Harvey Mudd Tackles Workload After Spring Protests

Demonstrators listen to open mic speakers during a demonstration led by Black Lives and Allies at Mudd outside Shanahan Center last spring. (Liam Brooks / The Student Life)

Following a tumultuous semester of protests, town halls, and sit-ins, Harvey Mudd College has begun the semester with a review of its curriculum and diversity policies.

After an external report detailing HMC’s burdensome curriculum was published by TSL in March, the response was immediate. Students littered the school with papers featuring critical quotes from the report, walked out of class and marched through a campus building, aired their grievances at a community forum, and staged an eight-hour sit-in of Platt Courtyard.

"After commencement, I had nightmares every single night for a month," HMC President Maria Klawe told NPR in August.

In response, the administration pledged additional transparency and funding for student diversity groups and mental health funding, and even canceled two days of class. But the college struggled to completely meet student demands and concluded the semester with a promise to address the curriculum.

With a new semester beginning, HMC plans to promptly follow through with its commitments from the spring, said Patrick Little, the chair of the Faculty Executive Committee and an engineering professor.

"We have to really keep the pressure on ourselves to be able to make it so that we don’t just say, 'Oh, well, we’ll fix this and it’ll take six years,'" said Little. "That means that several classes came through and never saw a thing."

HMC had already committed earlier to a review of the Core curriculum, a set of classes every Mudd student has to take, but Little said last semester’s events gave the review a sense of urgency.

The review began over the summer and is ongoing. Little said it will likely be completed by the end of the calendar year and expects that it will aim to make the workload more manageable.

“Our intent is to … preserve those parts of the Core that the community believes are most important while at the same time addressing some serious shortcomings and defects that have already been identified,” he said.

Additionally, an FEC subcommittee is working with Mudd’s Office of Institutional Diversity to help "make the move from diversity to inclusion," Little said.

“I think we’re really naive in our expectations of what it really means to have a diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus,” he said. “We just thought, ‘Oh, you get the numbers in and it takes care of itself. We’re special.’ We brag about ourselves about being an awesome place. We tell everyone in the country there’s no place like us. Well, all of that may be true, but the reality is that there’s hard work that everybody has to do.”

Little said the subcommittee’s work includes determining what sort of diversity training might be appropriate, how to hold faculty and staff members accountable, and a system to make it easier for students to report mistreatment, which might take the form of an ombudsman or communication with the Human Resources Department.

“I don’t want us to just simply write a white paper … and then just say, ‘There, we addressed that,’” Little said. “The reality is that we’re looking at cultural shifts.”

Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College diversity director Ronak Bhatia HM '19 believes HMC needs to teach students not only to become better engineers, mathematicians, and scientists, but also better people.

“A part of understanding the impact we make is creating mathematicians and scientists who acknowledge diversity and understand why diversity makes our community stronger,” Bhatia said. “That is our responsibility."

ASHMC wellness director Siena Guerrero HM '20 said there are still professors whose outlooks remain unchanged. However, Guerrero said, awareness of the heavy workload and related conversations have increased.

“I’m optimistic that progress can be made in this area," she said. "I have seen the work professors have made to attempt to reduce workload, or at least make it more manageable."

Sol Cruz HM '20 said it's not just the administration that needs to improve.

"A lot of students on campus would need to change their views on people of color," she said. "There were definitely a lot of students who were against the changes to help the diversity of things."

Now that Bhatia has completed the Core curriculum, they said they have more freedom to do what they enjoy but are still affected by other students' workloads. They hosted a social justice club event at the beginning of the year but said many students who were interested didn’t come because they had homework.

"I feel like Core really ruined my Mudd experience," Bhatia said. "I didn’t have time for things. I didn't have time to care about things. I didn't want to care about things ‘cause I was just stressed out all the time."

Cruz described the atmosphere in Mudd as "if you don’t do it, it’s your fault."

"There are still students who are very stressed and very unhappy here," she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article repeatedly misgendered Ronak Bhatia HM '19. TSL regrets this error.