IDSS prioritizes and values diversity and inclusion among our community of students, faculty, postdocs, and staff. The range of cultures, backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences of the individuals within IDSS is essential for pursuing our mission of addressing major societal problems using innovative, holistic, data-driven approaches. As a unit focused on improving society, we care deeply about the overall well-being of our students and community members, including their mental and physical health.

Task Force on Systemic Racism

On June 10, 2020, IDSS leadership convened the IDSS community as part of #ShutDownSTEM, a nationwide initiative to take action for Black lives by pausing business as usual (except COVID-19 research) to come together as a community “to enable education, action, and healing on racism and other forms of injustice.” This town hall meeting was an opportunity to make a productive and respectful space for community members to listen to and learn from each other. Following the town hall meeting, IDSS launched the Task Force on Systemic Racism. 

The Task Force on Systemic Racism met weekly during the summer of 2020 and initiated the process of making concrete steps to address systemic and structural racism, as well as broader DEI-issues, at IDSS. Building on its members’ knowledge, resources from other departments at MIT, and student input, advice and direction, the Task Force presented IDSS leadership with insights and recommendations for short-term and long-term actions in October 2020. 

MIT Strategic Action Plan

MIT released the strategic action plan for belonging, achievement, and composition in September 2022. The plan provides an MIT-wide framework for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion across MIT, while allowing individual departments, labs, and offices to define and tailor their own efforts in this regard. The strategic action plan will also inform the efforts and planning of the IDSS DEI Committee. 

IDSS DEI Committee

The IDSS DEI Committee identifies opportunities and pursues actions to increase diversity and inclusion within the institute. 

This rotating committee, which is chaired by Professor Jessika Trancik and includes members from faculty, postdocs, students, and staff, works in partnership with the IDSS community and IDSS leadership. It solicits and welcomes feedback from all community members and works to support a wide range of efforts within IDSS to foster diversity, equity and inclusion, recognizing that real progress will require participation across the unit and in all aspects of our work (research, teaching, and service). Working closely with Dr. Alana Anderson, the Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Schwarzman College of Computing, the IDSS DEI Committee aims to make progress on implementing specific action items inspired by the MIT Strategic Action Plan. 

The DEI Committee members for 2024 are Jessika Trancik (committee chair), Ari Feinberg (postdoc), Beth Milnes (staff), Rameen Hayat Malik (TPP-student, TPSS’s DE&I Liaison), Erin Walk (SES-student), Fotini Christia (faculty), Grant Ruan (postdoc), Michelle Carmichael (staff), and Kasey Tenggren (staff).

Each year, the IDSS DEI Committee prioritizes three areas. Currently, these areas are:

1) Data collection: Collect, analyze, and manage data to help the committee reflect on its efforts and select future priority areas.

2) Recruitment: Continue, improve, and expand current recruitment efforts aiming at diversifying the pool of talents applying for IDSS programs.

3) Community engagement: Increase capacity and awareness of the experiences, challenges and commitments of all IDSS community members, and leverage institutional knowledge to create an inclusive environment.

Research Initiative on Combating Systemic Racism

IDSS is well positioned to conduct data- and policy-driven research on structural racism. In 2021, IDSS launched the Research Initiative on Combatting Systemic Racism (ICSR). ICSR aims to launch and coordinate cross-disciplinary research on how to identify and overcome racially discriminatory processes across a range of American institutions and policy domains. The effort brings together faculty and researchers from all five schools and the Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT, as well as external partner institutions. 

Students play an integral role in the execution of ICSR. Each research team includes graduate students from SES, TPP, and other MIT departments, as well as undergraduate students through UROP positions.

In AY 2021-2022, MLK Visiting Professor S. Craig Watkins was a key contributor to the initiative. Professor Watkins visited IDSS from UT Austin where he is the Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the Founding Director of the Institute for Media Innovation​. He engaged in creating the cross-disciplinary research agenda on systemic racism, bias in AI, and the role of big data in enabling deep structural changes during his time at IDSS. Specifically, Professor Watkins contributed to the Initiative’s Housing vertical by hosting a panel on “Home Ownership, Lending Discrimination & Technology” as part of the Beyond Fairness symposium. 

ICSR will continue to build our expertise and forge connections to researchers studying diversity and equity issues, and establish a community of researchers working in this area within IDSS, the Schwarzman College of Computing, and MIT and beyond. 

URM Recruitment – MSRP and Application Assistance

MIT, the Schwarzman College of Computing, and IDSS prioritize increasing the number of underrepresented graduate students participating in our programs. To realize this goal, IDSS participates in the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP) and hosts the SES Graduate Application Assistance Program (SES-GAAP).

For many years, IDSS has engaged with MSRP. Aside from supervising students, several faculty members engage with the larger cohort by hosting seminars, information sessions, and fireside chats. Most recently, in the summer of 2022, IDSS hosted three MSRP students; two accepted an internship within an ICSR project team. We aim to grow our participation in the MSRP program by hosting students and preparing them to pursue advanced degrees.

Underrepresented minority students ready to apply for SES can connect with an SES grad student or IDSS postdoc through the SES Graduate Application Assistance Program (SES GAAP). Run by SES students, the program is designed to help prospective applicants, particularly those from identities historically underrepresented in graduate education, navigate the SES admissions process. 

TPP provides assistance to prospective TPP students during the application process. Prospective students have a chance to ask current TPP students about their experiences in the program, among other levels of support. A full list of support can be found here.  

To increase the number of underrepresented students in our graduate programs, we aim to grow the number of participants in the SES GAAP and the TPP assistance program. At the same time, we will continue to look for and implement other programs that will help increase the number of underrepresented graduate students.

MIT Resources for DEI

DEI resources at MIT can be found here: https://iceo.mit.edu/mit-programs-and-services/

MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Cambridge, MA 02139-4307