Diversity and Inclusion: Building a Solution Worthy of MIT

author: Susan Hockfield, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Ray Hammond, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
published: March 20, 2014,   recorded: February 2008,   views: 1554
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While Martin Luther King might be amazed to see what blacks, Hispanics and women have accomplished since his time, says Ray Hammond, we must take an honest look at the “state of his dreams” today, and ask, “Where do we go from here?” This is a question that MIT President Susan Hockfield has also taken to heart. Hockfield admits that “despite the intense, unrelenting and committed work of many people,” MIT has failed to create the serious, meaningful diversity and inclusion “that we long for.” Says Hockfield, “We cannot be satisfied until, to everyone who earns a place at MIT, we are a community that says not “You’re lucky to be here,” but rather, “We’re lucky you came.” Hockfield sees diversity as an “obvious moral imperative,” essential at MIT, which educates students “who in a thousand ways will lead the nation.” She plans to convene a Diversity Leadership Congress, a group that will include all 300 or so of the Institute’s academic and administrative leaders, to develop goals for changing the way MIT operates. Hockfield has also begun an initiative to address faculty race and diversity issues.

Ray Hammond believes MIT and other elite academic institutions have a unique role to play in the “post-Civil Rights era.” He cites three areas essential in strengthening a commitment to educational access. The first, which he calls “pipeline,” involves ensuring a steady flow of scientists and engineers. By the middle of the 21st century, there will be no majority population in the U.S., and white students alone won’t suffice to fill jobs in science and technology. Black, Hispanic and female students must be shown the way into these fields, says Hammond, and one way is through providing “mentors and role models.”

Pedagogy is the next step. Once in college, black and Hispanic students often fail introductory courses and drop out or turn away from science. Hammond cites a study showing how certain methods help keep minority students on track in these courses, including working groups that network and share strategies for success. Universities must put such models into place, or risk cheating “all of our students.”

Hammond says the final issue for the research university lies in the realm of social policy. Scientists should not be responsible only for discoveries. “Scientists and engineers must be educators, debaters, advisors, and, sometimes, deciders. What they cannot be are the monolithic, mono- or bi-racial, and unrepresentative guardians of information and wielders of authority.”

Hammond says that we “know how to tolerate situations of inequity and to try to put the best face on them as the ways things are or as the way God intended them to be or as the fault of those not as gifted as ourselves.” Research universities like MIT “can make a firm, moral and practical commitment to opening the doors of opportunity ever wider to an ever growing circle of people.”

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