MIT AAI recommends policies for better environment for Asian Americans

Plans include more courses, greater mental health support, increased staff representation

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The MIT Asian American Initiative displayed posters and artwork in Lobby 7 to announce their list of Institute recommendations for improving Asian American inclusivity at MIT, Tuesday.
Maximo Machado–The Tech

The MIT Asian American Initiative (AAI) publicly launched a set of recommendations to Institute senior leaders so MIT may provide a better environment for Asian American students earlier this week. 

The recommendations, detailed on the AAI website, were written by undergraduate AAI members. According to the website, members spoke to and incorporated feedback from various Asian cultural student groups at MIT and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) representatives of student groups to “make this list as relevant and representative as possible.” AAI also reportedly collaborated with over seventy other Asian American student organizations from around the country through the Intercollegiate Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Coalition.

AAI began thinking about the recommendations in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate beginning in 2020, Alana Chandler ’22 wrote in an email to The Tech. Amelia Dogan ’23 added that they began drafting recommendations “after MIT’s disappointing response to the March 2021 Atlanta Spa shootings.”

While many of the core recommendations have remained the same throughout the last year, conversations with staff, students, faculty, and other stakeholders have allowed for refinement, Dogan said. 

The recommendations are as follows:

MIT must hire culturally competent mental health professionals for the Asian American population. 

AAI calls on MIT to improve mental health resources for Asian American students by citing a 2019 enrolled student survey and a 2021 AAI-run survey of members of Asian American student groups. The first survey states that 24% of 1,500 undergraduate respondents reported using counseling services in the past year and 18% reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function, and the second found that 81% of 87 respondents rated their perceived level of support from MIT mental health resources to be a two or three on a five-point scale, where one indicates “no support” and five indicates “complete support,” and a majority of respondents indicated the importance of having therapists that “share their ethnic background” (70%) and are “culturally competent” (86%).

Specifically, AAI urges MIT to commit to hiring multiple full-time clinicians in Student Mental Health and Counseling Services that reflect the diversity of the Asian American student body, implement an online scheduling system for MIT Student Mental Health and Counseling, and increase Asian American representation in MIT Medical as a whole.

MIT must create a permanent, physical space for Asian American students and increase cultural representation.

According to the AAI website, “several” Asian cultural student groups on campus have “expressed difficulty in finding and booking a space in which to hold events,” and that “beyond serving as a primary location for Asian American community meetings, events, or socials, a physical space dedicated to Asian American students corporealizes and centers the common ground we find among ourselves, borne of shared experiences.”

The website points to MIT’s five-year DEI plan, specifically commitment four, which states that the Institute will “work with student and administrative leaders to identify and create opportunities and mechanisms for cultural student groups to convene, such as shared spaces and events, including signature annual events.”

AAI also believes that MIT can do more to promote Asian cultural events, such as “improving Asian food representation in campus dining halls.”

To that end, AAI calls on MIT to dedicate a physical, permanent community space for Asian American students and groups as well as promote greater representation of Asian and Asian American literature, cultural celebrations, and food both within the space and beyond.

MIT must offer courses in Asian American studies, expand the level of Asian language classes, and install ethnic studies programs.

AAI writes that “it is essential that MIT students have the opportunity to take a variety of ethnic studies, language, and cultural immersion courses so that our university can matriculate students with the skills and cultural sensitivity to understand people of different backgrounds.” 

The website also notes that “these are not new demands,” and states that the global language programs “have had high student demand and have been requesting more funding for many years, yet recently, MIT restructured GSL [Global Studies and Languages]” (GSL faculty were reassigned to other Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences departments in 2019, though GSL majors, minors, and concentrations remained in place). 

AAI calls on MIT to create an Ethnic Studies program that can offer a concentration by 2024; offer an Ethnic Studies minor and major as a Course 21 Interdisciplinary Minor/Major by 2026; offer a minimum of five Asian American studies classes per term; offer a larger variety of Asian languages beyond Chinese, Japanese, and Korean; and offer higher-level courses in the languages that are already part of the established programming. “MIT only offers only up to third-year proficiency in many languages programs, which is inadequate for effective business use and insufficient for those who wish to converse fluently with community and/or family members in a particular language.”

MIT must hire more Asian American faculty, staff, and senior-level administrators.

The AAI website states that according to the Institutional Research (IR) Diversity Dashboard, “the composition of MIT staff and faculty is only” nine percent “and 12% Asian or Asian American, respectively.” These “statistics prove to be disproportionately low compared to MIT’s Asian student population,” which makes up 32% of the undergraduate population, failing to “effectively reflect the diversity of the Asian community at MIT.”

AAI asks that MIT “make more of a concerted effort to recruit, retain, and promote more Asian American-identifying staff, faculty, and administrators.”

MIT must disaggregate data of Asian American enrollment, graduation, and admissions by ethnicity.

Per the AAI website, MIT’s IR Diversity Dashboard does not break down Asian American groups. AAI calls for data disaggregation to “show how MIT serves different Asian American communities as they come into and journey through MIT.”

AAI writes that “data disaggregation can shed light on patterns or trends in factors that deeply affect a student’s journey through MIT in different ways, including performance, sense of belonging, development, and more, within different pockets of the incredibly diverse Asian American community.”

AAI calls on MIT to disaggregate data of Asian American enrollment, graduation, and admissions by ethnicity, in a way that preserves the confidentiality of individuals belonging to the smallest demographics, and release a report on patterns or trends in the performance, sense of belonging, and development in the Asian American community specific to different ethnicities.

The AAI website displays artwork pertaining to the five recommendations, each accompanied by an artists’ statement. The featured artists are Alana Chandler ’22, Emily Huang ’22, Mulan Jiang ’23, Yijun Yang ’24, Sammi Cheung ’22, and Audrey Cui ’24. The website also includes a link to a petition that MIT students may sign to endorse the recommendations. 

AAI credits the Black Students’ Union’s 2015 recommendations for “paving the way” and serving as inspiration for the AAI recommendations, as well as several cultural groups for “time and input.”

Dogan said that while AAI has “certain timelines in mind” for some recommendations, they “understand change, especially around course offering and hiring, takes time.” Dogan referenced MIT’s activity on the BSU recommendations when stating that the AAI has also “seen how the Institute has taken its time though with student recommendations.”

AAI plans to work with a variety of offices around these recommendations such as MIT Mental Health; Institute Community and Equity Office; School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; and many other stakeholders.