Freedom School

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Post by: Najha Zigbi-Johnson, MTS ‘20, African and African American Studies Concentrator, Freedom School Founder and Leader 

Editor’s Note: For the first time, students at HDS have gathered to create the collaborative, student-led seminar “Freedom School,” which encourages students to bring Black studies into social justice issues in the community. In this blog post, HDS student and Freedom School founder Najha Zigbi-Johnson discusses the goals and pedagogy of Freedom School. 

Freedom School community members 
Photo Courtesy of NAJHA ZIGBI-JOHNSON, MTS ‘20 

Last spring, I had the opportunity to learn alongside a group of incredibly talented and action-oriented students in the seminar, Faith in the Fire: Religious Public Intellectuals, led by Professor Cornel West. Each week, students prepared engaging presentations, and guided our class through animated conversation. I found myself wrestling with the notion of public intellectualism and also the moral responsibility of progressive thinkers to engage in work fundamentally rooted in political activism and cultural change. It was the brilliance of my peers who continue to be engaged in justice-oriented work, the legacy of radical public intellectuals like Pauli Murray and Professor West, and the urgent necessity to involve myself fully in movement building that fueled the creation of Freedom School. In partnership with the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, I was able to bring this course to fruition in my desire to engage contemporary Black studies with projects committed to systems-change and equity work.

Why was HDS the right fit for you?

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Editor’s Note: Here in the Office of Admissions, one of the most common questions we hear is, “How can I write a strong statement of purpose?” One thing strong statements of purpose tend to do is show how HDS is the right place for them to do the work they hope to pursue. Strong statements of purpose also tend to tell us about the applicant’s general background information, how this background has prepared them for graduate study at HDS, and their vocational or career objectives. We also want to emphasize that because our applicants have such diverse goals and interests, and because our programs are so flexible, there is no singular type of applicant who would be the “right fit” for HDS. Rather, we’re looking for applicants to show us how HDS is the right fit for you! 

You can learn more about the details of the statement of purpose here. To help you brainstorm for your statment of purpose, we’ve gathered a collection of current HDS students who’ve told us about why they chose HDS.  

Mary Perez (MDiv ‘22): I’ve found a space that honors and supports the integration of my intellectual and spiritual life. In the HDS community, I am free to be myself⁠—in the complexity of my identity, in my questions about my faith tradition, and in my wonderings about how to live my vocation.

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Settling in at HDS

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Post by: Julia Reimann, MDiv ‘22, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant

Editor’s Note: No matter where you might be in the admissions process, a glimpse into a new student’s experience at Orientation can help give you a sense of the kinds of programs and facilities that are available at HDS. 

Hi everyone! My name is Julia Reimann and I am one of the new Graduate Assistants in the Office of Admissions here at Harvard Divinity School. As a first-year Master of Divinity student, the last few weeks have been filled with orientation activities, campus renovation, and checking out classes for shopping week. During shopping week, students can visit any classes they might be interested in taking. The course registration deadline happens after we’ve all had a chance to explore. 

For those of you who don’t know, HDS’ Andover Hall (soon to be Swartz Hall) is under renovation, which has slightly altered the campus map. Jumping into school after a few years away sometimes feels overwhelming, but it has been comforting to realize that our entire campus and community is in a similar time of transition and new beginnings.  

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Introducing Our 2019-2020 Graduate Assistants

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Editor’s Note: It’s been a busy first few weeks of the term here at HDS as we lead tours around campus, pack boxes for our traveling HDS representatives, and keep track of the many classes available for prospective students to visit, but we’d like to take some time to introduce you all to the Office of Admissions’ new Graduate Assistants.

Tessa Steinert Evoy (MTS 2020)

Tessa Steinert Evoy (MTS 2020) Hello, great to digitally meet you all. My name is Tessa and I am a second year Graduate Assistant and Masters of Theological Studies candidate. I grew up in the Boston area and London, England before graduating from Boston University in 2015 with BA in History, focusing on the intersections of literary movements and contemporary American history. Before coming to HDS, I taught eighth-grade American History and ninth-grade English as well as worked in secondary school admissions. At HDS I am a second-year MTS candidate focusing on Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and more specifically the ways religion is taught in schools. Along with being a Graduate Assistant, I work as a research assistant for the Religious Literacy Project building curriculum for an upcoming documentary. When I am not in the Admissions Office or class, you can find me at Community Tea on Tuesdays or Rock Café any other time eating some of the delicious food on campus. I look forward to getting to know you all this fall!

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Transforming Andover into Swartz Hall

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Post by: Mikaela Allen, MTS ’19, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant 

Editor’s Note: As some of you may have heard, Andover Hall, newly named Swartz Hall, is undergoing an extensive and much-needed renovation thanks in large part to a generous gift from the Swartz family and the continued dedication of HDS staff. Read on to learn more about the goals of the renovation and how it will affect the daily life of the HDS community in the interim. While most of our posts feature student voices, this post will introduce you to a few staff members on campus and what they perceive as the long-term benefits of the renovation project. For updates on the process, Ralph DeFlorio, HDS’s Director of Operations, regularly updates this blog dedicated to the progress of the renovation. Click here for an extensive interview with Ralph about the renovation project. Please note that as part of the renovation, the HDS Office of Admissions has moved to the first floor of Divinity Hall. 

Dirt Education

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Post by: Gretchen Legler, current MDiv student 

HDS Garden Blessing Ceremony, fall 2015. Photo by Michael Naughton.  

Editor’s Note: I encourage all prospective students, whether MTS or MDiv, to explore the Field Education Program at HDS. Some MTS students write off field education entirely because it is not a requirement for their program, but it truly is a fantastic opportunity to design an internship of your own during your time here. Gretchen’s field education placement is only one of many creative examples possible here at HDS. If you are interested in learning more about field education, the Field Education Handbook provides a comprehensive overview.  

My field education job title for the summer of 2019 is Garden Goddess! My joyous duties include coordinating a team of students, faculty and staff to plant, tend and harvest produce from the Harvard Divinity School’s organic vegetable garden. Our twelve raised beds behind the Dean’s house on Francis Street were inaugurated in 2009 by staff and students passionate about ministering to the earth and to their fellow humans. We grow everything–peas, lettuce, chard, tomatoes, basil, beans, eggplant, broccoli, potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, herbs, nasturtiums, marigolds, petunias, and even sometimes okra! We harvest and deliver twice a month to Faith Kitchen in Cambridge for their community meal. The HDS garden isn’t big enough to ever provide all of the veggies needed for these meals, but every little bit of what we grow helps that ministry flourish.  

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Black Religion, Spirituality and Culture Conference at HDS

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Post by: Jarred Batchelor-Hamilton, MDiv student, DivEx Alum, HDS Admissions Graduate Assistant 

Editor’s Note: HDS students have the opportunity to plan conferences and events, among which is the annual Black Religion, Spirituality and Culture Conference (BRSCC). As an attendee of the conference, I can only admire the dedication of the students who planned it. Read on for a first-hand experience from one of these dedicated students, Jarred Batchelor-Hamilton (MDiv ’20). Jarred attended the first annual BRSCC during his participation in the 10th Annual Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx) held over three days every fall at HDS. DivEx is geared towards undergraduate students like Jarred who have a commitment to social justice and diversity as well as an interest in exploring opportunities in the study of religion. As an active student on campus, Jarred has continued to support DivEx through volunteer work and has participated in the coordination of the BRSCC conference. Applications for the 2019 DivEx program will be available on our website in mid-July, here. I encourage you to explore this program, which is now in its 13th year. If you are accepted to the program, HDS covers the cost of your visit, including domestic travel to Cambridge from within the United States, housing, and meals. During the program, you will have the opportunity to meet current students, faculty, and staff, attend panels about best practices for the application, learn more about financial aid, sit in on classes, and so much more!  

Other conferences that have taken place in the past academic year and are planned mostly by HDS students include the Gross National Happiness ConferenceWays of KnowingSound Education, and the Buddhism and Race Conference. HDS students have also been involved in the planning of Harvard’s LGBTQ Conference 

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HDS On the Road

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Post by: Mikaela Allen, Master of Theological Studies ’19, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant

Fall is peak recruitment season for Admissions teams everywhere, HDS included. While our full schedule will not become available until later this fall, our office is getting a head start in the Pacific Northwest in late June. If you in the area and want to connect, click here for more details and to register.  

Preparing materials for recruitment. Photo by Mikaela Allen. 
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HDS Housing Overview: Off-Campus Housing

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Post by: Mikaela Allen, MTS 2019, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant 

For the second post in our series on housing at HDS, we decided to cover not only the resources available to find off-campus housing, but also to give our best tips and tricks for finding housing in the greater Boston area. We hope this information will prove helpful to you as you begin your housing search this summer.  

66 bus harvard square
The 66 bus stop in Harvard Square. Photo by Mikaela Allen.
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So You Want to Write a Thesis?

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Post by: Natalie Solis, Current MTS Student, DivEx Alum, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant  

Solis Thesis 1
Activist Installation against Femicides, across the street from the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City. Photo by Natalie Solis.  

Coming to HDS, I knew that I wanted to write a master’s thesis as part of my MTS program even though it is optional and not required for MTS students, unlike the MDiv program. Since I enjoyed conducting independent research projects in college and will be applying to PhD programs in the fall, I decided that developing an extensive independent research project such as a master’s thesis would be a great opportunity to refine my research skills and prepare for a PhD.

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