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Graduate Student Council launches inclusion initiative

Student representatives called "conduits" are discussing best practices and planning ways to implement diversity and inclusion programs campus-wide.
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Photo: Christopher Harting

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) has undertaken important diversity and inclusion efforts in recent months, with a particular focus on improving the student experience in the Institute’s academic departments.

The GSC’s new Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee (DIS), which is led by SMArchS computation student Ty Austin, is at the center of this work. In the short time since its formation at the end of the 2016-17 academic year, the DIS has already made headway thanks in large part to its inaugural Department and Classroom Inclusion initiative (DCI). The peer-to-peer initiative’s mission is to establish student diversity representation in all of MIT’s graduate academic departments and programs through student diversity representatives called “conduits.”

The conduits are a cohort of over 30 graduate students serving 25 academic departments, and they recently came together in an assembly to discuss how to best implement diversity and inclusion programs campus-wide. The assembly gave them a platform to discuss how to share best practices among departments and to establish a permanent diversity and inclusion standard for the Institute.

“While it is not explicitly stated in MIT’s mission that the Institute is to provide a more diverse and inclusive environment, it does state we must advance technology and science that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century,” Austin says. “That’s impossible to do without being more equitable.”

Led by biological engineering graduate student Claire Duvallet, aeronautics and astronautics graduate student Arthur Brown, and chemical engineering graduate student German Parada, DCI’s signature program — the Conduit Assembly — took place on Nov. 15 and is slated to convene twice again in the spring semester.

Conduits from 25 graduate departments came together to talk about the current state of diversity and inclusion in their programs, and what they would like to see improved. Findings from the 2017 Student Quality of Life survey helped guide the conversation.

"I think what was really amazing was seeing 30 plus people there sharing what is happening in their departments and being so energized about coming together and all working toward the same goal,” Duvallet says. “A lot of people had a lot to say."

Several ideas came out of the assembly, including:

  • The conduits for each school will appoint a conduit chair, or convener, thus creating five student-only diversity committees;
  • Examine ways to create more opportunities for student involvement in faculty hiring and increase faculty-to-student mentorship;
  • Expand the ICEO Office by having five full-time diversity managers (each one would be responsible for undergraduate and graduate diversity affairs for their school);
  • Eventually adding more staff diversity representatives per department; and
  • Mandatory diversity and inclusion workshops and departmental diversity and inclusion plans, including an accountability chart.

Civil and environmental engineering conduit and ACME member Tiziana Brown said the chart could clearly state goals for each department, progress toward meeting these goals, and the end result.

Satish Gupta, the DIS treasurer says that “brilliant ideas like Tiziana’s that give me a bunch of optimism about the longevity of this initiative.”

When the Conduit Assembly convenes in the spring, they will discuss a number of issues, including departmental diversity surveys for the five departments hosting Visiting Committee meetings in the fall of 2018. DIS’s work in this area aligns with the goals of the MindHandHeart initiative, a coalition of students, faculty, and staff working to make the MIT community more healthy, welcoming, and inclusive.

Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and MIT Medical, MindHandHeart’s Department Support Project (MHH-DSP) is bringing together department leaders, data analysts, students, and key campus experts to share best practices and strengthen MIT’s academic climates. This spring, DIS and MindHandHeart will partner in support of advancing diversity and inclusion efforts in MIT’s academic departments.

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