Revisiting BSU Recommendations: Then and Now (December, 2017)

At the end of the 2017 fall semester, the ICEO and the Black Students’ Union (BSU) collaborated to hold a lunchtime facilitated discussion on the status of student recommendations presented two years earlier. The event was one of a regular series of community dialogues offered by the ICEO, often in collaboration with other groups at MIT. The goals of this luncheon were:

  1. Discuss and evaluate progress of the recommendations, focusing on the BSU subset.
  2. Hear from members of the BSU on the impact of the recommendations on their experience.
  3. Engage in an open discussion on how to create concrete steps in completing/advancing the recommendations.

The event format was:

  1. Dr. JJ Jackson presented a brief summary of progress on recommendations. She noted that, while discussion for this particular dialogue focused on the BSU recommendations, several other groups also presented recommendations, indicating that the work on the recommendations overall is ongoing. Table facilitators had copies of a document summarizing progress in the BSU recommendations prepared by Dr. Kirk Kolenbrander.
  2. BSU representatives discussed the history of the BSU beginning with its founding in 1968. They showed a short video of the BSU founding in 1968.
  3. Attendees were grouped into 9 tables of 7-8 people including a facilitator and at least one BSU member and at least two students at every table. Each table was given two of the eleven BSU recommendations to discuss and they were free to discuss other relevant topics as desired. The total audience was about 60% staff, 35% students, and 5% faculty. Table discussions lasted about 30 minutes.
  4. A spokesperson from each table reported out to the larger group, with the understanding that what was said would be summarized for Academic Council Working Group and other stakeholders. The reporting out took about 30 minutes.

The event was advertised to previous attendees of ICEO community dialogues as well as members of the Academic Council Working Group. 40 spaces were reserved for staff, faculty and postdocs, and an equal number for students. (The event took place the day after classes ended. About 25 students attended.)

The invitation was:

Please join members of the Black Students’ Union (BSU) and the Institute Community and Equity Office (ICEO) for lunch next Thursday, December 14 (11:45am-1pm in room W20-307, Student Center) to discuss the status of the BSU Recommendations. In small groups, we will discuss and evaluate the progress of the recommendations; identify concrete ways to advance them; and hear from BSU members on their impact on the student experience.

As is standard practice at ICEO community dialogues, a set of discussion guidelines were shared with attendees, which included speaking from one’s own experience instead of speaking for others and respecting the confidentiality of what was shared at the tables. Facilitators helped maintain the conversation and ensure that the goals were met.

The reporting out portion of the luncheon revealed widespread passion for conversations like these as well as ongoing efforts to advance recommendations for a more inclusive MIT. It is important for students to be heard and for administrators, staff and faculty to learn from the students’ experience. This requires establishing a process that is respectful, inclusive, and forward looking, as happened at this event. The facilitators and organizers were highly satisfied with the outcome.

The following specific points were made and questions raised during the reporting out section, with reference to the BSU recommendations.

  1. Faculty diversity training and orientation must be a top-down initiative going beyond voluntary efforts.
  2. Students have more power than they think they do.
  3. The level of engagement in diversity and inclusion varies greatly from department to department.
  4. Does the redesign of the first-year experience include redesign of the diversity experience?
  5. What is the accountability for the recommendations? How do we hold departments accountable to their diversity statements (responding to BSU recommendation 10)?
  6. If faculty don’t want an immersion studies HASS diversity elective (BSU 2), they ought to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the existing curriculum, for example by discussing contributions by marginalized groups in technical subjects like the science GIRs.
  7. MIT should think broadly about its curriculum like Harvard has.
  8. Diversity orientation (BSU 3) for students should be offered on a regular basis and not just for first-year students. It can also be integrated into the curriculum.
  9. Identify departments that are doing well and share their effective/good practices.
  10. A cultural transformation is needed at the department level in order to make lasting progress. Many of the BSU recommendations have been made for many years, for example in the 2010 Hammond report.
  11. Faculty and staff committed to diversity and inclusion come and go, but the issues persist. What will happen when specific individuals retire? Will the work continue?
  12. MIT should have a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion and should articulate the goals from the top down.
  13. Do department heads know they have the power to help their departments live up to their diversity statements (BSU 10)?
  14. Students want to see a sense of progress. Are there more resources for diversity and inclusion given all the attention to it since the BSU recommendations?
  15. Show us the money that is supporting implementation of recommendations – including but going beyond BSU 6 (undergraduate financial aid).
  16. Faculty and staff performance reviews should include assessment of diversity and inclusion competencies and accomplishments. Departments should also be reviewed on these topics.
  17. Consider institutionalizing the inaugural Black Convocation.
  18. Recruiting faculty of color needs to be a higher priority. One MIT junior has never had a faculty member of color as teacher. What message does this send?
  19. Diversity orientation is especially important for international students and faculty (who are nearly half of graduate students). Students of color from other countries have different experiences growing up than students of color from the US.
  20. MIT should release more diversity statistics (several of the BSU recommendations relate to this).

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