BCS Takes on Systemic Racism

  • BCS Community

BCS Takes on Systemic Racism


Tristan Davies

Like much of MIT and the nation, the Building 46 community was horrified by the killing of George Floyd, and stirred by the protest and social action movement that swelled in response. BCS and Building 46 leadership, faculty, postdocs, graduate students and staff are collaborating on actions and commitments to recognize, understand, and address systemic racism in our own community, the brain and cognitive sciences field, and society at large.

Graduate students, represented by the Gradvocates, a departmental organization that had already been formed to advance the interests of students in BCS, galvanized the BCS community, which led to a community town hall in early June. Since then, departmental administration has worked closely with community representatives to gather feedback and develop a comprehensive plan of action.

By the end of June, graduate students, staff, and postdocs had volunteered to serve on an expanded BCS Diversity Committee, and the BCS Graduate Admissions Committee had removed the requirement that applicants take the GRE. Soon after, the department brought on the Raben Group as consultants to help evaluate the current situation and plan the way forward.

Some longer-term commitments include increasing the number of participants in existing programs which already target underrepresented minorities.

The Post-Baccalaureate Research Scholars Program, a two-year program designed to prepare students to become competitive PhD applicants and successful graduate students, will grow from two students a year to six. Also targeted for growth in both size and diversity:

  • The MIT Summer Research Program, which brings talented sophomores and juniors from other colleges to MIT.
  • The Quantitative Methods Workshop, hosted by the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines, which invites students from select partner institutions for a seven-day workshop on computational tools and techniques used in neuroscience.

A number of BCS labs are also working at the grassroots level to foster a more inclusive culture and build partnerships with minority-serving institutions in the Boston area and nationally.

“The pledge to take action was the easy part,” says DiCarlo. “To make real and lasting change, this coordinated set of efforts must be at the very core of what we do—we must live and breathe this work every day just as we live and breathe research and education every day. To do that, we will need the power of the entire BCS community, but I know that we are each ready to join the fight.”

Image credit: Bill Montgomery/Unsplash