Radcliffe and Other “Shared Interest Groups”
Among the Universitys new Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) is the fledgling Alumnae and Friends of Radcliffe College, led by Ellen Gordon Reeves 83, Ed.M. 86. Long active with the Harvard Alumni Association and a former Radcliffe Association board member, Reeves says she helped create this new organization to honor and show respect for the pioneering women who went to and created Radcliffe. It is open to women as well as men from any class and offers alumni another way to connect to each other, to undergraduates, young alumnae, and the University, she says. It is not meant to replicate the Radcliffe alumnae associations of the past, but it is a way for women to reorganize themselves as alumnae.
SIGs in general do not supplant clubs, classes, and other traditional alumni groups and networks. They are defined by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) Executive Committee as any collection of Harvard University alumni who actively engage in communicating and/or gathering around a central unifying purpose, mission, background, or activity beyond class affiliation or regional proximity. Each group is its own nonprofit entity with a mission statement, dues, membership policies, and meeting schedules. The HAA does not provide funding to SIGs (nor does it for clubs and classes), but does consider them a critical part of what connects so many alumni with each other and with Harvard. Thus they do receive logistical help, guidance on operations, on-line tools with e-mail capabilities, access to mailing addresses for all self-selecting alumni, representation at the HAA directors thrice yearly meetings, and a yearly news item in the HAAs e-newsletter, Harvard Monthly.
There are now nine alumni SIGs (below), and the list is expected to grow. Were in conversations with five to seven more groups at this time, says Lauren Brodsky, assistant director of clubs and SIGs at the HAA. In the same way that clubs have been brought closer to the HAA in recent years, so the SIGs are now going through that process. Overall, the pooling of resources and enhanced communication among alumni groups, the HAA, and its committees should yield best practices.
The HAA first approved policies and operating principles to support SIGs in February 2004. Under the rules, for example, SIGs cannot raise money for any purpose not related to their stated core mission, and any political activity must carry a disclaimer that the group does not represent the President and Fellows of Harvard College (Harvard University) or the Harvard Alumni Association.
The Harvard University Muslim Alumni group (HUMA) decided to become a SIG partly because the HAA offered impressive organizational support and successfully welcomed them, says HUMA president Shahzad Bhatti, J.D. 97, M.P.A. 06. Formed in 2004, the group now has about 200 members around the world. Its goals include linking Muslim alumni to one another, strengthening ties to undergraduate Muslim groups, and working with young Muslims to encourage them to apply to Harvard. Also, in light of the contemporary political environment that we live within, Bhatti adds, we view it as part of our mission to work with others in the Harvard diaspora to foster dialogue and ensure that an accurate image of Islam exists within and around the Harvard community.
Bernard E. Kreger 59, M.P.H. 70, a leader of the Harvard Glee Club Foundation, now a SIG, hopes easier access to alumni records will help Glee Club members, especially the younger ones, better stay in touch with each otherand interact more with the Glee Club when it tours and even when it appears locally.
The largest SIG to date, with upwards of 4,000 members nationwide, is the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, founded by alumni in 1984 as an issue-oriented advocacy group specifically to press Harvard to include sexual orientation in the Universitys nondiscrimination policy, as well as to advocate in general for LGBT students, faculty, and staff, says current president Tom Parry 74. He sees the HAAs embrace of these diverse organizations as a positive step. Most women, gay, and black alumni did not have great experiences with Harvard in the 1950s through the 1970s, and these organizations, formed by alumni outside of Harvard, have offered ways for them to connect with friends who came out of the same crucible, he explains. Harvard is discovering that there is a lot of energy in these groups that can be tapped.
Alumni interested in learning more about SIGs and the HAA may visit http://post.harvard.edu/harvard/clubs/html/SIG.html, or contact Brodsky at 617-496-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.