Update from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT update Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Has your institution acted on any of your demands? Are there any positive outcomes you have had?

Yes! Our department worked with us to compile publicly all of the student demands along with actions taken on our Physics Values Committee’s website, and we partnered with student student activists across campus to create a progress scorecard. You can also check out a broad list of actions the Department has taken to better uphold its values, and the department chair’s blog periodically contains interesting and relevant updates.

Notably, even though it was not listed in our demands, the Department added three graduate student representatives to the graduate admissions committee, as well as one undergraduate and one graduate student to our education committee. The Chair of Admissions asked the Physics Graduate Student Council (PGSC) to create a new subcommittee, Grads Advising Graduate Admissions (GAGA), to help make the application process more equitable. The heads of the physics undergraduate and graduate student governments meet with the department chair for an hour each week, often discussing how to move forward on our recommendations.

Has your institution flatly refused any of your demands? Are there any other negative outcomes you have had?

MIT physics graduate students wrote a 33-page list of recommendations, on top of the 10 pages written by MIT’s Society of Physics Students. It is an understatement that we have a long way to go towards creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community, both within our local department and within the field of physics more broadly. However, we are heartened by the collaborations we have been able to build with many department faculty and staff on these important issues, and we are impressed at the pace of progress in many sectors of the department despite the severe disruptions of the pandemic. Only time will tell whether we can keep up the necessary momentum to overcome these persistent and pervasive problems.

Are there other actions you are taking which are not specifically directed at your institute’s administration (eg. student-facing or community-facing work)? Would you like to share anything from these efforts?

One reason we have been able to make so much progress so far is the sheer amount of students (and others!) getting involved. Many faculty, divisions, and our administration are emphasizing the importance of involvement in outreach, mentoring, and advocacy activities, and at least anecdotally, many students are engaging both in our MIT and local Cambridge communities. There is much activity on the recruitment side, including the launch of a Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP) by GAGA. For education and awareness, at least two research groups have created anti-racism reading clubs (AMO, high-energy theory).

Are there any immediate priorities for the next 3 months?

We want to keep pushing forward on our demands while there is still great momentum, as well as put pressure on all sectors of the department to exchange and implement one another’s ideas. In addition, we are looking forward to the future and want to ensure that the systems being put into place right now are set up to make sustained change in the long term, even after the current crop of students have graduated.

Do you require any assistance or resources in particular from the other members of PAARC at this point?

Everything you’re already doing is great! We enjoy learning about what other institutions are doing, and we always welcome your new ideas.

To any members of PAARC and physicist-activists who become part of our community in the future: we welcome you to join in on our efforts and look forward to it!