Harvard University has taken up the initiative to add caste as a protected category for all student workers among both graduate and undergraduate. The historic initiative marks Harvard as the very first Ivy League School to have caste equity protection for unionized student workers in its non-discrimination clause. This certain decision will influence more than 4,900 student workers at Harvard and the community around Harvard, Equity Labs stated in a statement.
With the addition of this, Harvard joins UC Davis, Colby College, Brandeis University, and many other universities where students, faculty and other staff face discrimination based on their caste, Equity Labs stated. “Driven in partnership with caste-oppressed community members, this win is part of a larger national movement for caste equity that aims to protect caste-oppressed students, workers, and communities across the country,” it stated.
In a statement, ThenmozhiSoundararajan who is the executive director at Equality Labs, stated that “the courage of the Harvard Graduate Student Union and the inter-caste and an interfaith coalition of community and students who helped make this win possible is inspiring.” These leaders have tirelessly worked to make sure that this win happen while also supporting children who are facing caste discrimination, she stated.
“With the incredible support of Equality Labs as well as the Harvard Anti-Caste Coalition, the Harvard Graduate Students Union has become one of the first higher education labour unions to have secured protections against caste discrimination in a collective bargaining agreement,” stated by Aparna Gopalan who is the Harvard Graduate Student Union Organizer. “This also marks the first time Harvard, or any Ivy League institution has officially decided to include caste as a protected category,” she stated.
Raj Muthu who is a Dalit alumnus of Harvard University, stated that this win is a small but crucial step in making sure that there is at least an avenue of recourse for students like him who have faced discrimination based on caste at the premier university and that the well-being of caste discriminated students do matter.
“From derogatory comments about the intellect of oppressed caste students, to proudly narrating their activism against affirmative action in India prior to their admission into Harvard to a complete cultural monopoly of South Asian/India celebrations, the deep sense of alienation, humiliation, and social exclusion I experienced made me constantly vigilant and worried about the consequences of being outed as a Dalit in Harvard’s South Asian circles,” Mr. Muthu further stated.