just by being this powerful voice on campus and he left a lot of our members very inspired and a lot of our members talked to him for a long time afterwards.
He called me after and said “I would definitely like to work with you guys to push the administration to better support you all because there was a lot of voices of concern.”
I casually texted several people who are currently in leadership positions in the black community and people who I assumed would be playing vice president and president roles in a lot of our organizations next year and I was like guys lets all just grab dinner and talk about the issues that we currently face and we had this dinner and we had this dinner and it lasted like two to three hours of us just going through and talking about our different frustrations and I think that was one aha moment for me.
I had my personal grievances with the administration of course or just the way things were run, but when you hear other people’s concerns, that my concerns aren’t just isolated concerns and there is a bigger picture here, that conversation that we had is what made me realize that this is actually something that we need to address; there are real problems here that the administration needs to fix it. We were all just kind of blown away. We really realized that the problem was a bit bigger than we thought.
What’s the most challenging obstacle you’ve faced? How did you handle it?
Getting started is very difficult especially when the campus is like Harvard where everyone is super successful and everyone wants to be associated with things that are super successful.
It’s very easy to gain a following once you are up and running and once you’ve proven yourself but its hard to find people who would be dedicated to building something so that was definitely a struggle where it would be me and one other person or me and two other people at 4am working on making the report cards or something like that and just like having the stamina and the focus and diligence to be able to preserve and pushing on knowing that people will help out later on.
If you could share just one piece of advice to all young girls what would it be?
I would say to know yourself and within knowing yourself, loving yourself, be confident, and have the discipline to check yourself because a lot of times when you get immersed in anything that you are passionate about, it’s easy to kind of lose yourself in that kind of passion, whatever it is.
If you know yourself well enough then you can always check in with yourself. It’s so important in life in general because it’s so easy be manipulated and to get caught up in any little thing as opposed to knowing that confidence can really guide you through your life.
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