February 23, 2021
To the members of the MIT community,
At the start of September, I outlined three shared challenges for the fall: getting our response to Covid-19 right; advancing the work of Task Force 2021 and Beyond; and repairing, reinforcing and renewing our sense of community.
We have shared updates since then and will continue to do so in the months ahead. For now, as we develop a comprehensive strategic action plan for diversity, equity and inclusion, I want to reflect on our progress to advance three Institute efforts to make our community fairer and more welcoming to all:
- The 2015 recommendations of the Black Students’ Union (BSU) and Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA)
- The recommendations of four working groups MIT created in response to a 2018 report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) on the sexual and gender harassment of women in academia
- And the commitments I made last July to address systemic racism at MIT
I write today to make you aware of a new website, called Institute Commitments, where we are tracking and sharing our progress on these efforts.
In fall 2015, as campuses across the country grappled with issues of equity and racial justice, I invited the students of the BSU and BGSA to meet, because I wanted to hear directly from them about their experiences at MIT. They didn’t hold back, detailing a sense of invisibility and loneliness that moved me. At the end of our meeting, I asked the students to send me suggestions for how we might address the difficult issues they raised. Their recommendations sparked a years-long process of review and implementation, led by an ad hoc subcommittee of Academic Council, that continues to shape our work.
Likewise, the NASEM report, which addressed harassment of women in academia nationally, shone a light on the effects of harassment on our own campus. In response, MIT became a founding member of a new Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education and launched an extensive process to combat harassment in our community. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who continues to advance the recommendations of the NASEM working groups, with special thanks to an implementation team led by Professor Paula Hammond and Sarah Rankin, director of the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office (IDHR).
Finally, last summer, as the long crisis of racial injustice and violence commanded the nation’s attention, I committed our community to be a part of a national transformation, building an MIT that works for everyone. The forthcoming strategic action plan is the focus of our attention, but there is so much more we can, and must, do. Following consultation with students, staff and faculty, I wrote on July 1 to detail some of our plans.
We all know that to sustain progress over time, we need transparency and accountability. The website we launch today is an important step in that direction. I am proud of the work we are doing, together, to advance the goals our colleagues and students have outlined:
- All five schools and the college—and many departments—are actively recruiting for senior staff who will advance issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and community in their local settings. And two key offices have added important new roles: Violence Prevention and Response recently welcomed a director of student advocacy, and the IDHR team now includes an education specialist and an alternative dispute resolution coordinator.
- We have revised the policy describing the factors used in evaluating candidates for tenure to make explicit an emphasis on mentoring and advising.
- We have increased transparency, publishing a diversity dashboard and minority enrollment reports and presenting student survey results in a way that allows a user to compare responses by gender and in terms of racial or ethnic underrepresentation.
- We have strengthened our policy for handling complaints of discriminatory or harassing behavior and introduced required refresher training about preventing sexual harassment.
- With support from the Office of the Provost, Professor Craig Wilder of the History Section has launched The Indigenous History of MIT, a special subject this spring to research and document different aspects of MIT’s Native history. The class benefits deeply from the insights of MIT’s Native American Students Association, for which Professor Wilder is faculty advisor.
- And with essential input from the academic deans, department heads and student leaders, we have recently finalized plans for an accessible transitional funding program to lower the barriers some graduate students experience when they change research advisors or groups. This step advances a primary recommendation first made by the Academic and Organizational Relationships Working Group in response to the NASEM report.
Of course, important work remains:
- We must continue to make graduate student fellowships a priority, especially for students from underrepresented groups. A key component for success will be the support of alumni and friends. Leadership in Resource Development continues to support central and local efforts by developing tools and providing guidance to advance fundraising conversations. I consider this issue to be of critical importance.
- We must fulfill a commitment to review policing at MIT. Since the summer, senior leadership has been meeting with Chief of Police John DiFava and student leaders to advance this priority. The MIT Police has posted an FAQ that responds to community inquiries, and the Institute has retained an outside consultant to work with a committee of faculty, students and staff to conduct a review of best practices of policing on university campuses. Our aim with this review is to identify opportunities to enhance interactions between the MIT Police and our community and ensure that everyone in our campus community is safe and feels safe.
- We must define a statement of Institute values and incorporate it into our daily activities. An Institute-wide committee of staff, faculty, students, postdocs and alumni is advancing this priority and will submit a final recommendation this summer.
- And above all, we must complete and implement the strategic action plan for deeper, more systemic, more lasting change.
This work is hard, but it is essential. I remain deeply committed to advancing these efforts—to repair, reinforce and renew our sense of community.
L. Rafael Reif