Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Essigmann Laboratory Values Statement

The evolving DEI efforts of MIT and society at large give a good reason for us to pause from the fast pace of modern life and reflect on and articulate our lab values. And, as a lab PI, I need to communicate those values transparently to my colleagues.  If you are reading this passage, chances are you are considering the Essigmann lab as a place to work.  If you want to join our lab, it is important that you understand our culture.

One of the great things about MIT is that we operate as a community, with each of us doing our part to contribute to the advancement of science.  Teams work best when they embrace a variety of viewpoints, offered by people of diverse ages and who come from diverse backgrounds.  To work together productively and in harmony, we need to do more than accept our differences … we need to celebrate them.

At one point in my career, I was asked to serve by chairing the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid.  With so many talented people eager to come to MIT, we were often asked how we choose fairly when we select an incoming class.  The document we wrote in 2015 has stood the test of time and still reflects what I think when I think about inclusion of new members to my own group.  It is included in blue font below.

Once you join the group, what does the group expect of you?  We expect mutual respect and support of one another.  We do not tolerate harassment or discrimination.  Bullying behavior is unacceptable at MIT and certainly not in the lab.  We understand that MIT is a culturally diverse place, but what might be acceptable in one culture might not be acceptable here.  For that reason, MIT offers a lot of human and physical resources that help guide us and educate us on issues that come up more often than one might expect.  Sometimes a person may say something that is received as sexist, racist, homophobic or as criticizing the religion or religious beliefs of another person.  The resources are listed and hyperlinked below, but we also encourage you to engage in a bidirectional dialog with the person who made the comment that offended you.  MIT provides the resources to help you reach out to that person and how to navigate what otherwise might be an awkward discussion.  We are proud of the fact that one of our group alumni, Peter Rye, founded the REFS program at MIT.  At the end of the day, most comments that offend a person were not meant to be offensive … and there is an opportunity to seize the educational moment to restore amity to a relationship.  If, however, a line is crossed in your view, please come to see me.  I’ll do what I can to help.  Having served as a Head of House in an undergraduate dorm for 26 years, I have a good knowledge of the resources that address DEI issues.  Lastly, if you are the person who may have made an offending comment, even innocently, please know that your words can be received as offensive.  Harassment, to use one example from the list above, is defined by the person on the receiving end of your words or actions, and not by what you may have intended.

Good resources on DEI issues:

Biological Engineering and Chemistry REFS (Resource for Easing Friction and Stress)

IDHR (Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response) 

Ombuds Office

VPR (Violence Prevention and Response)

SPXCE (Social Justice Programming and Cross-Cultural Engagement)

OME (Office of Minority Education)

LGBTQ+ (Intercultural Campus Resource for Diverse Gender, Romantic, and Sexual Identities)

Student Resources for Living and Learning at MIT


MIT Admissions Statement on the role of diversity in MIT’s educational mission

Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, October 2015

A diverse student body is and has long been critical to the educational mission of MIT. We are committed to providing our students “with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community.”

Our goal in forming the student body might simply be to select students who are, individually, excellent. Indeed, this is essential to our practice: every student we admit has demonstrated academic and personal excellence that placed them at the top of our applicant pool. But we strive for more than just individual excellence. Because our students learn so much from one another, our goal is to form a student body that is, collectively, excellent: an excellent group of excellent students, who will surprise, challenge, and support one another.

Our educational approach, reflected in the MIT motto Mens et Manus, engages students directly in the process of innovation—hands-on work, often carried out in groups, that requires creativity as well as camaraderie. Our students’ success depends on their exposure to many viewpoints and their ability to trust peers to provide both support and criticism. Moreover, the experience of working with a diverse set of peers at MIT prepares our students to work effectively in the world outside MIT: it opens their minds and attunes them both to the variety of strengths and the variety of concerns of others.

Diversity of viewpoints is derived from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences along many dimensions, among which are gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and socio-economic background.

How much diversity is necessary to achieve our goals? Every student should feel that “there are people like me here” and “there are people different from me here.” No student should feel isolated; all students should come into contact with members of other groups and experience them as colleagues with valuable ideas and insights.

It is through this experience of the richness and diversity of interests, strengths, viewpoints, and concerns of their fellow students that our students become open-minded intellectuals and innovators, primed to pursue the MIT mission of the betterment of humankind.