September 25, 2020
To the members of the MIT community,
I write to announce three encouraging and related steps in our ongoing efforts to make MIT more welcoming and inclusive.
First, this summer, I asked Institute Community and Equity Officer John Dozier and Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen to reexamine our roster of Institute holidays. After outreach that included students, staff and faculty – and building on extensive work by then-interim ICEO Alyce Johnson – they concluded that while the overall reconsideration of holidays can and should continue, we should move swiftly now to consider renaming the holiday we recognize each year on the second Monday in October.
With the endorsement of Academic Council, beginning this year MIT will change the name of this holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, in recognition and celebration of the Native presence and voices in our community. You can learn more about the holiday’s significance through an October 14 lecture by MLK Visiting Scholar Patricia Saulis.
I offer my thanks to John, Ramona, Alyce, Chair of the Faculty Rick Danheiser and ICEO Program Director Beatriz Cantada for their care in advancing this recommendation.
And we owe a special debt of gratitude to two student groups – the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and the Native American Students Association (NASA) – for their dedication to promoting equity and visibility on behalf of our Indigenous community.
Second, in the spring, Professor Craig Wilder, a former faculty advisor to AISES and the current advisor to NASA, will lead a class that will research and document MIT’s Native American history. The class will anchor a collaborative project that invites students, staff, alumni, community members and faculty from diverse fields to study and research MIT’s connections to Native nations and tribal lands, the histories of Native communities in the New England region, and the history of Indigenous students, faculty and staff at the Institute.
Third, before the pandemic, the Office of the Provost was in conversation with students and other MIT community members about designating a campus space for members of our Indigenous community to gather and share traditions and experiences. I am glad to report that we have identified options for such a space and are committed to act, once in-person indoor gatherings on campus are again permitted.
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I would like to pause and recognize that, for many in our community, Columbus Day is an important and meaningful tradition, independent of its namesake. For many Italian Americans, Columbus Day presents an opportunity to celebrate their history, heritage and contributions to this nation, and to honor the struggle of immigrants from Italy who faced many decades of violence, exclusion and discrimination in the United States. We move forward with deep respect for every member of our community as we work to acknowledge the complex and evolving story of our nation.
It is natural to cherish our roots. They nourish the spirit and they keep us grounded. Yet they also enable us to grow new branches of understanding that rise upward to the light – and toward each other.
I am grateful for the partnership of our entire community as we aspire and work toward a better and stronger MIT.
L. Rafael Reif