New Institute commitments website presents MIT’s efforts toward fairness and equity

Efforts include working on BSU, BGSA, and NASEM recommendations and Reif’s July 2020 commitments

In a Feb. 23 email to the MIT community, President L. Rafael Reif announced the launch of a new website, Institute Commitments, to track and share MIT’s progress on advancing Institute efforts to make the community “fairer and more welcoming to all.” 

These efforts include working on the 2015 Black Students’ Union (BSU) and Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) recommendations, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) working group recommendations, and Reif’s July 2020 commitments.

The website details steps taken as part of these efforts and labels them according to their progress. The steps are labeled “Completed” if MIT has fulfilled the commitment or recommendation, “Progress underway” if the work is underway, “Progress made” if the elements have been advanced without current plans to complete them, and “Not pursued” if MIT has decided to not advance.

Reif provided further context to the efforts, writing that he invited students of the BSU and BGSA to hear their experiences at MIT while campuses across the country struggled with issues of “equity and racial justice” in Fall 2015. He wrote that the BSU and BGSA recommendations from that time “continue to pave the way for meaningful and lasting change across the MIT community.”

Reif also discussed the NASEM report addressing “harassment of women in academia nationally” after which “MIT launched an extensive process to combat harassment in our community.” An implementation team continues to advance the NASEM recommendations. 

The July 2020 commitments stem from the national outcry over the death of George Floyd. Reif wrote that he “committed our community to be a part of a national transformation, building an MIT that works for everyone.”

Reif wrote that these efforts are a part of MIT’s comprehensive strategic action plan for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Reif described some of the progress that the Institute has made in these efforts.

He wrote that all of MIT’s schools and many of its departments are “actively recruiting for senior staff” to advance DEI. In addition, MIT has published a diversity dashboard and minority enrollment reports to increase transparency surrounding representation at MIT.

Reif stated that the policy describing the factors used in evaluating candidates for tenure has been revised to “emphasize mentoring and advising.” He added that the policy for handling complaints of discriminatory or harassing behavior has been strengthened and “required refresher training about preventing sexual harassment” has been introduced.

Reif also described areas of work that remain to be done.

Reif noted that “we must continue to make graduate student fellowships a priority, especially for students from underrepresented groups.” 

The recently finalized plans for an accessible transitional funding program “to lower the barriers some graduate students experience when they change research advisors or groups” advance a recommendation made by the Academic and Organizational Relationships Working Group in response to the NASEM report, Reif wrote.

Additionally, Reif stated that the commitment to review policing at MIT must be fulfilled with the aim to “ensure that everyone in the MIT community is safe and feels safe.” He wrote that senior leadership has been meeting with MIT Chief of Police John DiFava and student leaders for this goal.

The Institute has also “retained an outside consultant” working with faculty, students, and staff to review best practices of policing on MIT’s campus.

Reif also wrote that MIT is working to define a statement of Institute values. An Institute-wide committee of staff, faculty, students, postdocs, and alumni is working towards defining a statement of Institute values and will submit a final recommendation this summer, Reif wrote.