Post By Jo Venditelli, MDiv ’23
Editor’s Note: Jo Venditelli is a second-year MDiv student at HDS studying political, queer, and disability philosophy. In this article they reflect on the community and support they’ve found at HDS. They share their journey to HDS, from DivEX to a year of virtual-learning to setting foot on campus for the first time as a student this fall.
When I began searching for a graduate program, it was crucial to me to find a place where I would be in conversation with a variety of folks. Coming from a small liberal arts college in the South, I was searching for a place where diversity and differing ideologies were championed and where respectful, passionate dialogue was valued. When I visited HDS for Diversity and Explorations (DivEx) in 2018, I was enveloped in the warmth of the HDS community and found a place where my voice was valued. Ultimately, this experience was critical on my path to Harvard.
In my undergraduate studies, I focused largely on political, queer, and disability philosophy. Knowing that I wanted to pursue these interests further at the graduate level, I explored the course offerings at HDS and researched the faculty members’ points of study. There was a clear connection between my interests of study and my spiritual examination of them. After being admitted to HDS, and now halfway through my program, I’ve found that the connection between my interests and theirs has led me to be able to pursue my passion in my studies and develop a close-knit community here.
I completed my first year at HDS from my parents’ house in North Carolina, as the academic world went remote during the pandemic. Even though my classmates and I had thousands of miles and often several countries between us, we were able to create and foster a deeply spiritual community. Despite our completely virtual interactions, student groups continued to meet, classes became a bit more intimate, and community gatherings offered important points of connection for many of us.
The 2020-2021 school year was steeped in critical conversations surrounding political upheaval, the demand for justice for our Black kinfolk, ethical dilemmas amidst a global pandemic, and so much more. I was so pleasantly surprised when I entered classroom spaces that were filled with respect and compassion as well as classmates who were just as committed to equity as me. Woven into almost every point of study were these continuing conversations, held in an environment almost always committed to hearing every voice.
During my first year at HDS, I sought out community amongst the large number of LGBTQ+ folks at here. We found ways to gather in laughter and sorrow, reflecting on the hardships our community faced at the time and holding on to the resilience of our ancestors. Also during the year, I intentionally sought out guidance from HDS staff and student offices, as personal circumstances prompted the need for additional support. I was met with nothing but care, understanding, and creative solutions. The staff in our community offer amazing support and serve the student body with a deep devotion.
Entering into my second year, we headed to in-person classrooms, with many of us stepping onto campus as students for the first time. The jubilance was palpable as we hugged and ate lunch with friends we had only met through Zoom boxes. The community and bonds we had created virtually carried us into in-person conversations and classrooms. Finally being able to interact with folks outside of my classes, I found even more precious friendships, and the bonds I had already created were strengthened. Furthermore, I was able to finally meet others who hold the same personal identities as me.
The Queer Rites student group resumed in Fall 2021 with new leadership and events, offering a point of fun and connection for our large LGBTQ+ community on campus: a back-to-school picnic, a Halloween party with students from Harvard Law School, crafts on the Commons, and more. Students with disabilities, both visible and invisible, found each other on campus, and we have been able to forge connections that carry us amidst the hardships from enduring graduate school with disabilities. The relationships you make through hallway chats and shared meals were the thing I missed most during the year online. Now, I am taking full advantage of outdoor office hours, lunches shared with friends, and physical classroom spaces.
Whether you’re a prospective student, an admitted student, or a curious onlooker, I encourage you to explore the opportunities at HDS. The community here is special and is unique in its commitment to justice and rest. So get vaccinated, explore what HDS has to offer, and say hey if you see me on campus!