Women in EAPS now have their own advocacy group called Women in XII (a.k.a. "WiXII".) And thanks to a generous gift from Anita Killian '85 (VII), SM '87 (XII, Xii M), they are off to a flying start.
WiXII (Women in course XII) is a new organization founded by women in the EAPS department in an effort to advocate for women’s and minorities’ rights in academia and the sciences. The group was established over the summer with the goal of organizing events, discussions, and panels aimed at promoting and supporting women from all positions in our department. This includes all students, postdocs, researchers, faculty, and staff members, because all of these positions are integral to our community, and all experience discrimination in different ways. While the purpose of the group is to support and advocate for women, we strongly believe that the only way to change the culture of sexism in academia is to invite everyone to join the discussion. As such, we welcome all genders at our events.
Our first series of events began out of a desire to gauge the climate in our department, learn what the members of our community felt were problems that needed to be addressed, and brainstorm ways through which we could actively make a difference. We chose to hold our first discussion over cookies and tea. What better incentive to get a scientist or administrator away from her/his desk or lab than tea and coffee? This was our first Tiny Tea, a name that describes the scale and intentional informality of the events—small discussions that would require only a small amount of everyone’s time and energy, but would be a space to begin affecting change in minor ways. The first of these was such a success that we decided to make them a series, held throughout the semester, as a way to focus on specific topics and brainstorm ideas for change. So far we have discussed a range of topics, including what types of discrimination women in the sciences and academia face, and how to be an ally and active bystander when witness to microaggressions in the workplace or at conferences. The latter topic sparked many important conversations, and it became apparent through discussions and requests that people in the department did not know how to respond appropriately if they witnessed a microaggression, but had a strong desire to learn.
As a direct result of the Active Bystander Tiny Tea, the WiXII board decided to table an active bystander training as our first large-scale event for the semester. We invited SpeakAbout It, a non-profit organization based in Maine, to lead the training and invited everyone in the EAPS community to participate. The event had more than 60 people in attendance, including faculty, staff, students, researchers and postdocs of all genders. The topic of active bystanding and being an ally is one that has been gaining increased interest, and we have been happy to see the positive response in our community as people continue to discuss tactics and strategies for being an active bystander both at MIT and beyond.
Another aim for our organization is to invite prominent alumni and other women in our field to lead discussions and share their stories, especially with students, postdocs, and other early career scientists in EAPS. One of the major problems that the sciences face is retention of women past graduate school. Our hope is that having women speakers share their stories and advice with the department’s early career, women scientists will encourage them to continue on to becomes postdocs, faculty, or pursue other careers while remaining in science. The first such discussion took place when Dr. Kim Cobb of Georgia Tech came to give an EAPS Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate Colloquium this fall. Dr. Cobb has been a very active advocate for women in the sciences, and in addition to her faculty position serves on the board of a new diversity initiative at Georgia Tech. We asked her to hold an informal discussion with the students and postdocs in EAPS after her talk, and had very meaningful conversations about the struggles that women face in our field and strategies that we could use to overcome them. This discussion was so successful that we will be holding a second discussion this month with Kathy Huber, an MIT alumna and successful entrepreneur, and Bernice Broyde to speak about women in entrepreneurship.
We will end the year with a visit from Anita Killian, Vice President of Wellington Management Company LLP and WiXII donor. Ms. Killian learned about WiXII over dinner with her long-time friend, EAPS Professor Paola Rizzoli (herself a staunch advocate for women in science) and jumped in with a generous gift to launch the Women in XII endowment fund to help help fund the group's educational activities.
We look forward to being able to thank Ms. Killian in person when she visits our department during her travels from Singapore on December 16th. To welcome her, we will be holding an open board meeting in which we invite all members of the community to join us as we discuss future events. We are thrilled to have Ms. Killian visiting, and look forward to future seminars and visits from her. In addition to our events, WiXII is very active on social media, and we have a blog on our website (http://wixii.scripts.mit.edu/wixii/blog/) in which we draw attention to important news and articles relating to women in academia. We welcome input and can be reached through our website or via email.
WiXII was sparked by a discussion between women on the EAPS Visiting Committee, female students, and faculty about work experience, difficulties faced by women in EAPS and academia, and the kind of environment necessary for the success of women and all other members of the community. After sharing stories and concerns about common problems, a group of graduate students and staff decided to form Women in XII to educate , inspire, and advocate for equal treatment of both women, and minorities in EAPS, to create a more inclusive, equitable, and respectful culture within our department and the broader academic community.