Opinion letter to the editor

Current UA Officers agree Danielle Geathers and Yu Jing Chen stand out as leaders in this time of uncertainty

They are the most experienced and their approach to MIT student governance is diligent, democratic, and designed to succeed

Current UA Chief of Staff Rishi Shah ’20, UA Treasurer AJ Haeffner ’21, and UA Secretary Naomi Michael ’22 have all signed onto this letter, in solidarity. They will be voting for Danielle and Yu Jing in this UA election, who have also been endorsed by Chocolate City, the MIT Black Students’ Union, the MIT Black Women’s Alliance, and the MIT Chinese Student’s Club.

Historically, the platforms of UA candidates are discussed over The Tech where candidates are judged on their ability to demonstrate an understanding of matters facing students. The Tech hosts the debate and their editorial board endorses a ticket. The Tech’s Editorial Board released an endorsement on April 26 titledFiona Chen and Yara Komaiha stand out as the strongest ticket in this time of uncertainty.” The endorsement cited three main reasons for their decision: “well-rounded experience,” “detailed plans,” and “thorough understanding of institutional history.” Although the editorial referenced both tickets and spoke on some of their ideas, it primarily failed to mention that Danielle Geathers ’22 is the only candidate running, president or vice president, to serve a full term as a UA officer, the only candidate to sit on an Institute Committee, and the only candidate to chair a standing UA committee.

As UA Officer on Diversity, Danielle collaborated with the Office of Multicultural Programs to host an event focused on fostering a relationship between campus police and students. She also implemented Tomorrow Time in collaboration with MIT’s Student Support Services, which engaged over 400 students and resulted in the donation of 600 meals to the Greater Boston Food Bank. In her committee, she manages eight committee members and a $13,500 budget used to foster student unity. Starting in December, she collaborated with the PKG center, MIT’s home for public service, to host campus-wide civic organizer dinners, with the third one happening last week. Her final committee project was purchasing over 250 books recommended by current MIT students to mail to the Class of 2024. As a representative of the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, Danielle advocated for and voted to remove the SAT subject test requirement for MIT admission. She was the student representative in the hiring of MIT’s second Institute Community and Equity Officer John Dozier and a representative with her running mate, Yu Jing Chen ’22, in the hiring of the Office of Minority Education’s new Assistant Dean Devan Monroe. She also raised over $5,000 through grant proposals to found Talented Ten, recruiting over 20 MIT students to participate. Prior to this year she was a student organizer for the Black Students’ Union and Black Women’s Alliance. 

Yu Jing advocates on an Institute working group for first-generation and/or low-income students and serves on the Burton Conner Transition Team to protect BC culture and hold housing administration accountable. She also is an effective student organizer. She led the curation of Reclaimed, a Lobby 7 photo mural project celebrating students of immigrant backgrounds; she organized the #MoneyMatters Photo Campaign with Class Awareness, Support, and Equality to engage students and create community. In the Chinese Students Club, she mobilized Asian American civic engagement, and in her two years at the Institute has founded the MIT Asian American Initiative, MIT’s first student organization for Asian American advocacy.

Danielle and Yu Jing are running a student-centered campaign and their plan is four-fold. They want to implement more “policy-focused [UA] committees,” directly giving every student an institutionalized place to do work on student issues and hear updates. They also want to establish a pipeline for “successful UA projects to be implemented by the administration” which will allow the community-work of MIT students to reach more students and have a larger impact. For the first years, they seek to implement a novel UA program to encourage “retention and leadership” from these driven and excited members in our community. They also plan to establish a council for the UA to facilitate transparency between student groups facing issues on campus. Although both Fiona and Danielle’s platform focus on transparency, they do so on separate vectors. Fiona and Yara’s platform focuses on the administration to student transparency vector, seeking to ascertain a greater breadth of administrative knowledge for students. Danielle and Yu Jing’s platform focuses on the student to administration transparency vector, building infrastructure to increase the UA’s awareness of student concerns and thus increasing the UA’s ability to advocate those interests to administration.

I’ve been in working groups, meetings, and committees with the president, vice presidents, the provost, the chancellor, the vice chancellor, deans of the Schools, and members of the Corporation about dining, housing, finances, advising, the first-year experience, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI); I’ve worked with staff across the institutional framework and have advised direct administrative action. In all this, I’ve learned that the administration has less control than students perceive. Students often forget the role of the Corporation (as The Tech’s Editorial Board pointed out) and consequently forget that administrators act as their hands. However, MIT students have a long history of unifying to create change, knowing that the power to change MIT is never granted, but organized.

I am reminded of the BSU Recommendations (2015) that positively impacts the lives of MIT students often unknowingly going on five years. The spirit of these institutional demands changed MIT for the better and amplified past efforts like the faculty-led Hammond Report (2010). It was students who made the time to collect data, collectivize student voices, and present them to the administration. In return, MIT increased its financial aid budget by millions, hired more mental health counselors of color, and institutionalized diversity orientation for first years and a DEI training module for second years (2019). Fiona and Yara have used two of the 10 recommendations in their platform (re: mental health and GIR-requirement). 

The Tech’s endorsement failed to explore these differences regarding the focus and leadership experience of the UA presidential and vice presidential candidates. What’s at stake in this election is what happens to MIT students with regard to coronavirus and our fall semester. Now more than ever we have to pay attention and remember to vote. The UA has tried the traditional approach of governance and it leaves too many students uninspired and unengaged. We need leadership that will get off the sidelines to reach campus, that will prioritize amplifying and unifying the student voice. We need leadership that has demonstrated a commitment to engaging hundreds of students and is committed to do it again. We need leadership that’s focused on the most pressing problem facing students today (and tomorrow).

Without a top priority to increase UA engagement with MIT students, the UA will be unprepared to face the big questions facing MIT students today regarding the uncertainty of the fall. This will not only be a failure of the UA, but MIT students will also suffer because of it. Students have the power to restructure the UA, Danielle and Yu Jing have given us that chance. The Tech’s Editorial Board stated Fiona and Yara have a “thorough understanding of institutional history.” However, knowledge and understanding are different. I think they are equating the two, which is misleading. It is Danielle and Yu Jing who understand MIT history, and have built a platform based on its lessons. That is the difference. Vote here.

You can read more about them and their detailed platform at www.tinyurl.com/danielleandyujing.

Note: If elected, Danielle Geathers ’22 will be the first black woman to hold the office of president of the MIT Undergraduate Association.

Kelvin Green II is a former vice president of the Undergraduate Association. After five months working on the officer team, he took a leave of absence and stepped down to work full time as a field organizer in the 2020 presidential election. He will return to MIT in Fall 2020.

Update 5/1/2020: An earlier version of this article stated that Geathers is the only candidate to chair an institutionalized committee. However, another candidate, Fiona Chen, chairs the Student Committee on Campus Climate around Discrimination and Misconduct, an ad hoc committee. Rather, Geathers is the only candidate to chair a standing UA committee.