I challenge the MIT administration to mean it when they assert that ‘Black Lives Matter’…What about requiring incoming students to have formal education on social justice, gender and racial equality, or global citizenship?NICK DAVIS, doctoral student in biological engineering — Graduate student speaker at the 41st MLK Celebration
Referring to demonstrations outside MIT’s Winterfest last December, in the wake of several police killings of unarmed black men, [MIT President L. Rafael] Reif said, “I found the protestors’ silence intensely moving, and impossible to forget. Listening to that silence, I heard pain, and outrage, a deep moral purpose, a refusal to accept injustice, and the conviction that, as Americans, we must insist on fair and equal treatment for everyone.” (MIT News, 5 Feb 2015)
Left: “Black Lives Matter” posters appear around campus in reaction to the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting of Michael Brown on Aug 9, 2014. Photo: Alexander C. Bost, The Tech 2015
iActivism: Individuals Empowering the Collective
L. Rafael Reif
President, MIT (2012-present)
Professor of Linguistics, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Abigail M. Francis
Director of LBGT Services, Student Development and Support
Organization Development Consultant/HR ERG Coordinator, MIT Human Resources Department
Kelvin Frazier PhD '15
Alyssa Napier '16
Adriane Brown SM '91
President and Chief Operating Officer, Intellectual Ventures
5th Annual Institute Diversity Summit
IAP MLK Design Seminar
"Elephant in the Room"
L. Rafael Reif has served as the 17th President of MIT since July 2012.
In his inaugural speech, Dr. Reif outlined the threats and opportunities presented by the sudden rise of credible, low-cost online learning alternatives and challenged MIT to use the campus as a lab to explore the future of higher education. While fostering the rapid growth of MIT’s non-profit online learning platform edX – which engaged more than 2.2 million learners from 196 countries in its first two years – he also launched an Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education. In September 2014, the group issued its final report.
In keeping with MIT’s role as a wellspring of innovation, Dr. Reif was asked by the White House to co-chair the steering committee of the national Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP 2.0). In October 2013, to enhance MIT’s own innovation ecosystem and foster education, research and policy, he launched the MIT Innovation Initiative; its preliminary report came out in December 2014. In that same spirit, in the spring of 2014 MIT began work on “MIT.nano,” a major new facility at the heart of campus that will accelerate research and innovation at the nanoscale. In May 2014, Dr. Reif also launched an environment initiative to drive progress towards solutions around environment, climate and how to construct a sustainable human society. A major component of the initiative is the new Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Laboratory.
In his previous role as MIT’s provost (2005-2012), Dr. Reif helped create and implement the strategy that allowed MIT to weather the global financial crisis; drove the growth of MIT’s global strategy; promoted a major faculty-led effort to address challenges around race and diversity; helped launch the Institute for Medical Engineering and Sciences; and spearheaded the development of the Institute’s online learning initiatives, MITx and edX. For his work in developing MITx, he received the 2012 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award.
A member of the MIT faculty since 1980, Dr. Reif has served as director of MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories, as associate department head for Electrical Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), and as EECS department head. He was instrumental in launching a research center on novel semiconductor devices at MIT, as well as multi-university research centers on advanced and environmentally benign semiconductor manufacturing. He also played a key role in creating, within the Semiconductor Research Corporation, the national effort now known as the Focus Center Research Program and in launching its Interconnect Focus Center.
An elected member of the National Academy of Engineering, Dr. Reif is the inventor or co-inventor on 15 patents, has edited or co-edited five books and has supervised 38 doctoral theses. He focused his most recent research on three-dimensional integrated circuit technologies and on environmentally benign microelectronics fabrication. In 2004, he was named the Fariborz Maseeh Professor of Emerging Technology, a title he held until he was selected as president.
In 1993, Dr. Reif was named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) “for pioneering work in the low-temperature epitaxial growth of semiconductor thin films,” and in 2000, he received the Aristotle Award from the Semiconductor Research Corporation. An elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he also belongs to Tau Beta Pi, the Electrochemical Society and the IEEE.
Dr. Reif received the degree of Ingeniero Eléctrico from Universidad de Carabobo, Valencia, Venezuela, and served for a year as an assistant professor at Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas. He earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University, where he spent a year as a visiting assistant professor. After moving to MIT, Dr. Reif held the Analog Devices Career Development Professorship in the EECS Department and an IBM Faculty Fellowship from MIT’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering. He received a United States Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1984.
Source: MIT Office of the President
Professor of Linguistics Michel DeGraff was honored with a faculty MLK Leadership Award for his innovative study of the value of native-language instruction in Haiti’s schools.
“When I was growing up, in a middle-class family and in my school, Creole wasn’t viewed as a real language,” says DeGraff, a founding member of Haiti’s newly created Haitian Creole Academy (Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen). “It was a given that you could only be successful in French.”
Over the years, many observers have disparaged Haitian Creole as a primitive tongue incapable of expressing complex concepts, while linguists have generally asserted that it is descended from a pidgin language. DeGraff emphatically disputes this. He has spent years presenting evidence that Haitian Creole is just as sophisticated as other languages, publishing papers in journals such as Language, Language in Society, Linguistic Anthropology and Linguistic Typology.
DeGraff’s research on Creole has only reinforced his hands-on interest in education. In connection with a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, he is working with a school in a remote mountain village on Haiti’s La Gonave island to test Creole-language instruction among fourth graders. The project uses computer programs to teach math in Creole, while avoiding the practice of rote memorization that often accompanies French-language teaching.
The fact that Haitian Creole is regarded as an inferior language has significant social consequences. While Creole has been recognized as one of Haiti’s two official languages since 1987, French still dominates the country’s educational system and government; the country’s official newspaper still publishes laws, budgets, contracts and other important documents in French. For this reason, DeGraff’s work includes an active interest in education policy. This year, he has created and implemented a research project, funded by the NSF, using computers to help teach mathematics in Haitian Creole in primary-school classrooms.
With Haiti still rebuilding following the devastating earthquake of January 2010, DeGraff thinks the time is right to bring Haitian Creole into schools as the main language of instruction. “Now there is a chance to do things better,” he says. Otherwise, valuable aid to Haitian schools “will enlarge the cruel divide between the few haves and the millions of have-nots,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Boston Globe.
DeGraff’s initiative has organized a series of workshops with Haitian educators on making technical education available in Creole, and has been placing materials on its website, http://haiti.mit.edu. Workshops cover the use of TEAL, STAR, Mathlets (a mathematics tool), educational games, as well as the topic of assessing the effectiveness of these tools. The children are encouraged to use Google Translate to read what is available on the web in languages other than Kreyòl. DeGraff is also using computer games in Kreyòl to teach them math skills.
In 1982, DeGraff arrived at City College in New York from Haiti and studied computer science. He developed an interest in linguistics during a 1985 internship at Bell Labs in New Jersey and went on to earn a PhD in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania.
“Haitian faculty and students have had too little access to advanced content in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” DeGraff says.
Over the years, DeGraff’s advocacy of native-language instruction for Creole speakers has influenced other scholars. Kleifgen notes that her graduate students have used DeGraff’s ideas as the inspiration for fieldwork projects of their own, including one education program for children in Eritrean and Somali refugee camps and another that introduced a New York City high-school curriculum meant to build awareness of Patwa, Jamaica’s English-derived Creole.
“Michel inspires theoretically and empirically grounded work in education,” Kleifgen says.
By: Michel DeGraff
I am from Haiti. In Haiti, when we enter a room and greet our audience, we say, in Haitian Creole, “Onè,” which means that we honor each and all of you in the audience. And the audience responds “Respè” as a show of respect. So let’s all give it a try: “Onè . . .
Respè . . . ”
Now I’d like to say “Mèsi anpil!” (i.e., Thank you very much!) to the organizers of this beautiful lunch. Thank you as well to MIT for this long tradition, which started long before we had a national MLK Jr. Day. In this tradition, we at MIT celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with both words and actions. I would also like to thank the anonymous colleagues who nominated me and who wrote letters on my behalf. I also thank my MIT department, Linguistics and Philosophy, and the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. And I especially want to thank my MIT-HAITI team. We are a pretty large group across all of MIT and in Haiti. At MIT the team includes allies in various units: from MIT Sloan to Linguistics to the School of Science, the School of Engineering, the Office of Digital Learning, the Teaching and Learning Lab, etc. In Haiti, we work in close collaboration with educators across a wide range of public and private universities and with leaders in the Haitian Government, especially the Ministry of National Education. Together we are developing, evaluating and disseminating state-of-the-art digital resources in Haitian Creole for active-learning methods in Haiti.
I’ll soon give you some historical background and more details on these efforts, which live up to the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy that we are celebrating today. But before that, I’d like to insist that without our MIT-Haiti team, I could not have gotten this award. This award is not mine, it’s OURS: it’s an award to our teamwork, teamwork with amazing colleagues at MIT and in Haiti who so strongly believe that together we can change the world as we confront a formidable global challenge.
“One dream can change the world.” This is the tagline of the inspiring movie Selma about Martin Luther King Jr., which I saw recently.
Toward the beginning of the film, there’s one haunting scene, from the early ’60s before the Voting Rights Act. That scene highlights Ms. Annie Lee Cooper, played by actress Oprah Winfrey. For many years, Ms. Cooper has been trying, in vain, to register to vote in Selma. On her fifth attempt, her application is again rejected. Why? Because of yet another totally artificial barrier: she’s being asked by a white clerk to recite the names of all the 67 county judges in Alabama! Obviously, she cannot. Who could?
In Haiti, such barriers to full citizenship are even more brutal, and have been entrenched through language and education throughout the history of the country, all the way back from the colonial period when much European wealth depended on the work of enslaved Africans. Back then, our African ancestors were treated as beasts of labor not as minds to be educated.
In Haiti today, most Haitians are excluded from access to quality education and from the means to create and transmit wealth. Indeed most laws and decrees, most written press, most textbooks, most official exams are written in ONE language (French), which the vast majority of Haitians do NOT speak. Yet most everyone in Haiti speaks one language in common: Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) the language in which we just said “Onè… Respè.”
This linguistic barrier has been so entrenched in the Haitian psyche that one can call French in Haiti, a linguistic “bluest eye” – to borrow a phrase from writer Toni Morrison. Too many Haitians, unlike Annie Lee Cooper in Alabama in the ’60s, have been socialized, from birth, to accept class-based injustice: they have learnt to accept that if they don’t speak French, it’s their own fault and, as such, they do not deserve anything better than second-class citizenship at the pit bottom of one of the worst levels of socio-economic inequity in the world. The Kreyòl phrase “Nou pa moun” is a frequently heard complaint from those who speak Kreyòl only: “We are not human beings.” Fortunately, there are many Haitians who have enough clairvoyance and dignity to deeply believe in this Haitian proverb: “Pale franse pa vle di lespri,” which means “That you can speak French doesn’t mean that you’re intelligent.” Another popular Kreyòl phrase is: “Sispann pale franse”(literally: “Stop speaking French”), which, tellingly, means “Stop obfuscating!”
As a linguist and educator, I know that in order to learn a language, ANY language, you have to get adequate input from that language – ideally, be IMMERSED in that language from a tender age. In Haiti, most Haitians, from birth onward, are immersed in ONE single language – Kreyòl. The de facto status of Kreyòl as Haiti’s sole national language and as a unifying factor across all social classes is a robust fact and a linguistic asset. As for French, only the upper social classes, some three to five percent, speak it at home on any regular basis. Given these facts, plus what we know about the role of the native language in education, Kreyòl stands at the ready to be used as a powerful tool for nation building and economic development. Yet, there’s a widespread entrenched belief that those who speak Kreyòl only are somewhat deficient, that Kreyòl is a lesser language, a language that CANNOT be used for science, for math, for the law, in written press, and so on. This linguistic apartheid has been encoded deep in the DNA of Haitian society, from the birth of the Haitian nation in 1804 – even as our enslaved ancestors were liberating themselves from French colonial chains. Today, still, Haitian minds are shackled in neo-colonial linguistic myths.
So, in effect, Haiti is still very far from Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. But the MIT-Haiti Initiative IS dismantling these age-old barriers that have been implemented through language and education.
And the Haitian Government is playing its valiant part, collaborating with MIT in this historical struggle for social justice (youtu.be/tWGw1gsGXg4) and we now have, since December 2014, an official Haitian Creole Academy to promote the use of the language in all sectors of society. We are at the point that we can now reasonably hope that these barriers are indeed crumbling.
In 2010, Dr. Vijay Kumar (Office of Digital Learning; odl.mit.edu) and I launched the MIT-Haiti Initiative (haiti.mit.edu) with support from the Foundation for Knowledge & Liberty, the Wade Foundation, the Open Society Foundation and the National Science Foundation (1.usa.gov/1vvu75s) and in collaboration with faculty and administrators in Haitian universities and Haiti’s Ministry of National Education (bit.ly/1yQL5ac). This MIT-Haiti initiative has been opening up education in Haiti through educational technology and through Kreyòl. We’ve been producing and testing, for the very first time ever in history, high-quality (MIT-quality!) digital tools for active learning of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Haitian Creole – with an initial focus on physics (bit.ly/16xCmSN), genetics, and biochemistry (bit.ly/1zmKH6Z) and differential equations, statistics, and probability (bit.ly/1Kx5vKU). As of now, we’ve worked with more than 200 university and high school STEM faculty and government officials in Haiti. We’re also showing that kids who learn to read and write in Kreyòl learn three times better than kids who learn in French – which is not surprising in light of what we linguists know about the language-immersion factors that we just sketched and about the role of the native language in education (bit.ly/1reddWz). And in 2014 and at the request of the Haitian government, the MIT-Haiti Initiative in collaboration with MIT Sloan Executive Education organized for then-Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his cabinet (some 50 high-level officials) a workshop on leadership and teamwork – all of that in Haitian Creole (bit.ly/1vGWYPs). So now, all the available evidence points to an irrefutable, if “unarmed,” truth which we must speak until it has the “final word”: Kreyòl is a full-fledged language which improves learning gains in Haiti – learning gains in reading, writing, math, science, etc. Given the data so far, learning IN Kreyòl should also improve Haitian children’s capacity to learn the humanities and second languages like French, English, and Spanish. Fluency in some of these international languages, ALONGSIDE the systematic use of Kreyòl at all levels, can help Haitians benefit from, and also contribute to, the creation and transmission of knowledge, both locally and globally, with self-respect and dignity . . . “Onè . . . Respè . . .”
There’s a lot more to do. But I think we’re already showing that language barriers and unequal access to quality education and to other socio-economic opportunities are among these daunting global challenges that we at MIT can help solve (bitly.com/1oXJqhw). In effect, we’re showing that MIT’s expertise, teamwork, and resources, in partnership with Haitian educators and leaders, can transform Martin Luther King’s dream into reality, in Haiti as well. And I believe that this can serve as an inspiring example to other communities where language and education are used as barriers to social justice.
Of course, the work is only just starting. We’re going to need much more support and a much bigger team to totally dismantle these formidable barriers and to make our dream reality. But this is MIT after all. So I trust we can do it. With the right team, the right level of support and adequate political will, we can have another revolution in Haiti toward opportunity for all.
Yes… “One dream can change the world.”
Abigail M. Francis, Director of LBGT Services in Student Development and Support, was honored with a staff MLK Leadership Award for her pioneering work with the LGBT and Black Lives Matter community at MIT, and her continued efforts to foster diversity and inclusion on campus.
Suppose a support group meeting for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered students is posted and nobody came. Francis had that experience when she was a college sophomore, and it's one she hopes no one seeking support in the Institute community will ever encounter.
"I still remember drawing up the courage to attend that meeting. When no one showed up, I was devastated. How much easier it would have been to face the world with the resources already offered at MIT," she said.
In 2005, she became MIT's first program coordinator for LBGT services, resources and outreach; at the time, there were only 193 LBGT coordinators nationwide. Since then, her goal to expand the Institute's current resources to "create an environment where LBGT students and faculty can have a more positive living and learning environment" has come to fruition.
Step one in her twofold strategy was to establish a microcosm of the safe and welcoming environment she envisioned for the wider community.
Today, the Rainbow Lounge in Walker Memorial (W50-005) serves as a meeting space and support network for all LBGT related activities, programs, and services at MIT. It is home to MIT’s several LBGT student groups and includes a library and a cozy reading space. The lounge offers weekly office hours, group meetings, movie nights, discussions, guest speakers, study breaks, and a great place to hang out and meet new people. Connected to the lounge are two private offices (one for Francis, one for a graduate assistant) and a smaller library/screening room. The area has phone and Internet access so students can work there easily.
Francis, who received the M.A. in social work and urban leadership from Simmons College, says the lounge is part of her intervention strategy. "I offer one-on-one support for students in need and maintain the lounge space for students to meet, find resources or just stop by for a break," she said.
The Rainbow Lounge, in fact, served as the informal headquarters for participants in the silent protest outside MIT’s Winterfest in December of 2014, in the wake of several police killings of unarmed black men. Students, faculty, and staff convened at the lounge, where Francis and other members of the MIT community distributed buttons, signs, and T-shirts.
The second aspect of Francis' strategy was prevention, a process that includes facilitating tolerance and diversity training programs, empowering student leadership and supporting LBGT groups.
She helps build bridges with other student organizations and departments at MIT, such as the Black Student Union, the Latino Cultural Center, the Office of Minority Education, Student Support Services and Women's Studies. Francis also helps monitor the campus climate.
"As I plan social justice efforts, I keep hearing (mostly from those with majority group identities) that MIT is not 'ready' to talk about privilege, especially white privilege," she wrote in the "Intuitively Obvious" column for The Tech. "I think that we are [ready]. At this time in our nation’s history, we have a responsibility to talk and to act, to undo and eliminate racial injustice as well as sexism, heterosexism, cis-gender privilege, and other forms of oppression. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, 'the time is always right to do what is right'."
MIT News, 5 Oct 2005
In 2011, Abigail Francis was honored by MIT for fostering diversity and inclusion:
Presenter: Alison Alden, Vice President for Human Resources
The director of LBGT Services in the Division of Student Life is an excellent role model, because her energy and enthusiasm for her work is contagious, drawing others into the cause. In addition to running the Rainbow Lounge as a safe space for LBGT students, she is both a resource for information and an organizer of events—heightening awareness of the challenges LBGT students face while inspiring students to meet those challenges. She not only started Lavender Graduation, a moving celebration of the success of LBGT graduates, but she works with faculty to make classrooms safe and comfortable for LBGT students. One nominator noted that the exercises and materials she provided gave even experienced faculty a better understanding of LBGT issues. ‘Her interventions are certain to have lasting effects.’
For her tireless advocacy, this award goes to Abigail Francis.
Judith Stein is an Organization Development Consultant/HR ERG Coordinator for MIT's Human Resources Department. She was recognized with a staff MLK Leadership Award for her commitment to diversity and inclusion at MIT.
Stein has: provided on-going consultation/support to MIT’s six Employee Resource Groups (ERGs); created learning community among ERG leaders; promoted the development of new ERGs; and designed and delivered diversity/inclusion awareness training workshop to 12 departments or staff networks reaching 300 employees.
“I’m a lifer,” jokes Stein, who has been at MIT for 31 years and is a member of the Quarter Century Club. “I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to do my best work here in different ways.”
She earned an MEd in Administration, Policy and Planning from the Boston University School of Education in 1991. She started at MIT as support staff, evolved her skills, and moved into various departmental administrative positions before landing in Human Resources.
Judith likens the class in everyday leadership to community organizing, which she used to do in the 1970s before coming to MIT. She was co-director of the Women’s Community Health Center in Cambridge for three years. “Everyday leadership might be as simple as changing the way supplies are ordered,” she points out. “Leadership is making change. Look around you, see what bugs you, and determine what you can do about it.”
She first put her community organizing skills to use at MIT by joining an organization with other gay and lesbian staff. She had initially been drawn to MIT for its early inclusion of sexual preference in its affirmative action policy. “For me, MIT is a comfortable place to be gay and out,” she says.
In 2013, Judith Stein was honored for advancing inclusion and global perspectives:
Presenter: President L. Rafael Reif "MIT is a better place because of Judith’s efforts,” wrote one of Judith Stein’s nominators. Why? Because of Judith’s far-reaching accomplishments in the central Human Resources office. Judith focuses on making organizations more effective through productive communication and collaboration. She has helped design and deliver many workshops on diversity and inclusion. And she is masterful in guiding managers through complex processes like affirmative action planning. She always begins with careful listening – and then helps each person or group discover their own best answers and solutions. Her colleagues report that Judith has a talent for bringing important issues to the surface. She pushes employees to do the right thing. And she leads by example. Through her consulting, teaching, coaching and mentoring, she engages employees, raises awareness and creates a trusting and inclusive atmosphere. Judith invites diverse viewpoints, encourages collaboration and demonstrates how much she appreciates those around her. Judith’s colleagues describe that attitude as simply “who she is in the world.” I’d like to invite Judith Stein to the stage to receive the award for Advancing Inclusion and Global Perspectives.
Kelvin Frazier PhD '15, a fifth-year doctoral student in physical chemistry, was awarded the graduate-student MLK Leadership Award for his contribution to graduate-student life and for his work with under-served and under-represented students in STEM. He was also among the invited student speakers at the 41st Annual Celebration.
Frazier earned his Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and in Mathematics (2010) from Savannah State University, which resides in his hometown of Savannah, GA. He joined the Swager lab at MIT in the fall of 2010 as a physical chemistry graduate student. His work focuses on developing highly stable and robust gas/liquid sensors based on functionalized nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene.
He served as the 2011-12 president of the Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers (ACME) and as the 2013-14 president of Black Graduate Students Association (BGSA), for which he was recognized with a BGSA Member of the Year award.
Both roles led Frazier to co-found the popular Personal Branding Workshop at MIT, an event attended by approximately 100 participants in February of 2015 (and featuring as keynote rapper and entrepreneur Doug E. Fresh). The workshop — co-sponsored by the BGSA and ACME with support from the MIT Division of Student Life — dug into the topic of helping entrepreneurs develop a brand strategy for themselves that will leave a lasting impression on their audience, be they venture capitalists, hiring managers, or customers.
“By having these strategy and development sessions, we can really help attendees recognize some of the weaknesses in their ideas and workshop them,” said Frazier. “A lot of the people here know how to make something great, or how to develop new technology, but we want to make sure people can leave the workshop with actionable items.”
His leadership experience of starting/revitalizing various organizations and a company from the ground up also led him to serve as Board Chair for iTrek. Founded in 2013 by MIT doctoral candidate Niaja Farve MEE '12, the program provides under-served and under-represented students with the skills and resources necessary to succeed in STEM undergraduate and graduate degree programs. iTrek also does outreach to middle and high schools to increase the level of interest and the pipeline for participation in STEM areas of study.
The team comprises several MIT graduate and other university students, working professionals, and retirees with a wide range of skills and experiences-- a collective expertise that lends itself to a diverse thought leadership that brings resources and outreach opportunities to steer students into various STEM and associated fields of study.
Frazier is also the recipient of the 2010 Daniel S. Kemp Summer Graduate and the MIT Provost Presidential Fellowships.
He is a member of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemist and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), the National American Chemical Society (ACS), the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, and the MIT Gospel and Concert Choirs.
"Anything that you put your mind to is possible," is Frazier's advice to his peers. "Don't be afraid to set high standards for yourself."
Source: MIT News, 6 Mar 2015
Senior Alyssa Napier '16 is a chemistry major with a minor in linguistics. She received the undergraduate MLK Leadership Award for her passionate activism on campus since the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, MO. Napier was recognized for organizing a dialogue between local/campus police and the students of Black Lives Matter, and initiating conversations about what MIT culture means to students, faculty, and staff.
“MIT has been wonderful in helping me accomplish all of my academic and professional goals," she says. "But there’s also the flip side of what MIT culture is, and I feel like I don’t fit in.” Recognizing that others might share that feeling, she has spent a lot of time working to shift certain aspects of MIT culture.
In 2015, she served on the committee that planned MC2, an annual conference that gives MIT students a venue for talking about multiculturalism and diversity. “We basically have really difficult, uncomfortable conversations about identity and how these different categories fit into our identity, and it’s wonderful,” Napier explains.
The planning committee chose the theme “People before P-sets” — shorthand for problem sets, a mainstay of teaching at MIT — to ask whether MIT’s culture needs to shift. Napier doesn’t feel that people always come before coursework at MIT. “Mostly in practice we see people putting academics or their professional lives before relationships,” she says. “And it just doesn’t work.”
The MC2 conference, attended by about 50 students, initiated deep conversations about MIT culture, which Napier and the committee then worked to bring to the larger MIT community. One approach was to set up tables where MIT community members could record their impressions of what the Institute values, and what they personally value. The exercise revealed some mismatches between MIT values and individual values; in conjunction with the Institute Community and Equity Office (ICEO), Napier is now working to raise awareness of these mismatches so the community can make progress.
Napier describes how difficult some MIT students have found it to deal with tragedies — such as student deaths, and the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent killing of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier — in an intense academic environment. “It’s that feeling that I can’t take a moment to pause because if I do, I will get behind,” she says.
She commends President L. Rafael Reif’s efforts to transform MIT into a place known not only for science and technology, but also for its humility, compassion, and caring — as well as this semester’s Community Conversations, organized by the ICEO to make MIT a more compassionate place. Napier hopes MIT culture will continue to become more focused on people and interpersonal relationships.
Napier has also been heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement at MIT. She reports that last year, as a series of racially charged incidents between police officers and black Americans unfolded across the country, the slow official response from MIT had consequences for the black community on campus. “We were affected in silence, and we were affected in isolation, and we just felt really removed from the MIT community because nobody was addressing it,” she explains.
Last December, a panel discussion — organized by representatives of the ICEO, the Office of Minority Education, the Student Activity Office, the LGBTQ office, the MIT Media Lab, and others across the Institute — explored what role the MIT community can play in the national conversation about race. Attended by more than 400 people, the discussion revealed that many black students harbor negative views of law enforcement. Characteristically, Napier responded by problem-solving: She organized a dialogue between MIT students and officers from the Cambridge Police Department and MIT Police.
“That’s why the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ exists, because we feel like black lives do not matter,” Napier says. “But there’s no way we can solve anything if we’re not actually speaking to each other.”
The dialogue allowed police officers to connect with students on a personal level as they explained why they chose to pursue careers in law enforcement, and how they are working to build community on campus and in Cambridge. Napier and the other students felt a renewed sense of hope afterward, and she is organizing a similar dialogue this fall.
In the same spirit of openness and dialogue, Napier also works to encourage conversations about black culture and the challenges of living in a diverse community. As part of MIT’s Black Students Union (BSU), she has helped to run a program called “Ask a Black Person” that enables members of the MIT community to submit questions to the BSU anonymously via Facebook. The BSU also recently had a table in Lobby 10 where members were available to answer questions in person.
The program has addressed questions about everything from the definition of cultural appropriation, to who can use the N-word, to the kind of microaggressions black students have experienced at MIT. A question about how the women in BSU view the “strong black woman” stereotype sparked intense discussions about societal perceptions of black women, and the reductiveness of stereotypes in general.
Napier appreciates that MIT is home to people who are motivated to get things done; in her case, this means channeling her energies into striving for social justice and making improvements to her own community — and beyond. After graduating in June, Napier hopes to work in educational policy, with a goal of addressing disparities in the U.S. educational system. She believes that education should be a great equalizer, but that many students encounter socioeconomic and racial barriers that prevent them from accessing the education they deserve.
“I had a lot of opportunities, and I’m at MIT,” she says. “But the path that I travel is such a rarity, and I want to make my path more standard.”
Source: MIT News, 1 Dec 2015
Adriane Brown SM '91 is President and Chief Operating Officer of Intellectual Ventures. She received the alumnus MLK Leadership Award for her civic work and commitment to mentoring young people. Brown was nominated by an MIT student who heard her speak during a recent campus visit.
Throughout her career, Brown has served as a mentor and inspiration to girls and young women, encouraging them to pursue science, technology, and engineering.
A tireless advocate of underserved youth, Adriane has focused her civic efforts – through her national board position with Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) – on ensuring young people finish high school, are employable, and are productive citizens. There she’s spent more than 10 years helping the students least likely to succeed get the support they need to graduate. On a local level, she was also involved in establishing a JAG chapter in Washington state.
Brown is also passionate about helping young people of all ages develop an interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). She sits on the board of directors for the Pacific Science Center and regularly participates in events focused on STEM such as the Expanding Your Horizons conferences where she inspires girls with her own story as the keynote speaker. Most recently, Brown visited LaSalle-Backus Education Campus in Washington, D.C., where she addressed a group of fourth- through eighth-grade students about her career journey, the challenges she faced along the way, and how she overcame them to become both a leader and a role model for girls who want to pursue careers in STEM. By the end of her visit, 22 of the young girls signed up for the school’s STEM and robotics club.
In 1966, when Brown was eight years old, she and her brother integrated a previously all-white school in Virginia. By sixth grade, she was class president. She’s been a leader ever since, in the corporate world and, most recently, in developing an intellectual property marketplace.
Brown earned a BS in environmental health at Old Dominion University in 1980 and then went to work for Corning in New York state, earning her MIT degree while working her way up from shift supervisor to vice president and general manager of the environmental products division. In 1999 she took a job at Honeywell Aerospace in Indiana. She was promoted to run the engine systems division in Arizona, and she ultimately became president and CEO of Honeywell’s $5 billion Transportation Systems Group.
In 2010, she became president and COO of the patent licensing company Intellectual Ventures, which has a portfolio of 40,000 active patents and a global network of 4,000 inventors. Its fourth spinout company has a Global Good program that is developing a cooling system that can be used underneath the protective—but very hot—gear worn by health workers battling Ebola.
Brown and her husband of 20 years live in the Bellevue, Washington, area; she has an adult stepson and a teenage daughter. She returns often to MIT to speak to Sloan Fellows and spoke to Sloan students at the Dean’s Innovative Leader Series in November of 2014.
In 2014 she was honored as a Woman of Achievement by Legal Momentum, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to the rights of women and girls.
“I didn’t know people like me when I was growing up,” she says. “Seeing someone who broadens and changes the image of who you might think you can become—that’s a powerful thing for girls.”
The 2015 Institute Diversity Summit continues to build upon its tradition of educating the MIT community and providing opportunities to discuss this important topic in a candid and thought-provoking manner.
The summit took place over two days, with participation of MIT’s senior leadership in panels and presentations, as well as a series of workshops involving the MIT community.
David L. Chandler | MIT News Office
February 5, 2015
In an MIT tradition that goes back 41 years, hundreds of members of the Institute community gathered Wednesday for a luncheon to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., with talks reflecting on the need for greater inclusion and communication — both on campus and in the world at large.
The theme of this year’s event — “iActivism: Individuals Empowering the Collective” — figured in remarks by several students, President L. Rafael Reif, and recipients of the Institute’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards. The speakers discussed their own experiences and shared their thoughts on actions that members of the MIT community could take to advance the goals of inclusion and equity.
Even though the event’s planned keynote speaker, Indian-American activist Rinku Sen, was unable to attend because of this week’s snowstorm, the luncheon featured a full lineup of speakers who gave accounts, often heartfelt, of their own encounters with prejudicial attitudes.
“I love this university,” said Nick Davis, a doctoral student in biological engineering. “I seek to do all that I can during my graduate tenure here to enhance the MIT experience for all student, staff, and faculty members of this unique community.”
But, he added, “At times it can be incredibly difficult to be a black male in America. It is troubling to have all the potential in the world, and yet be reduced to an image constructed and promoted by the media; an image that — no matter how grotesque, sordid, unfair — can seem inescapable.”
Davis said that some time ago, he came to the realization “that no matter how much money I made, no matter how much education I pursued, no matter where I was raised, no matter the morals or the etiquette or the principles instilled in me from birth, I was not immune to social injustice in this country.”
As for what MIT can do, Davis said, “I challenge the MIT administration to mean it when they assert that ‘Black Lives Matter.’ … What about requiring incoming students to have formal education on social justice, gender and racial equality, or global citizenship? What about hiring more minority faculty members for tenure-track positions? What about enrolling more than a handful of black grad students per academic department?”
Dextina Booker, a senior studying mechanical engineering, chronicled her own experiences.
“My revolution came in the form of learning to love my blackness,” Booker said. “It came in seeing black women on YouTube wearing their natural hair while I was afraid to embrace my own because of how ‘disobedient’ it was. Even in the transitioning stages when I’d spend hours ‘taming’ it, there would always be someone ready to singlehandedly bother me by running their fingers through my hair, as if I lived to serve as their own personal petting zoo.”
“To a younger me, getting an MIT degree made me worthy of life, not my blackness,” Booker added. “To a younger me, being referred to as ‘Laqueesha’ at a frat on my own campus was a wake-up call. It was a reminder that no matter how much I’d try to get away from my skin, whether I went to MIT or didn’t go to college at all, I am still black. And the value of my life isn’t measured in my institution.”
The manifestations of racism today are different than in the past, Booker said. “Just as racism has shape-shifted from people in white hoods burning crosses to police officers killing black youth without consequence, so must our response change. Today social media has allowed each individual his or her own soapbox to voice opinions, and even be challenged on those opinions.”
But even now, and even on MIT’s campus, discrimination can be surprisingly overt, Booker said: “My first week in mechanical engineering, my professor singled me out during office hours to let me know that I shouldn’t be an engineer, without knowing anything about me.”
“We can all choose to ignore that the world has a long ways to go when it comes to social justice, but we each owe it to ourselves to act,” she said. “Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’”
Reif thanked Booker and Davis for their comments, saying, “You make me proud to be associated with MIT.”
Referring to demonstrations outside MIT’s Winterfest last December, in the wake of several police killings of unarmed black men, Reif said, “I found the protestors’ silence intensely moving, and impossible to forget. Listening to that silence, I heard pain, and outrage, a deep moral purpose, a refusal to accept injustice, and the conviction that, as Americans, we must insist on fair and equal treatment for everyone.”
Reif added — repeating the point twice for emphasis — that “the only way to make progress is by listening with respect to people who don’t think or experience the world exactly the way we do.”
“In this rich community of ours, we have a great deal to learn from one another,” Reif added. “Fortunately, as different as we are, we are members of one community — so, most of the time, we can trust each other enough to really listen.”
The luncheon also featured remarks from new winners of the Institute’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards. These included alumna Adriane Brown SM ’91; professor of linguistics Michel DeGraff; Abigail Francis, assistant director of the Student Activities Office; chemistry graduate student Kelvin Frazier; Alyssa Napier, co-chair of the Black Women’s Alliance; and Judith Stein, an organization development consultant in MIT Human Resources.
Jay London | Slice of MIT
January 16, 2015
On February 4, 2015, MIT will host its 41st annual Martin Luther King Celebration Luncheon, an MIT community event that celebrates King’s legacy and the Institute’s commitment to diversity.
Past luncheons have featured a traditional silent march that travels from Lobby 7 to Kresge Auditorium and past speakers have included King’s widow Coretta Scott King, who delivered the keynote address at the luncheon’s 20th anniversary celebration in 1994.
While King never made a public appearance at MIT, he was a common visitor to Cambridge from the 1950s—when he was a doctoral student at Boston University—until the mid-1960s.
According to a January 2013 article in the Harvard Gazette, King took philosophy courses at Harvard in 1952 and 1953 and he was a guest preacher at Harvard’s Memorial Church in 1959 and 1960. He delivered a lecture titled “The Future of Integration” at Harvard Law School in 1962 and spoke at Memorial Church and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School on the same day in January 1965.
King’s name appears regularly in issues of The Tech in the 1960s, including:
After his assassination on April 4, 1968, the front pages of The Tech’s preceding two issues were dedicated to King and articles included “Faculty, students consider role of MIT in race problems” and “(Professor Harold) Isaacs cites racism in murder.”
The archives at the King Center museum also include two letters to King from the MIT/Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies that discuss the center’s Social Statistics in the City conference that took place in June 1967.
According to a video by MIT Productions, King’s death directly led to, among other endeavors, the formation of the MIT Black Students’ Union and the creation of Interphase (now Interphase EDGE), a seven-week summer program that prepared incoming students for the rigors of MIT.
For more information on King’s legacy at MIT, which includes the MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program, the MLK-Inspired IAP Design Seminar, and the MLK Leadership Award, visit diversity.mit.edu.
The 41st annual Martin Luther King Celebration Luncheon takes place Wednesday, February 4, 2015, at 11:00 a.m. in Walker Memorial. The event is open to the MIT community and features a keynote address from author and activist Rinku Sen. Find out more information and how to register.