Harvard University has added caste as a protected category for all graduate and undergraduate student workers.
The historic addition marks Harvard as the first Ivy League school to have caste equity protection in its non-discrimination clause for unionised student workers. This decision will impact more than 4,900 student workers at Harvard and the surrounding Harvard community, Equity Labs said in a statement.
With this addition, Harvard joins UC Davis, Colby College, Brandeis University, and several other universities where students, faculty, and staff face caste-based discrimination, Equity Labs said.
“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 said.
In a statement, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director at Equality Labs, said the courage of the Harvard Graduate Student Union and the inter-caste and interfaith coalition of community and students who helped make this win possible is inspiring.
These leaders have worked tirelessly to make this win happen while also supporting students experiencing caste discrimination, she said.
“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,” said Aparna Gopalan, 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 said.
Raj Muthu, a Dalit alumni of Harvard University, said this win is a small but critical step in ensuring that there is at least an avenue of recourse for students like him who have experienced caste-based discrimination at the premier university and that the well-being of caste oppressed students 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, Muthu said.
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