Read the full DEI Working Group letter here, and sign the letter at the bottom of this page. Below is the introduction to the letter. We invite any and all comments, questions and suggestions from the community.
Dear Professor Wang, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; MechE Departmental Committee on Graduate Studies; MechE Admissions Committee; MechE Faculty; and the entire MechE Community,
We write to you on this important date because it pains us to see our department, including faculty, staff, and students, fail at the most fundamental belief of our institution: Mens et Manus. For decades, our department and MIT as a whole have forgotten about ‘and hand’ when it comes to addressing systemic racism at this institution. There is no shortage of papers, working groups, task forces, resolutions1 or reports that our institution has published to bring light to the fundamental inequalities that exist within MIT, yet, within our own department, the lack of action is glaringly evident:
- Underrepresented minority (URM) enrollment is currently at 8%, having fallen from its “peak” of 9% in 2013.2
- Of the approximately 500 graduate students currently in Mechanical Engineering, only six are Black. This is down from the low number of 11 in 2011.3
- Only 4 out of 127 faculty in the department are Black.4
The problems that the Mechanical Engineering Department has with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) by no means end with representation. In order to properly prepare students for their careers and the realities of life after MIT, this department must begin to place the same emphasis and educational priority on racial and social inequality as it does other essential topics like engineering fundamentals, ethics, and safety. Furthermore, in its tepid responses to the consistently low acceptance, retention, and graduation rates of underrepresented minorities, the Institute effectively denies the world countless scientific discoveries and engineering breakthroughs. This consequence is detrimental to MIT’s founding purpose: “for advancement and development of science and its application to industry, arts, agriculture, and commerce.” Without concrete accountability criteria and structures in place, previous action plans have had a minimal impact on these issues, and as a result, our department continues to participate in academic and social systems that are persistently and pervasively unfair to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). As a program that strives to be a world leader in STEM, our department must actively fight for racial and social equality within our walls to set a worthy example for institutions and individuals that look to MIT as a touchstone of progress and innovation. We must lead by enacting and fully embodying our core principles.
This open letter is a call for action and accountability to everyone in our department. At this time of nation-wide reform following the horrifying murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Manuel Ellis, and many others, our department has responded by creating a task force and committing to hire a Community and Equity Officer (CEO). While these are steps in the right direction, we must ensure these new appointments are empowered to enact immediately feasible, long-overdue changes, and to sustain the effort of constructing an equitable and inclusive environment. We cannot allow this opportunity for change to be relegated to another 5-year plan. Decades of inaction from our department and MIT as a whole must be addressed with urgent and transparent reform in order to convert the national momentum for racial equality into lasting, institutional change for the MIT community.
The actions within this letter are specific to the Mechanical Engineering Department. These actions are proposed by the MIT Graduate Association of Mechanical Engineers (GAME) DEI working group. The actions address the implementation of ideas that Black students at MIT have championed for years,5,6 and that the Institute itself has proposed in many public declarations.7,8,9,10 The actions are organized to address specific deficiencies within the department: (1) Recruiting and Admissions, (2) Support and Education for the MIT community, in particular BIPOC members, (3) Training on Racial and Implicit Bias, (4) Department-wide Accountability on DEI Issues, and (5) Outreach Programs. Finally, we specify ways to (6) Empower the incoming CEO and the DEI Task Force.
A summary of the actions is presented below. Expanded descriptions and justifications for each point are provided in the full letter. Members of the MIT community can express their support by adding their signatures to this open letter below. In addition, we unequivocally support the BGSA/BSU 2020 petition and request that the department publicly show its support by signing the petition.11
MechE DEI Working Group
Summary of Actions
- To increase the representation of URM students and faculty in mechanical engineering, the department must:
- Conduct an external review of the current admissions and hiring processes.
- Remove the GRE as a graduate admissions requirement.
- Actively recruit URM applicants, especially graduate student and faculty applicants, and evaluate program effectiveness on a yearly basis.
- Publicly announce a 10-year plan to reach equal-to-population representation for URM students and faculty by 2030.
- Issue a 10-year challenge to comparable programs nation-wide and other MIT departments to address URM representation.
- To address DEI issues during a student’s time at MIT, the department must:
- Increase the visibility of URM scholars in academia and professionals in STEM.
- Fund research into the systemic bias that negatively affects URM students at MIT.
- Establish a confidential method for reporting and addressing race-based discrimination.
- Offer an orientation program for incoming URM students.
- Expand programs that promote the success and well-being of URM students.
- To enhance awareness in diversity and implicit bias, the department must:
- Require all incoming students to complete instructor-led diversity training before beginning their studies.
- Require all faculty, admissions officers, staff, postdocs, and current students in the department to complete annual in-person or video conference implicit bias training.
- To ensure accountability for performance related to the matriculation and graduation of URM students, the department must:
- Publicly announce its financial commitment to DEI efforts.
- Require exit interviews for any graduate student leaving a lab group.
- Assign members to the Visiting Committee responsible for providing consistent attention to the DEI problems in our department and the work being done to address them.
- Present semi-annual progress reports to the community in public forums.
- To support URM students entering STEM before they enter higher education, the department must:
- Establish a relationship with the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP).
- Evaluate how it can support existing programs like those offered by the MIT OEOP.
- Develop an infrastructure to support students, especially graduate students, who want to teach or provide mentorship at the K-12 level.
- To empower the Community Equity Officer and DEI Task Force, the department must:
- Enact suggestions of the CEO and Task Force for DEI initiatives.
- Hold faculty and staff accountable for their demographic-specific hiring, attrition, and graduation rates.
- Incorporate DEI criteria in hiring, promotion, and admissions practices.
- Establish regular DEI progress reports to the department and any Visiting Committee.
- Ensure that the task force meets for the first time no later than August 1st, 2020.