Painting a New Path at HKS

March 6, 2012
By Ethan G. Loewi, The Harvard Crimson

Jane J. Mansbridge, who has been a professor at the Kennedy School since 1996, is intimately familiar with issues of gender disparity at the Kennedy School, and has been a staunch advocate for women over the years through groups such as the Women and Public Policy Program at HKS. Mansbridge will serve as president of the American Political Science Association this coming year, which is among the highest honors in her profession.
But more recently, she has spearheaded a movement to add female faces to Harvard’s extensive art collection.
Because of Mansbridge’s elbow grease, a portrait of Ida B. Wells—an African-American journalist and early civil rights activist—now hangs in the Fainsod Room at the Kennedy School.
The portrait was commissioned in 2006 and cost $10,000. Then-president Lawrence H. Summers approved the request to use the president’s fund to cover the expense.
“Things like portraits on a wall can have real effects on people’s behavior,” says Mansbridge. “John Bargh and other psychologists of automaticity show these effects can be unconscious—if you’re in a room where all the portraits are of white males, you’re being primed to think that white males run everything.”
At the Kennedy School in particular, the gender imbalance among the faculty has been extreme for some time. Women make up just 19 percent of the senior faculty and 27 percent of the junior faculty at HKS, according to the 2011 annual report by Office of Faculty Development and Diversity.
While initiatives such as WAPPP have encouraged female students to seek careers in politics and public service, the gender ratio of the faculty is indicative of deeply ingrained inequalities that have historically kept women out of both government and portrait halls alike.
In conjunction with Mansbridge’s presidency of APSA, and the increased emphasis on gender equality and education at the Kennedy School, the timely addition of these portraits marks a step toward healing the gender rift that has plagued women in politics for so long.

The Art Effect

The nitty-gritty of recruitment aside, the new portraits of women have been most impactful in their psychological effects on the community and its institutional memory.

“These portraits are about changing the images of success that we have in our head, given the history that we have,” says Academic Dean, Iris Bohnet.
The portraits have also served as a source of inspiration to the current generation of up-and-coming politicians.
“This project is really exciting,” says Jenny Ye ’13, president of the Institute of Politics. “At Harvard we see portraits everywhere, and for women it’s encouraging to see that leadership is a lot more diverse than what’s hanging on the walls.”
Perhaps the most poignant product of this new portraiture is an oil painting of former professor Edith M. Stokey, who passed away this past January. Considered the “founding mother” of HKS, Stokey was a trailblazer for women at the Kennedy School and left behind a legacy of compassion and public service.
Her portrait, unveiled in 2008, now hangs outside Dean David Ellwood's office. read more

Jane Mansbridge, picutured with a poster of Ida B. Wells

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Jane Mansbridge, pictured here with a poster of Ida B. Wells.
Photo Credit: Mandi Nyambi

“Things like portraits on a wall can have real effects on people’s behavior,” says Mansbridge.

 


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