The MIT Division of Student Life (DSL) Staff Engagement Advisory Board (SEAboard) has introduced a statement intended to inform and guide staff on issues related to diversity and inclusion. The statement reads:
Our mission, as a division that is here for students, is to attract, hire, and retain talented staff members who represent the diversity of the MIT student body. We strive to provide all DSL staff members with the skills, tools, and support to create and maintain a respectful and responsive environment for living, teaching, and learning. We achieve this by:
- creating a climate of inclusion that reflects our division’s values and promotes an open exchange of ideas where each voice is heard;
- advancing DSL’s policies, practices, and programming for diversity, inclusion, and equity;
- promoting DSL staff equality of access, opportunity, representation, and participation within the division and beyond; and
- enhancing the awareness, knowledge, and skills of MIT community members through our work across campus.
The statement was inspired by recommendations made in 2015 by MIT’s Black Students Union on how to make MIT more diverse and inclusive. Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life, suggested that SEABoard’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee consider how the recommendations could be applied to DSL. “The recommendations provide us with a roadmap for how we can improve our campus and how we can make our campus more welcoming and affirming for all,” Nelson said. “Because DSL has a strong hand in shaping the student experience, we need to be mindful of these recommendations and work to operationalize them.”
Twelve volunteers to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee came from across DSL’s many disciplines and met in November 2016 with the goals of making the division a better place to work, and better for minority students. “When we came together for our first meeting, we talked about why folks were interested,” explained Libby Mahaffy, assistant director for conflict management and co-chair of the committee. “A lot of them said, ‘I wanted to do something that matters; that has impact.’” The committee was also co-chaired by Gerardo Garcia-Rios, assistant dean and interim co-director of student support services, and Lauren Haynie, former special assistant to the athletic director (who left MIT for a new position in June).
Before taking specific steps, the committee decided first to develop a statement on diversity and inclusion in DSL that would frame future discussions and work. They sought guidance and feedback on elements of a statement from students, staff, and faculty through a variety of channels, including email, webforms, and word of mouth. “It was a very robust feedback process,” said Mahaffy. “It really felt great that folks were thinking about it and talking about it.”
While the statement was written for DSL, the committee believes there will be community-wide impact. “When folks are happier at work, they’re happier with the students that they work with,” said Mahaffy. “It makes a difference for you to feel like you belong somewhere, because then you’ll treat others with that same kind of respect and belonging.”
“In a lot of ways, it’s aspirational,” added Rios. “It represents kind of what could be the best of DSL. We may not necessarily be there now, but it gives us a template for the future.”