Graduate Profile: Susan Wolf Ditkoff, MTS '22

May 16, 2022
Graduate Profile: Susan Wolf Ditkoff, MTS '22

HDS communications reached out to our 2022 graduating students to hear from them in their own words about their experiences at HDS, the people who've helped and inspired them along their grad school journeys, and their plans for the future.

How I've Changed

After I graduated from Harvard Business School, I spent about 20 years working directly with philanthropists to help them identify and donate money to promising equity and justice causes. I loved working in the field and publishing deep qualitative and quantitative research based on those sites of encounter. However, I came to HDS because I realized that my inquiry needed new groundwater—new wellsprings of inspiration.

My research focus at HDS has been the ethics of wealth and philanthropy, primarily through narratives of religious history and anthropology. I’ve been privileged to explore in depth how the history, rituals, and spirit of charity, generosity, and altruism—both financial and active—have extraordinary potential to draw diverse intellectual and lived communities into pluralistic shared relationships, and at the same time, how painful the discourses of power and forcible exclusion are in blocking any authentic shared narrative.

Memorable Moment

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of pursuing historical research on Ms. Callie House and Mr. William Monroe Trotter, two extraordinary African-American leaders who lived between 1861–1934. Learning from and with award-winning historian Kerri Greenidge, Rev. Brooks, the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice, and other scholars, I experienced how powerful it can be to help retrieve the stories and outstanding contributions of legendary leaders who were under-appreciated and erased from their rightful place in history.

William Monroe Trotter’s contributions to Harvard and the history of civil action ought to be a core part of Harvard University’s mainstage legacy, as powerfully acknowledged by President Larry Bacow at the recent WMT 150th birth anniversary celebration in April 2022.

Similarly, Callie House’s contributions as a pioneering Reparations advocate and founding leader of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA) ought to be in every narrative that covers African American leaders in the post–Civil War era, and every history of the current Reparations movement. It was extraordinarily inspiring to be part of efforts to elevate their narratives and their contributions into greater prominence.

What I Hope to Be Remembered By

I was honored to present at the 2021 Stendahl Symposium awards on one of my favorite topics: the history of golden joinery as a form and as a metaphor for healing and profound reparation. I found the dive into primary sources extremely rewarding—and challenging!—especially since the historiography and narratives of poverty and wealth in relation is so strangely absent in the canon. As a result, I’ve become incredibly energized to spend more time on original research in this crucial, under-developed area.

What I'll remember most is how much I’ve benefited from amazingly generative guidance from faculty and student colleagues alike. I couldn't be more grateful for all of the new camera angles that you have provided me regarding the study of power, narratives, and vast wealth inequality—one of the biggest challenges that our democracy and our world face today.