MIT commits to developing and implementing Institute-wide plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion

‘The strategic plan must include actions to specifically address concerns within Black communities,’ BGSA Co-President Ufuoma Oveinmhada writes

Institute Community and Equity Officer John Dozier and Associate Provost Tim Jamison will lead community engagement to develop and implement “a comprehensive, Institute-wide action plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI),” President L. Rafael Reif wrote in a letter to the MIT community July 1. 

The plan will “establish clear, coordinated Institute-wide objectives, define practical steps for achieving them and include transparent accountability,” Reif wrote. The plan will be developed with input from “across the community,” including Black Students’ Union (BSU) and Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) representatives.

Reif wrote that MIT has committed to prioritizing fundraising for new endowed graduate fellowships for students from underrepresented groups and increasing MIT’s purchasing and contracting with minority-owned enterprises. 

Reif also announced several new initiatives. The Provost’s Office will contribute funds towards a total of $1 million in “immediate investments in anti-racist research at MIT” and will fund a new research project on the history of Native Americans and MIT. Dozier and Ramona Allen, vice president for human resources, will reexamine Institute holidays. Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 will appoint an ad hoc committee to “recommend artistic and cultural responses that will affirm and inspire our community in this complex moment.” 

Reif highlighted the 2020 Support Black Lives at MIT petition, which has been signed by 135 MIT-affiliated organizations and over 4,500 community members as of press time. 

The petition has two objectives. First, the petition calls for the “development of a 3-year and 10-year strategic plan to address racial bias at MIT” through fulfilling the 2015 BSU/BGSA recommendations to MIT administrators and its new addendums. Second, the petition calls for “implementing new models of public safety that reduce the scale of policing” to improve safety and well-being. 

Reif’s letter to the community commits to the petition’s call to establish a plan through community feedback, including BSU/BGSA representation. However, it does not commit to the petition’s call for “written financial commitment” to a 10-year plan that accounts for at least the cost of hiring DEI staff and DEI programming for every department.

Reif also addressed the second objective, writing that Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVicenzo and Chief of Police John DiFava are leading an “ongoing dialog” to “work together to review topics in the petition, including alternatives to current campus police response practices, and to determine the right process for exploring options that might enhance our police department’s service to the MIT community.”

Ufuoma Oveinmhada G, BGSA co-president, said in an interview with The Tech that in early June, following nationwide protests against police brutality against Black communities, “it seemed that the MIT community was really interested and open in engaging in this dialogue about structural racism.” 

Oveinmhada was also influenced by a June 2 open letter published in The Tech calling out MIT senior leadership’s lack of progress on the BSU/BGSA 2015 recommendations. “Several of the recommendations that were made five years ago still remain at zero percent completion. Most notably, the strict 10 year strategic plan does not exist five years later,” Oveinmhada said.

Oveimhada explained that she, BGSA Co-President Chelsea Nneka Onyeador G, Cory Frontin G, Randi Williams G, and some students from the Academic Council working group began ideating and forming a petition. Following this brainstorming period, the group built a coalition of both graduate and undergraduate students and underwent a community feedback process.

The strategic plan must include actions to specifically address concerns within Black communities” because of the unique challenges and barriers that Black people face, Ovienmhada wrote in an email to The Tech.  

Oveinmhada wrote that she hopes the plan will include plans for recruiting under-represented minorities, hiring of diversity staff, funding DEI programming, increasing funding for the BSU or an alternative space to serve Black students, implementing mandatory bias training “across the Institute,” creating mentorship and career development programs for Black students and other students of color, and expanding virtual mental health programming. 

“Would also love to see students who serve on the strategic plan committee be financially compensated,” Oveinmhada added, as “DEI work takes a lot of emotional and physical energy but is constantly undervalued and under appreciated.”

MIT’s decision to examine Institute holidays follows the election of Danielle Geathers ’22 and Yu Jing Chen ’22 as Undergraduate Association President and Vice President. Geathers and Chen included renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in their platform.