February 4, 2020
To the members of the MIT community,
We write to share concrete actions we’re taking to create a more welcoming and inclusive MIT.
These new steps flow in part from the recommendations of four MIT working groups created following the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM) report on sexual and gender harassment of women in academia.
They also respond to the calls for improvement and commitment that emerged from President Reif’s recent listening tour, earlier diversity, equity, and inclusion reports, and, of course, the longstanding efforts of many in our community.
Most striking, the recommendations and calls for improvement are about broader change – they respond not only to sexual and gender harassment but harassment of any kind.
1. To strengthen our capacity to hold everyone at MIT to the same standards, MIT is both introducing a revised policy for handling complaints of discriminatory or harassing behavior by faculty or staff, and committing to reporting anonymized information about these complaints.
Two themes ring throughout community reports and community conversations of late: accountability and transparency. MIT has taken an important step in these areas by creating a central hub – the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office – where anyone in the community can go for help if they observe or encounterdiscriminatory treatment at MIT.
We are also in the process of strengthening whistleblower channels and non-retaliation and confidentiality protections, and preparing a new survey to better understand faculty and staff experiences with behavioral misconduct and climate at MIT.
2. We are building a network of support, advocacy, and community-building expertise across campus to improve our community culture.
Each of MIT’s five schools and the College of Computing will appoint senior staff to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and community efforts. While these new positions will be tailored to the unique needs of each school and the college, all of the individuals serving in these roles will be equipped to be a resource to community members on a range of topics. They will help advance each unit’s MindHandHeart Department Support Project action plan, and identify ways to address problems such as bullying and harassment and the negative power dynamics in academic and organizational working relationships.
Similar new investments in our administrative units will be shaped by the feedback and insights staff are currently sharing with Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen through her staff conversations initiative.
These steps follow recent staffing increases in Violence Prevention and Response (VPR); IDHR; and Student Mental Health and Counseling Services.
3. To help prevent harassment and teach techniques for intervening, mentoring, and creating a more diverse MIT, we will offer more in-person workshops and online curricula.
Many offices at MIT already coordinate to provide a range of relevant trainings about MIT's harassment policy. We will be hiring more educators who, alongside the leaders mentioned above, will help current staff meet growing campus demand for this targeted education. A new online harassment prevention training module set to launch this spring will complement and expand the reach of in-person education.
The goal of these efforts is twofold – we want to build awareness and to take action. We will cultivate and apply practical skills to achieve better outcomes: recognizing and mitigating unconscious biases in employment practices and everyday encounters, becoming better advisors and mentors, intervening effectively in response to disrespectful behaviors – and more.
4. A new Institute-wide committee of staff, faculty, students, postdocs, and alumni will engage our community this semester in the foundational work of developing a statement of shared values.
In the words of one NASEM working group report, “Our values govern our attitudes, decisions, actions, behaviors…values are the foundation upon which our culture at MIT is based.” While MIT has a mission statement, we do not have an Institute values statement.
Another source of inspiration for this new committee: Local efforts by several departments, labs, and centers, including Physics and Biological Engineering, who have found that creating their own values statements was a powerful way to build a sense of shared purpose.
To advance these immediate priorities and the full slate of recommendations from the working groups, we have asked the co-chairs to form the nucleus of an implementation team that will grow in the coming weeks and coordinate closely with the incoming Institute Community and Equity Officer. The team will engage the community to execute the plan, assess its success, and communicate progress. They invite your ideas and involvement as they work to create a more welcoming community climate.
We are indebted to this team of leaders, and to everyone who served on the NASEM working groups, for their care, energy, and vision. And we are grateful to the many community members who shared their personal stories and offered their perceptive insights over the course of the fall semester.
Through sustained investment, leadership, education, and self-examination, we are confident that MIT can build a more diverse, respectful, inclusive, and equitable community – one where everyone knows they matter and belong.
Ramona Allen, Vice President for Human Resources
Cynthia Barnhart, Chancellor
Rick Danheiser, Chair of the Faculty; Arthur C. Cope Professor; Professor of Chemistry
Mark DiVincenzo, Vice President and General Counsel
Leslie Kolodziejski, Chair of the Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response; Professor of Electrical Engineering
Martin A. Schmidt, Provost
Susan Silbey, Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology; Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences, Sloan School of Management
Sheila Widnall, Institute Professor
Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research