MIT’s Hack For Inclusion (H4I) is a powerful, two-day hackathon that combats bias to advance diversity, equity and inclusion across Boston schools and businesses. Taking place this February at the Microsoft NERD Center, the event highlighted design thinking to guide participants through a careful process of brainstorming, testing, and designing a pitch presented before approximately 200 people. The event was created in 2018 by co-founder Elaine Harris who acted in direct response to the discrimination-based violence in the news and roadblocks to progress for minorities.
Espousing the same mission of fostering a campus culture where everyone can thrive, Harvard’s Office for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (ODIB) led by Dr. John Silvanus Wilson sent a delegation of students, staff, faculty and researchers to test their hand at the hackathon. Among those who attended included Keonna Wynne, a first-year doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Neel Chaudhury, the Assistant Director of Harvard’s ODIB and graduate of Harvard Kennedy School, Dr. Sheila Thomas, Dean for Academic Programs and Diversity for the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Matthew Riley III, research fellow and master of bioethics graduate of Harvard Medical School. There is a plan to launch a hackathon or similar activity at Harvard.
H4I 2020 embodied the kind of collective effort that is necessary to solve difficult problems. Harvard ODIB sponsored the challenge “Campus Culture: Responding to Traumatic Events.” There is an ever-growing list of traumatic and triggering events that are impacting communities and impeding our efforts to strengthen a sense of belonging on Harvard campus. These seminal events and harrowing headlines are spurred by troubles in society, including the resurgence of white supremacy, crimes against Jews and Muslims, sexual assault, violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, and mass shootings. So, how can a University community proactively prepare for these types of events and turn them into moments of learning and healing for the entire campus community?
Two teams presented solutions per challenge. In response to improving campus culture, one team proposed a platform called “Harvard Pulse” open to all stakeholders to express their thoughts and connect with one another. Harvard admin can use the platform to hold live webcasts for the community and distribute micro surveys (“pulse checks”). A second solution was “Affirmed,” a platform that builds resilience through words of affirmation using quotes and videos from community members. There are three components: learn, engage, and act.
ODIB staff reached out to both teams for advice on how to adapt the platforms to Harvard campus, and Zoom conferenced Harvard Pulse project team to pave next steps. Read all 14 challenges and 28 solutions here. Looking back, H4I 2020 was an inspiring experience of the ability of a group of strangers from all backgrounds to come together over the course of 48 hours and stand up to a profound challenge of discrimination—and solve them, together.