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Pledging to Preserve Diversity in Pursuit of a More Just World

August 07, 2023

By Renee Karibi-Whyte, Senior Vice President and Corporate Secretary, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Stepping onto the Harvard University campus for the first time, I expected to see just one type of person: someone who came from a place of privilege and private school, accustomed to navigating the world from the top looking down. Instead, I found a place where a symphony of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds intertwined, creating a vibrant tapestry of conversations, arguments, and epiphanies. This was the essence of my journey at Harvard Law School—an experience that not only shaped me, but awakened my belief in the transformative power of deep engagement with people vastly different than myself.

As I reflect upon the recent Supreme Court decisions in ‘Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina’ and ‘Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College,‘ I feel compelled to share my personal narrative.

Education, in its truest sense, extends far beyond textbooks and lectures. It is a journey of exploration, a process of forging connections and expanding one’s frame of reference. During my time at Harvard, the individuals I encountered enriched my education in profound ways. Each person brought their unique stories, perspectives, and aspirations to the table, igniting vibrant discussions, testing boundaries, and challenging each other and the status quo. The discussions that sometimes turned to arguments (we were in law school, after all!) may have been uncomfortable at times, but they inevitably opened my eyes to the lenses through which others viewed the world. The beauty of this lay not only in the personal growth this carefully crafted community inspired, but in the broader impact that this experience of diversity has had on generations of leaders, and on working to move a society toward embracing and celebrating difference. This was possible because of the intentionality with which the admissions team crafted their class rosters to include a broad spectrum of experiences, which inherently are affected by race.

Regrettably, the Supreme Court decisions put the understanding and broader perspective created by diverse environments—particularly with tertiary educational institutions—at risk. By placing limitations on the consideration of racial background, we run the risk of stifling the growth and progress that arise from engaging with those different than ourselves. We handcuff the admissions teams, keeping them from utilizing their well-practiced approaches for creating diverse classes. Instead, we encourage and give cover to those who would erect barriers rather than foster an inclusive environment that encourages dialogue, empathy, and mutual understanding. In essence, this decision may serve to take us away from the path of progress and veer us towards a society that is less accepting, less empathetic, and less equipped to address the challenges that lie ahead.

At Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, we understand that diversity is not merely a box to be checked, but an essential ingredient for societal growth and progress. While we as an organization are still very much working through what this means for us, we have begun the journey and have made strides in what is a long, complex and challenging process on many levels. It is clear is that by fostering diverse environments in educational settings, we as a society create the conditions for individuals from all walks of life to engage, interact, and learn from one another. This multifaceted engagement fuels innovation, broadens perspectives, and equips individuals with the tools needed to challenge the status quo and effect positive change. In short, it shapes the future leaders who will navigate the complexities of our world, armed with empathy, understanding, and a deep appreciation for the diverse fabric of humanity.

As a testament to our unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusive education, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors has joined forces with the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and approximately 150 other philanthropic organizations in signing the collective statement in response to the Supreme Court’s decisions. Together, we stand firm in our dedication to preserving the power of diversity in shaping a just world. We recognize the immense value in fostering diverse learning environments that nurture creativity, compassion, and understanding. By embracing diversity in education, we not only shape the leaders of tomorrow but also lay the groundwork for a just world—one that cherishes inclusivity, dismantles barriers, and embraces the unique contributions of all its members.

We encourage others to join this pledge. Our united voice underscores the importance of inclusive education as a catalyst for progress and social mobility.


Photo by Anne Sullivan on Unsplash.

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