Literature section establishes DEI advisory board

Board members aim to provide resources to Literature faculty, staff, and students

"On the faculty side, there are all sorts of opportunities to enhance and enrich our pedagogy through increased access to resources,” says Associate Professor Noel Jackson.

The effort to create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Board in MIT’s Literature section began in 2020, in the wake of the George Floyd murder. 

Since then, there’s been ongoing conversation between Literature staff and faculty about the section’s anti-racism statement and what else needed to be done within Literature to address DEI-related issues.

Three years later, at a meeting last month, the Literature faculty unanimously approved establishing the section’s DEI Advisory Board.

Associate Professor Noel Jackson is a faculty representative on the DEI advisory board, and says that while the creation of the board has been led by staff, “I’d like to think this board will be useful for all stakeholders: faculty, staff, and students.”

"On the faculty side, there are all sorts of opportunities to enhance and enrich our pedagogy through increased access to resources,” says Jackson.

He says feedback from faculty along the way has been integrated into what ended up being the final proposal for creating the board; preserving its spirit, while broadening and clarifying some of the issues raised during that ongoing dialogue.

Part of the board’s mission will be to “listen to voices that have experienced DEI-related challenges within the section and offer advice on how best to navigate such situations.” The DEI Advisory Board will listen to the concerns of staff and teaching staff, and to refer people to resources and contacts within the Institute.

One of the board’s first goals is to convene affinity focus groups with student organizations.

"The goal is both to learn more about their experience with DEI-related matters at the Institute, and also to learn more instrumentally about what kinds of classes they’d be interested in taking, and what kinds of books they regard as essential offerings,” says Jackson.

Even though the advisory board was just approved, those involved with its creation have been working on implementing its core principles.

Jessica TranVo, publicity and outreach coordinator for the Literature section, has been involved with the creation of and serving on the board. 

"I felt it was important for my role to be involved in this because I do so much of the outward-facing work for the Literature section,” she said. 

Through on-campus publicity via posters and other means, TranVo has made a concerted effort to make sure the diversity of literature and the MIT student body is reflected in its promotional materials.

"We want to make sure MIT’s Literature section is that much more unique and colorful. It’s easy for Literature to get lost in STEM,” TranVo said. “It’s important we portray Literature as an inclusive space."

TranVo and Belinda Yung, technology support specialist in Literature, worked together on designing the new Literature website. TranVo said DEI principles were incorporated into the design itself, how stories are tagged, as well as the vendor hiring process.

"We made sure we took proposals and RFPs from vendors that were diverse,” she said. “We wanted a wide variety of different faces on our new site to reflect the diversity of literature and to reflect the diversity of the student body.”

Wyn Kelley, senior lecturer in Literature, also serves on the board, and sees it as a valuable resource for the section. 

Unlike many committees I’ve served on or observed in the section, this one is definitely ground-up in a number of ways,” Kelly says “It’s taken its inspiration from student responses to our classes, and is trying to break down some of the traditional hierarchies.”

The group praised Tracie Jones-Barrett, Assistant Dean for DEI for the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science, for the support she provided in their effort to form the board, and also in developing the section’s Strategic Action Plan, as part of MIT’s Belonging, Achievement and Composition (BAC) Initiative.

Michael Brindley | MIT Literature