MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIX No. 5
May / June 2017
A Letter to the Class of 2017;
The March for Science
A Primer on Indirect Costs and Why
They Are Important to MIT
Highlights from MIT's Student
Quality of Life Survey
Some Developments, Advances, and Discussions from the Past Year
Susan Silbey New Faculty Chair
Some Musings on Retirement
After 40 Years at MIT
Day of Engagement, Day of Action
Prospects for Nuclear Disarmament
in Uncertain Times
Technology Licensing Office and You
from the 2017 Student Quality of Life Survey
Printable Version

Day of Engagement, Day of Action

Newsletter Staff

This semester saw over 1,000 members of MIT and the broader local community coming together in a large-scale, day-long civic engagement and action event, “MIT April 18: Day of Engagement, Day of Action.” This grass-roots effort was organized by a network of volunteers from all over campus, including faculty, students, postdocs, and staff, spanning all five Schools. There were over 70 different sessions and activities throughout the day devoted to open, respectful dialogue, discussion, and planning for action on the greatest political, social, and economic challenges facing us today. These sessions and activities addressed topics including the possibility of nuclear war; the ambiguous fate of truth in modern media; climate change; growing wealth disparity; racial justice; the polarization of political discourse; inequalities in education and economic opportunity; criminal justice reform; immigration; and many more. The event’s center of gravity was the Stata Center – throughout the day the Stata Student Street was buzzing with energy and excitement – with additional sessions and activities in Buildings 26, 56, 66, and elsewhere on campus.

The tremendous quantity and variety of sessions and activities gave event participants many possible pathways through the day depending on their individual interests. Presenters and activity leaders included not only well-known faculty at MIT and other local universities, such as Daron Acemoglu, Abhijit Banerjee, Noam Chomsky, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Gruber, Saida Grundy, Joi Ito, Naomi Oreskes, Serena Parekh, and Lily Tsai (leading sessions on right-wing populism, health care, civil disobedience, refugees, public accountability, and the responsibility of intellectuals); but also students such as Wendy Salkin and Ronni Gura Sadovsky (leading a session on free speech and hate speech) and Kevin Richardson and Darien Pollock (leading a session on the philosophy of racial justice), staff such as Libby Mahaffy (leading a session on bystander intervention) and Alena McNamara, Rhonda Kauffman, Sofia Leung, and Anna Boutin (leading an action zine-making activity), MIT Chief of Police John DiFava (participant in a panel on police-community relations), and student organizations such as Fossil Free MIT (leading a primer on climate change) and Sloan LGBTQI (leading a session on making start-ups LGBTQ-inclusive). Individuals from many Institute offices also presented or organized events, including Officer for Institute Community and Equity Ed Bertschinger; Office of Sustainability representative Paul Wolff; and former Director of the MIT Washington Office, William Bonvillian.

The range of content contributors also extended beyond academia to MIT’s Leader to Leader (L2L) Alumni/ae Program (who organized an activity around questions of cultural curiosity) and into the local community, with participants including Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen (participant in a session on Securing a Progressive Agenda), General Counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development Roberta Rubin (leader of a session on inequality in federal housing policy), and Oak Park, Illinois Regional Housing Center Executive Director Rob Breymeier (leader of a session on promoting neighborhood racial integration). The complete list of sessions and activities, along with more detailed descriptions, can be found at

MIT’s Day of Action was inspired by the Institute’s historic leadership in the March 4 Movement of 1969, and built on the highly successful Day of Action held by Princeton University on March 6, 2017. MIT’s event was organized extremely quickly.

A public call to action was issued at the beginning of March and garnered signatures from hundreds of community members; content proposals were solicited starting in mid-March and led to the over 70 sessions and activities that took place over the course of the day, including lectures, panel discussions, workshops, film screenings, food offerings, music, and art-making.

Additionally, a volunteer fair was held in the Stata Student Street in the afternoon, with over 20 on-campus and local community organizations setting up tables to help event participants learn about opportunities to channel their enthusiasm for civic action into ongoing initiatives. The event was open to all, representing the full diversity of the MIT community, and featured open, respectful dialogue and the exchange of ideas from the widest variety of intellectual, religious, class, cultural, and political perspectives.

The Day of Action’s rapid organization and broad participation underscore the powerful potential for civic engagement and action at scale by members of the MIT community.

Feedback to Day of Action organizers has been extremely positive, with participants calling the event “a great success,” “incredibly well organized,” and “an amazing day,” with it being “the first time I can recall that I’ve gone to a full day of talks and every single one was interesting.” Day of Action co-organizer Roger Levy (faculty, Brain & Cognitive Sciences) considers the event extraordinarily meaningful, stating that “Now, more than at any time in my memory, people are asking, ‘What can I do?’ For so many MIT students, postdocs, staff, faculty, and local community members to devote a day of their lives to address the political, social, and economic challenges of today provides a visceral answer. It shows what we can do, together.” Whatever the next steps for this grass-roots initiative may be, the success of MIT’s Day of Action on April 18 demonstrates the energy and potential for a renewed norm of civic engagement as a fundamental part of campus life.

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