MIT to advance Indigenous scholarship and support of its Indigenous community

Reif: MIT will ‘create a tenure-line faculty position in Native American studies’ within SHASS

MIT will take steps to “advance Indigenous scholarship and support [MIT’s] Indigenous community,” President L. Rafael Reif wrote in an email to the MIT community April 19.

To advance Indigenous scholarship, Reif wrote that MIT will “create a tenure-line faculty position in Native American studies” within the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (SHASS), with the hope of “understanding of MIT’s Indigenous History and Native issues more broadly” and educating MIT students on “this rapidly expanding discipline,” Reif added that the Institute hopes to fill the position by the start of the 2023–24 academic year.

Reif also wrote that MIT will expand its Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professors and Scholars Program by adding two positions, “with at least one each year reserved for a scholar of Native American studies.” The portfolio of the Native American studies scholar “will include leading the ongoing exploration of MIT’s Indigenous history” until the SHASS faculty position has been filled.

MIT will also fund “a study to research and document” the role of MIT’s third president Francis Walker in “advancing the Native American reservation system, which cruelly and unjustly relocated Native Americans from their land to make way for European settlers.” Currently, “no definitive modern history exists” regarding Walker’s role, Reif wrote.

Additionally, Reif wrote that MIT will “fund two graduate fellowships” for “the next two academic years” in the MIT Indigenous Language Initiative, which is “a master’s program in linguistics” that “provides a linguistic framework to help protect” and “revitalize” “threatened languages,” such as those of the “Passamaquoddy, Iñupiaq[,] and Wôpanâak nations.”

Regarding MIT’s support for its Indigenous community, Reif wrote that MIT is currently finalizing the Institute’s strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion action plan, which will “detail a coordinated, systematic approach for actions” that “will strengthen the entire MIT community.”

According to the Morrill Act of 1862 that “established MIT as a land grant university,” Massachusetts had made annual payments to the Institute that “ended without explanation in 2008.”

MIT is now working “with the Office of the State Treasurer” to determine if “the state might resume these annual payments, which we would direct to help support Indigenous community efforts on our campus.” Until “the state takes action,” MIT will “channel an equivalent sum each year to Indigenous efforts on campus, jumpstarted with a one-time allocation of $50,000.”

Reif wrote that he has “asked Chancellor Melissa Nobles and Institute Community and Equity Officer John Dozier to co-chair an ad hoc working group of faculty, staff and students,” which will take care to “ensure that [MIT’s] Native community is present and deeply engaged.”

The working group will advise Reif on a “specific use for the funds” allocated “for maximum impact”; whether MIT “should develop an official land acknowledgment statement or a statement of relationship with our internal and external Indigenous communities, and, if so, what the process… should entail”; and the “best way” to ensure that “the MIT administration maintains open, regular communication with Native American communities on and around” campus.

Reif wrote that he expects “to receive and share the working group’s recommendations before the end of 2022.”

Additionally, MIT will “continue to support and expand” the Indigenous Communities Fellowship and work with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning to develop 11.S938/11.S99 (Indigenous Environmental Planning).

Reif sent his email after meeting with students in 21H.283 (The Indigenous History of MIT) and discussed about “MIT’s connections to Native nations and tribal lands, the histories of Native communities in New England, and the history of Indigenous students, staff and faculty on our campus” during the Spring and Fall 2021 terms.

“The actions we announce today are, in part, an expression to our Indigenous students, staff, faculty, postdocs and alumni that we see, hear and value them,” Reif wrote. “These actions are also an acknowledgement that we have work to do, and reflect a lasting commitment to move forward in ongoing dialogue and partnership with Native communities at MIT and beyond.”