UA Diversity Council established to promote diversity, equity and inclusion

The council will help finalize the MIT Strategic Action Plan by February 2021

The Undergraduate Association (UA) established the UA Diversity Council in July to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. The Council plans to advise the development of the MIT Strategic Action Plan for DEI throughout fall and IAP.

The Council’s charter writes that the Council “will work closely with the Institute Community & Equity Office to elevate the DEI needs of undergraduate students through policy, statements, and recommendations.” The Council’s goals include developing and implementing DEI policy in departments, labs, and centers; facilitating the exchange of DEI strategies between student groups; and increasing “transparency between MIT administration and the rest of the community regarding progress on DEI initiatives.”

The charter writes that in the UA’s 127-year history, it has “sparingly held student representation from historically underrepresented and under-resourced groups.” This has led to “limited” Institute-wide DEI progress, “hindered the ability for student organizations to share DEI strategies and tactics with each other,” and “limited the ability for the undergraduate student body to hold MIT accountable to its DEI goals.”

UA President Danielle Geathers ’22 wrote in an email to The Tech that the Council’s purpose is to promote advocacy and collaborate with “underrepresented student groups on campus.” Geathers added that “although the UA has had the Community and Diversity committee for several years,” it “lacked a formal connection to student groups and typically focused on campus-wide efforts rather than advocacy.”

In the same email, UA Assistant Officer on Diversity Kelvin Green II ’22 wrote that the Council hopes to “increase the participation of student groups in student government that do not traditionally interface with the UA” and “institutionalize their existence within the UA by regularly soliciting their feedback on a wide range of Institute topics.” 

Green added that the Council’s vision of diversity encompasses not just “cultural affinity” but “all identity-based affiliations whether that be a dance group, a course number, or another representative body like Class Council.” The Diversity Council welcomes all groups that believe in engaging with “diverse perspectives and/or experiences.”

President L. Rafael Reif announced in an email to the MIT community July 1 that MIT administrators planned to “engage the community in developing and implementing a comprehensive, Institute-wide action plan for diversity, equity and inclusion.” Institute Community and Equity Officer John Dozier and Associate Provost Tim Jamison wrote in an email to the MIT community Sept. 24 that the plan will “organize, prioritize, build broad support for, and coordinate Institute-wide action on a unified set of specific DEI objectives” and “create mechanisms to ensure sustained focus, discipline, and accountability for results.”

Green wrote that the Council’s “primary focus” this fall is to advise the creation of the DEI Strategic Action Plan. The UA hopes to communicate student feedback to the steering committee working on the plan and serve as “a cohesive voice” to the committee “on matters concerning undergraduates.”  

The Council will also be working with the Institute Community and Equity Office. This past summer, the Council reached out to Dozier as well as former Institute Community and Equity Officers Alyce Johnson and Edmund Bertschinger, for feedback on its charter. Green, Ishana Shastri ’23, Zaina Moussa ’21, David Spicer ’23, and Naylah Canty ’23 contributed to developing the charter.

Green wrote that other UA committees working on DEI-related efforts can “get support and feedback from the Council.” Student groups may connect with the UA Diversity Council via its onboarding form. The Council anticipates operating in “full-capacity albeit virtually” while students remain off-campus. 

This spring, Geathers and UA Vice President Yu Jing Chen ’22 ran on a platform promoting “unity, equity and authenticity.” Their platform defined “equity” as “an active effort in inclusion” and emphasized the importance of “bring[ing] forth voices that have been systematically suppressed.” The platform pledged to create a Diversity Council, adopt the Indigenous Peoples’ Day name change, and create “identity-based community spaces” for minority groups and first-generation and/or low-income students. 

Reif announced in an email to the MIT community Sept. 25 that beginning this year, MIT will change the name of the October holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day “in recognition and celebration of the Native presence and voices in our community.” The change was recommended by Dozier and Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen as well as endorsed by the Academic Council. Reif also recognized the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Native American Students Association for “promoting equity and visibility on behalf of our Indigenous community.”

MIT has “identified options” for a campus space “for members of our Indigenous community to gather and share traditions and experiences,” Reif wrote. The space will be designated once “in-person indoor gatherings on campus are again permitted.” Additionally, history professor Craig Wilder will lead a class on researching MIT’s Native American history in the spring.