Diversity Subcommittee

The Graduate Student Council in the fall of 2005 created a Task Force on Diversity which has conducted an overview of the past GSC and Institute-wide initiatives that have focused on increasing diversity at MIT. One of the goals of the Task Force is to explore the potential barriers that exist in diversity initiatives at MIT and in graduate school more broadly. The Final Report of the Task Force on Diversity (pdf) is available online.

What do the Numbers mean

In May 2003 , the MIT faculty passed a resolution calling for the administration to increase the number of underrepresented minority graduate students by a factor of three in the next decade. This begs the question – how have we done in the past five years? Table 1 provides data on the graduate student enrollment for the period 2001-2005.

Graduate
Fall 2001 Fall 2002 Fall 2003 Fall 2004 Fall 2005
International
2244
2283
2242
2178
2212
Black
126
101
113
118
114
Native American
11
8
16
20
17
Asian
591
654
655
686
707
Hispanic
119
127
153
171
176
White
2153
2293
2424
2358
2242
Unknown
740
673
625
653
672
Total Graduate
5984
6139
6228
6184
6140

Table 1. 5 years of MIT Graduate Student Enrollment (http://web.mit.edu/ir/pop/students/enrollment.html)

From the data, we can see the number of African Americans enrolled in graduate school at MIT has remained constant, actually decreasing from a high in 2001 of 124 to 114 in 2005. However, if we examine the overall percentage of African Americans in the graduate population at MIT, on average that has been 1.9% for the period 2001-2005.

For Hispanics , there has been slow but steady growth in enrollment numbers from 119 in 2001 to 176 in 2005. On average , the overall percentage of Hispanics in the graduate population at MIT has been 2.5% over the past five years, but it is has increased from 2.0% in 2001 to 2.9% in 2005.

For women, the number has fluctuated around 28-29% of the overall graduate student population for the past five years.

These numbers shed some light on the challenge facing the Institute if it is the meet its goal of increasing the level of graduate student diversity by three-fold in the next decade. MIT needs to continue its recruitment programs to assure that the goal set by the faculty is met. But even if this goal is met, will MIT be true to its definition of diversity?

What is Diversity?

Diversity not a state or goal, but an ongoing process, enabling a productive, vibrant, and creative environment at MIT. Pursuing diversity includes cultivating a tolerant and respectful community, recognizing and embracing the interdependence of individuals and groups, and actively challenging divisiveness and discrimination.

Why Build a Diverse Community?

“The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.” (MIT Mission Statement)

The above quote defines MIT's mission. Goals of the mission also include the commitment from MIT to “…providing its students with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community.” Building a diverse community is an important part of MIT’s mission.

But diversity is more than a sub-goal – it is fundamental to MIT’s core mission. How? In its Amici Curiae in the Michigan case, MIT (speaking on behalf of a group of leading schools) provides a long argument for the importance of diversity in educating students in science and technology, beginning with a statement that, “diversity (broadly defined and including racial and ethnic diversity) is in fact absolutely essential to the advancement of science and engineering – in part for the same reasons that it is important for higher education generally, but also for a host of other reasons peculiarly related to these fields, and to their critical world role.”

MIT cannot accomplish its core mission without building a diverse community.

How to build a diverse community?

First, it is important to acknowledge some threats to and misunderstandings about diversity.

No group or community can be perfectly representative of its larger community or the world, and the achievement of such representativeness is an unreasonable goal. Building a diverse community cannot be based solely by focusing on numbers and representation.

Embedded in human communities at all levels are forms of discrimination. The discrimination may be interpersonal or structural, intentional or unintentional, internalized or institutionalized; but all with the effect of conferring unwarranted disadvantages to some, and unearned privileges to others. Building a diverse community does not include repeating the discrimination embedded in other communities.

In academia, as in many realms, progress and conflict can be inseparable. This fact does not mean all conflict is good or productive. Conflict that results in the degradation of people, as individuals or as groups, creates barriers to progress. Divisive and discriminatory actions or outcomes are examples of this kind of counter-productive conflict. Building a diverse community must include continual active confrontation of discrimination and degradation.

To build a diverse community, we must commit not merely to working towards the eradication of discrimination within our community, but also to the demonstration of its harm to society in wasted human potential.

To do this, the GSC Task Force on Diversity recommends that the MIT community:

Celebrating diversity means recognizing that a campus and community that pursues diversity is vibrant and productive, with benefits accruing to all community members.

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