Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
In what organizers hope will be the first in an annual series, students from four living groups did a day of community service while also breaking down racial barriers among themselves.
Last Friday's event was co-sponsored by shoe manufacturer Timberland Corp. as one of its programs on the theme of "Give Racism the Boot." Other sponsors were City Year and MIT's Public Service Center (PSC) and Race Relations Committee. It came about when four students from Sigma Chi (John Rodkin, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science, and freshmen Paul Shay, Jason Black and David Day) decided to plan an activity that could benefit race relations among students. They met with Ellen Harris, associate provost for the arts and chair of the committee; she brought them together with Timberland and the PSC, which coordinated the event.
Forty students from Sigma Chi, the Black Students Union, the Korean Students Association and McCormick Hall walked together to the Cambridge Community Center. There, they formed four 10-person teams that included people from each living group, doing yard work, cleaning and painting during the morning. In the afternoon, they worked with children at the center, painting T-shirts, making paper airplanes and origami, and playing kickball and dodgeball.
By the end of the day, students had gravitated away from their own living group members they arrived with and were talking with everyone else. "They left with a greater appreciation of the different students they worked with and the personal rewards of engaging in community service, and that's that this was all about," said Emily Sandberg, director of the PSC. "It was an all-around wonderful event."
"We wanted to do something proactive, getting groups at MIT together in hopes people would become friends. And that's exactly what happened-it really worked well," Mr. Shay said. "We made a lot of good connections with other groups. I met a lot of people I never would've met otherwise."
"It took down the barriers, just having conversations," agreed Alim Needham, a sophomore in EECS and co-chair of the BSU. "There were a lot of people talking, getting to know each other and finding things in common."
Timberland provided part of the budget as well as T-shirts, help in coordinating the event and leading team-building exercises. The company is also a major sponsor of City Year. This is the first time it has worked directly with a university to develop an anti-racism program. However, the company will be involved with the PSC's CityDays program during R/O, according to Elise Klysa, the company's senior manager for community enterprise.
"We have a belief at Timberland that people coming together can accomplish something, but that diverse people coming together can have an incredible impact," she said. "I think this will have a longer-term impact, not just here but taking it back to campus and hopefully doing it again."
"I can't wait to do this next year," Mr. Needham said. "It's got a lot of potential."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 24, 1995.