Diversity Day brought prospective students from 11 states to Harris for a day packed with activities, speakers and networking with current students and alumni.

When Craig Warren MPP’95 was studying at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, there was one professor of color and a student body that was more or less white.

Now Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at the Minnesota Children’s Museum, Warren returned to Harris Public Policy on Nov. 12 as the keynote speaker of the school’s first ever Diversity Day, an event for underrepresented minorities who are considering applying to Harris.

“When I was at Harris for Diversity Day, I had the opportunity to meet with the assistant director of diversity and inclusion, a new position and resource at the school. That role did not exist when I was there, and that is a huge change,” Warren said. “There’s a diversity student council that did not exist when I was there, and that’s another mark of the school’s commitment. And just looking at visible diversity, there is far more than when I was studying at Harris.”

MiPPS is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

These targeted efforts by Harris to attract and support students from different backgrounds seem to be working. In 2013, there were 20 students who fell into the category of underrepresented minority. Five years later, in 2018, that number has almost tripled, and Harris remains focused on further boosting their representation.

With more people from different backgrounds in the room, the policy discussions take on more meaning, with a more nuanced understanding of how policies affect different communities, different cultures, and even different individuals. This important dynamic has long been understood and cultivated by the student group Minorities in Public Policy Studies (MiPPS), soon celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“I care deeply about issues of race, of systemic inequities,” said MiPPS president Melissa Navas MPP Class of 2019. “This is an organization where you can explore those issues in the context of public policy and go deeper than we were in some of our classes.”

Jennifer Erickson, director of enrollment management and marketing strategy

“We work as closely with MiPPS as possible,” said Jennifer Erickson, director of enrollment management and marketing strategy for Harris. “MiPPS has collaborated with our staff members to bring really great speakers and events to campus, and it was active in helping us plan for and participate in the day.” 

Diversity Day brought students from 11 states to Harris for a day packed with activities, speakers and networking.  Attendees were able to sit in on a class, have lunch with Associate Professor Damon Jones, and hear a keynote address from Warren on what his Harris degree has meant for his career.

“It was important to us to be able to share lots of pieces of the Harris experience,” said Devon Reber Drehmer, director of student recruitment and operations, who helped organize Diversity Day.  Andrea Koch and students involved with Black Action in Public Policy Studies (BAPPS), another student group, also helped with and actively participated in the day’s events. 

Associate Professor Damon Jones had lunch with Diversity Day attendees to discuss a number of important topics.

After hearing from Warren, prospective students then met with Ariel Kalil, professor and Director of the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, who serves as co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board, before hearing from Terri Brady, director of leadership programs; Michael Belsky, executive director of the Center for Municipal Finance; Wai-Sinn Chan, senior associate director of Policy Labs, and finally Dean Katherine Baicker.

Diversity Day ended with a student panel moderated by MiPPS President Navas, who noted the importance of diversity beyond the recruitment stage: underrepresented minorities enroll, but what supports are in place to be sure they have a positive experience at the school?

“I’ve seen more intentionality, purpose, and strategy from the recruitment team. They’re saying, ‘We need to make inroads in other places,’ and that’s a long game,” Navas said. “But what are we doing beyond just bringing people here?”

And that point is key.

“When you have policymakers, you don’t want a homogeneous group of people who have no commonality with the people they’re working for,” said Sparkle Dalphinis, associate director of student recruitment for Harris. “Sometimes the quantitative numbers don’t tell the full story—the qualitative piece matters, too. How might this decision negatively impact certain populations? These are our future policymakers, so we want people with diverse perspectives to have a seat at the table.”

Michelle Hoereth, Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion

Some of the supports Harris offers are the aforementioned Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Michelle Hoereth, who, among other efforts, arranges to have speakers come to the school to discuss timely topics that relate to issues of diversity.

While Navas said there are members of the Harris administration that have gone out of their way to work with MiPPS to improve Harris’ diversity, she pointed out that MiPPS nearing its 20th anniversary can feel a bit bittersweet, a reminder of the long struggle for a valued place at the table.

“Almost 20 years ago, MiPPS was founded by students who didn’t feel represented in this space,” she said. “What those students wanted are some of the same things we still want: diverse professors, diverse students.”

Navas said diversity in public policy is crucial to creating the kind of world that doesn’t leave certain populations behind, and the Harris administration sees that idea as a major motivator behind its diversity efforts.

“Diversity is not an end result, but an ongoing conversation and commitment,” said Jeremy Edwards, a senior associate dean at Harris. “Creating a community of inclusion means that we all excel and thrive. That’s why we’re so focused here at Harris on creating an environment where a culture of inclusion can grow. We want to make certain that all students feel they belong, and everything that makes them who they are belongs here too.” 

Craig Warren, at the Minnesota Children’s Museum, is proud of the work Harris has done, but knows there’s still much work to do.