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Orientation video highlights diversity

The dramatic centerpiece of a three-hour diversity event held for freshman orientation on Aug. 31 was a 35-minute video produced by four MIT students over the summer.

The video, "Behind Closed Doors," was a perfect illustration of the MIT spirit: When Dexter Ang (S.B. 2005), senior Yonatan Tekleab and juniors Yamicia Connor and Bryan Owens saw the commercial video that had been slated to spark discussion at orientation, they felt it did not reflect the MIT culture and community, and they knew they could do a better job.

So they did.

Never mind that these student producers had never made a video, hadn't planned to make a video and already had full-time summer jobs and commitments. With the wary blessing of staff members Elizabeth Young and Tobie Wiener, the group forged ahead.

In true MIT fashion, the students set about learning by doing, overcoming the lack of time, planning, experience and equipment with hard work, simply because they wanted to give the newest students as full a consideration of diversity as they could provide.

More than half of the freshmen class watched "Behind Closed Doors" and participated in the follow-up small group discussions. More than 100 volunteers, including student orientation leaders, faculty and staff facilitators, worked on the event, which garnered positive reviews.

For Young, who organizes the full freshman orientation program, the students' video carried an important message about what nourishes individual success and a healthy community. "Behind Closed Doors" encouraged students, "You will succeed if you have respect for each other."

Weiner said, "I think for me the most important thing about the diversity event was the opportunity for all freshmen on campus to view MIT through the lens of a student who may be different from themselves."

"Behind Closed Doors" provided a portrait of how differences can play out in campus life and in private. In the video, 13 students in the video speak directly from their own experiences at MIT and reflect on the broader context of what change might be possible at MIT.

And the students themselves were changed by the project they undertook, gaining confidence and new insights about diversity, they said.

Owens edited most of the rough footage into the final video. "There was one day when I was up until 2 a.m. And I thought, 'Am I ever going to finish this? Is this going to work?' But when I saw the rough cut, I was really impressed."

Ang had never considered gender issues, he said. Working on "Behind Closed Doors" opened a door in his awareness. Now he knows that women and other minorities might question themselves, asking, "Do I really belong here at MIT?"

Tekleab and Connor, after working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in the video, developed new understanding, too. " I've never heard the issues put more eloquently," Tekleab said.

The student producers, all engineering majors, said that support from the MIT administration made all their hard work possible.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 14, 2005 (download PDF).

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