DSP meeting

Promoting the “Heart” in MIT’s Academic Departments

The MindHandHeart Department Support Project is partnering with academic departments to advance inclusion and well-being in MIT’s learning environments.

By: MindHandHeart

The MindHandHeart Department Support Project (MHH-DSP), a data-informed initiative designed to cultivate welcoming and inclusive learning environments, is now working in all 31 of MIT’s academic departments and sections.

The MHH-DSP is MindHandHeart’s newest program and complements MindHandHeart’s existing mental health and community-building initiatives, such as the Innovation Fund which offers grants of up to $10,000 to fund projects that make MIT a healthier, more welcoming place, and MindHandHeart’s volunteer coalition, which addresses an array of health and well-being issues.

The MHH-DSP aims to effect change across five key dimensions: (1) deliver actionable data along measures of learning and academic support, inclusion, well-being, and student satisfaction; (2) connect departmental faculty, staff, and student leaders to existing MIT support resources; (3) share promising practices across departments; (4) strengthen and streamline internal communications; and (5) create measurable, time-bound action plans, outlining goals and concrete steps DLCs are taking to address gaps revealed in the data.

With the support of MHH-DSP staff, departments and sections are tackling known pain points and key areas for enhancement. Initial examples include: establishing a shared set of department values, making structural improvements to advising and mentoring, providing professional development for new principal investigators, re-thinking graduate student recruitment to create a more diverse pool, and improving faculty awareness and use of inclusive teaching practices.

Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and the Office of the Provost, the MHH-DSP is an extension of MindHandHeart’s strategic, Institute-wide partnerships and an acknowledgment of how crucial academic environments are to both well-being and achievement for staff, faculty, and students. The MHH-DSP works closely with the Undergraduate Association, the Graduate Student Council, GradSAGE, and other student groups to understand student experiences, coordinate efforts, and consider specific actions in each department. 

For example, the Graduate Student Council’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) supports the Department and Classroom Inclusion (DCI) Subcommittee. DCI's goal is to convene graduate student members (known as Conduits) to work together to advance DEI initiatives in each department. Beginning this year, DEI & DCI are providing a comprehensive, best practices manual for graduate application assistance programs vetted by the Office of General Council to empower departments to start their own programs that help historically underrepresented, qualified candidates in the admissions process.

“It has been great to partner with the DSP,” says Bianca Lepe, a graduate student in the Biological Engineering Department and chair of the GSC's DEI committee. “We are learning from each other and can have a greater impact on improving the
Institute's climate by working together.”

“In MindHandHeart’s first two years, we focused on institutional changes and grassroots community-wide efforts to address issues impacting our students’ mental health. The MHH-DSP is building on that success by focusing on culture and climate issues,” says Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart. “To help our students realize their full potential and to reach our highest levels of academic excellence, we need broadly diverse and supportive academic environments where everyone believes they belong.”

Climate data and action plans developed based on this data form the foundation of the MHH-DSP. “The Department Support Project has given us the opportunity to make data and resources available to department heads, while providing a mechanism for us to track, measure, and be more transparent about changes we are implementing in departments,” says Provost Martin A. Schmidt.

“MindHandHeart is serving in a bridging capacity, bringing together department leaders, data analysts, students, and key campus experts,” adds Associate Provost and Professor of Chemistry Tim Jamison. “The MHH-DSP has helped the Chemistry Department set benchmarks and gauge progress on measures of satisfaction, well-being, academic support, bias, and inclusion.”

MindHandHeart tailors its support to each department’s unique and distinguishing characteristics. The team liaises with over 20 campus offices, such as the Teaching and Learning Lab,  Human Resources, Faculty Development, Violence Prevention and Response Office, Social Justice Programming and Cross Cultural Engagement (SPXCE) Intercultural Center, the Care Team, and Community Wellness at MIT Medical, to connect DLCs to the resources that are most helpful to them.

While action planning is underway in academic departments, all MIT community members can take steps to make the Institute more welcoming, healthy, and inclusive. This summer, MindHandHeart worked with students, support offices, and academic departments to create a Pinterest-style board of ‘Community Cards’ showcasing actions -both large and small- that DLCs can take to strengthen their communities.

Many of the 60 Community Cards include actions individuals can readily take to promote well-being and inclusion. For example, a card entitled “Destigmatize Failure” encourages individuals to share stories of personal setbacks to encourage open and honest dialogue about failure.

MindHandHeart invites any student, faculty, or staff member to reach out and share their ideas to strengthen the campus climate. Students who would like to get involved with the MHH-DSP and support MIT’s academic environments can connect with the Undergraduate Association Committee on Education, the Graduate Student Council Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, or MindHandHeart.