2020-2021 Diversity Fellows

José Del Rio Pantoja

I was born and raised in a hospitable and nurturing community in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. After graduating from high school, I pursued my undergraduate studies in the US mainland to eventually become a physician. However, my teaching and research experiences in college played a pivotal role in establishing my professional inclinations. I was particularly driven to pursue an academic career because of the steep learning curve that I faced when I started my undergraduate career. Driven by my passion for biomedicine, pedagogy, and serving underrepresented minorities in academia, I ultimately committed to pursuing a PhD in chemical biology at Harvard. Currently, I am a second-year graduate student in Dr. Cigall Kadoch’s laboratory, studying the fascinating cellular machinery that activates and deactivates genes in cancer and intellectual disability settings. As an aspiring professor seeking to serve underrepresented minorities, I am not only making my scientific education my priority during graduate school, but I am also making diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts a critical part of my graduate school experience. Furthermore, as an advocate of work-life balance and mental health, I actively seek to engage in hobbies during my free time such as working out at the gym, figure skating, and tumbling around the Cambridge/Somerville area.


I became an LGBTQ-focused Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Fellow because of my interest in fostering equity and inclusion within academia. I actively seek to get involved with my community to learn from peer leaders about the optimal ways to serve underrepresented sectors of the community. When I came out as a gay man in 2017, I faced a series of backlashes and a period of raw introspection and learning about myself and the LGBTQ community. Through key members of the LGBTQ community and allies, I developed a keen sense of identity and resilience, and a greater understanding of the needs and challenges of queer people pursuing higher education. Now, as a D&I Fellow, I am eager to fortify the current queer network at Harvard and reinforce GSAS’s commitment to underrepresented minorities. For this year, I will focus on supporting all LGBTQ efforts at GSAS, fostering community within the Cambridge and Boston campuses, and advocating for more outreach events that educate the GSAS community about the LGBTQ community and cater to the LGBT community itself and those struggling with their identity.

Ashley Cavanagh

I grew up in South Salem, New York, where I found a love for physics in high school that led me to study physics at Mount Holyoke College. At Mount Holyoke, I cultivated both a supportive physics community and a tight-knit LGBTQ family, who taught me firsthand the value of seeking community in academia. This support gave me space to develop personally while also cultivating my passion for condensed matter physics, which eventually brought me to Harvard. I am now a second-year PhD student in applied physics and a member of Professor Bob Westervelt’s group, studying quantum phenomena in two-dimensional materials. I am extremely passionate about both the science that I work on and ensuring that academic research spaces are inclusive and accessible to all. In my career, I want to be an active advocate for diversity and inclusion in science and I am dedicated to beginning that work now as a graduate student. Beyond my academic work, I love to draw, read, and explore Boston on my bike.


I became an LGBTQ-focused Diversity & Inclusion Fellow because I believe that inclusivity and equity should be priorities in academia, and in particular because I want to actively advocate for the LGBTQ community at Harvard. As a lesbian, I have experienced firsthand the difficulties of navigating academic spaces as a queer person and I know exactly how challenging it can be to balance one’s academic and queer identities. I have benefited greatly from connecting with LGBTQ peers and from finding LGBTQ role models; as a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow, I want to be able to ensure that other members of the GSAS LGBTQ community can find that same sense of belonging and community. I am committed to advocating for the needs of LGBTQ students at GSAS and working to ensure that the larger GSAS community is prepared to support its LGBTQ students.

Michael Ortiz 

My name is Michael and I am currently a 3rd year PhD student in American studies here at GSAS. I'm really excited to join the team! I grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, and am a first-generation American, so diversity, equity, and belonging have been important to me for much if not all of my life. I did my undergrad at Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, where I double-majored in math and American studies. I was also involved in advocacy and inclusion work at Wesleyan, where I got to work with a variety of student groups on- and off-campus. After graduation, I worked for a year in management consulting, and now I'm here!


My life has been structured by race, gender, sexuality, class, citizenship, etc. I recognize that these have a pernicious effect on our social and psychic selves. My work in diversity and inclusion is driven by my sense of justice and opportunity, that fostering a truly vibrant intellectual community requires working against the ways in which categories of difference serve to fracture and discourage communities at Harvard. As a Diversity & Inclusion Fellow, I hope to further the office’s mission by helping departments, groups, and centers at Harvard center diversity and inclusion in all their remote offerings. Further, I hope the office will be a crucial landing site for affinity groups and student leaders actively advocating for change within their own communities, offering resources and institutional support. 

Any GSAS student who is currently a G-2 or above, in good standing, and registered in the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for the 2021-2022 academic year is eligible to apply for one of these positions. The Diversity and Inclusion Fellows work within the Office of Diversity and...Read more