(Members of the MIT GOV/LAB team. Credit: Joseph Lee).

Over the past few years, a series of tragic deaths has sparked serious nationwide discussions on race. While conversations on police brutality might garner the most attention, these issues have spread to almost every element of American society. Higher education is no exception. Concerns over the administration’s handling of incidents of anti-semitism and racial hostility sparked widespread protests at the University of Missouri. Tensions boiled over at Yale as well over similar concerns about racial insensitivity. These protests led to action across university campuses, including MIT, to closely examine and address university relations with minority members of their communities.

In the wake of campus protests across the country, the MIT Black Students’ Union convened to discuss MIT’s responsibility to foster safe and inclusive environments for its students. The resulting recommendations have seen varying levels of adoption by the MIT administration. Echoing earlier calls for an institute-wide statement on MIT’s values, one recommendation called for “a formal statement … affirming MIT’s commitment to students’ health, diversity, and inclusion” to be issued by all of MIT’s departments, labs, and centers.

After receiving strong support from the Institute Community Equity Office, these statements have now been issued by every MIT department (Political Science statement here). The statements differ significantly in substance and format: some include specific targets and indicators of success and others set aspirational values to guide processes and conducts more generally. In addition to covering issues of race and minorities, many statements also include support for emotional well-being of students. An important thread throughout the MIT statements is the focus on building a diverse pipeline of students and how to support career development.

Examining diversity in political science

More broadly, political science as a discipline has begun to reckon with its own failure to create safe, inclusive, and productive environments, especially with regard to gender-based discrimination. Data show one challenge is that women who co-author, especially with men, are less likely to receive tenure than men who co-author at the same rate, demonstrating a bias in how women are recognized for group work.

In a recent report (co-authored by GOV/LAB Faculty Associate Professor Daniel Hidalgo), the Society for Political Methodology highlighted the lack of racial and gender diversity in political methodology (Figure 1).

Figures from the 2018 “Report on Diversity and Inclusion in the Society for Political Methodology” by the Diversity Committee (F. Daniel Hidalgo, Suzanna Linn, Margaret Roberts Betsy Sinclair, Rocío Titiunik).

Currently, women compose less than 20% of the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) political methodology section, far below APSA’s mean of 37% (Figure 2) and the lowest of all APSA organized sections. Other research has shown that women in academia are, among other things, less likely to receive tenure and receive lower evaluations from students. Similarly, there have been coordinated efforts by women in the field to promote the work of other women in political science #WomenAlsoKnowStuff.

Figure from the 2018 “Report on Diversity and Inclusion in the Society for Political Methodology” by the Diversity Committee (F. Daniel Hidalgo, Suzanna Linn, Margaret Roberts Betsy Sinclair, Rocío Titiunik).

Inspired by the gender discussion, another campaign in political science was born to promote the scholarly work and contributions of people of color (POC): #POCalsoknowstuff.

Drafting GOV/LAB’s statement

In this context, MIT GOV/LAB set out to draft a statement. Because our lab’s research depends on healthy and respectful relationships with partners around the globe, the need for our own diversity and inclusion statement becomes doubly apparent. A critical aspect of this is making sure that we carefully examine our research design—not only to ward off potential risks, but to make sure that our research could provide real world benefits.

While some of the departments’ statements make specific commitments to increasing diversity, we felt that our goals at GOV/LAB are not necessarily quantifiable. Instead we chose to focus on the values that guide our work—open-mindedness, mutual respect, and collaboration—and the actions we take to ensure that our team members and partners are supported.

Please take a look at our statement on diversity and inclusion. We recognize that it is a work in progress and welcome any feedback (mitgovlab@mit.edu).