Giving Voice to Values

What’s all this talk about vulnerability and openness? Aren’t we supposed to be tough HBS students who know exactly what we’re doing with our lives? As ECs and RCs alike know, the school is making a concerted effort, through LEAD, FIELD, and other means, to remind its charges that self-reflection and interdependence are good things.

Believing that opening up and acknowledging our own shortcomings and life’s complications leads to better leaders and outcomes, the Joint Committee on Diversity (JCD) last year established a program called Giving Voice to Values (GVV). The program provides a forum (and, critically, food funding) for students to engage their sections in dialogues about our differences and values, with a particular focus on conversations that may get short shrift in a 90-person case environment.

Sometimes the HBS classroom environment lacks edge on account of a perceived bias towards political correctness. GVV lunches encourage students to address tough issues head-on, and provide additional cover for students looking to respectfully push the conversational bounds.

According to March Bishop (OI), this happened in a lunch last year on Mormonism hosted by two of her section mates. “It was at this lunch when some of the more contentious questions of the series were raised,” she recalled. “It’s good for all of us to have a platform in which to ask these questions and also to push each other in uncomfortable ways.”

This semester, four lunches have been held (in sections E, G, I, and J). Topics have included themes on religion (with sessions on Mormonism and Islam), geography (Middle Eastern Students at HBS), and parenting. However, students are free to choose any topic relating to diversity that they believe deserves attention. (Caveat—the lunches aren’t meant to be academic-focused, so a conversation about investment strategies in Rwanda would likely fall outside the goalposts.)

Organizers of the lunches have found them to be rewarding and educational. Jonah Wagner (OD), after walking through a locked-down and tent-filled Harvard Yard during the Occupy protests last year, decided to organize an event in order to “discuss the rationale behind the movement, whether it mattered, and what it might mean for us as future leaders in the world.” After a frank and in-depth conversation on the issues, Wagner felt he and his classmates left the session with a better understanding of where they stood.

He also left feeling closer to his section, and with a new reputation. “I learned that HBS can be an amazing place for challenging and potentially uncomfortable conversations, provided folks feel safe in their vulnerability. Though I came away forever branded as a hippy tree-hugging borderline communist, it was worth it for the quality of discussion and the free pizza.”

Giving Voice to Values aims to have a long-term impact on students’ experiences at HBS. The conversations that start during lunches are meant to continue afterwards.

Amalia della Paolera, who serves as New G’s Leadership and Values rep, asked section mates for suggestions on topics to discuss. Several students showed an interest in what it’s like to have kids at HBS, so some section mates led a session on parenting, even bringing their kids to class for the occasion.

“One of the nice things that came out of this discussion was that people have a greater understanding of classmates’ priorities at HBS,” Amalia noted.  “This goes beyond parenting—discussions like these give people a chance to reflect on what their classmates are doing cartier roadster replica, why they are at HBS, and what kinds of different challenges our classmates face. Additionally, in section we really only get to hear people talk for a minute or two at a time. This was a chance to have a classmate present something important to them, and really take the time to make sure we understood where they were coming from.”

The JCD believes that these lunches and conversations can be a moving and powerful component of the HBS experience. Matt Lesniak (OH) who along with Galen Laserson (OJ) chairs the Leadership and Values Committee, agrees. “HBS frequently celebrates diversity and differences in values. But all too often those differences are the more visible ones, things such as race and gender. Giving Voice to Values is an opportunity to get to the somewhat hidden or less obvious points of diversity among us.

“Additionally, GVV allows students to take ownership of the message and have sessions based on what fellow classmates want to share. The student-owned message makes the sessions incredibly authentic and enhances the general openness of the section culture.”

Funding is available for every section, and it would truly be a shame for sections to not take advantage. Interested discussion leaders should reach cartier santos 100 replica out to Asad Husain (OD— or Patrick Erker (OI— with questions, and ask for the link to the (very streamlined) online application.