Over the past two years, administrators at Harvard Business School subjected students to an unprecedented and intrusive regimen of social engineering that included specific lessons for female students on the proper, assertive method of raising their hands.
A coalition of Harvard leaders — including President Drew Faust, Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and administrator Frances Frei — sought to correct what they saw as a pro-male bias in business culture. Their remedy included vast intrusions into the personal lives of both male and female students, the most heavily criticized of which were hand-raising lessons for shy women.
“Harvard leaders are treating these adult women like children,” wrote Nathan Harden, editor of The College Fix. “If you were a woman at Harvard, and you had some member of the gender-equality police trying to teach you how to raise your hand, would you feel empowered?”
Some female students apparently did appreciate the lesson, however. Brooke Boyarsky, a recent graduate of HBS, explained the hand-raising instructions in an interview with The New York Times.
“You have to be at the end of your seat, you have to stand up really tall because that catches the professor’s eye,” she said. “Then just when you are thinking ‘Alright, I need to get in here,’ boom, just very very aggressive leaning forward, hand high.”
Boyarsky said the lesson was well-intentioned, if odd.
“Demonstrating to a bunch of people at Harvard Business School how to raise their hand might seem a little strange, but I do think the belief behind that exercise was how do we get more people to be able to be successful academically at HBS so that we don’t just have American males making the honor roll,” she said.
Not all students liked being lectured on personal matters, however. Some students wore T-shirts bearing the message “Unapologetic,” as a backlash against administrator’s who treated them like they were “back in kindergarten or first grade,” according to one male student, in a major expose on the program by The New York Times.
Administrators — and some female students — maintained that male students were in need of social engineering, however, in order to correct a business culture in which women are treated like objects. The tendency of the male business students to rank the physical attractiveness of their female peers was particularly grating to many.
Warping gender norms and behavior on the campus produced some unforeseen consequences, however. Female students — empowered by their lesson in aggressive hand-raising, perhaps — began ranking the male students’ physical attractiveness as well.