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A Welcoming Environment by Emad T. '14

Because the best way to feel at home at MIT is to know that you are truly welcome

A little over two weeks ago, MIT’s news office released a statement on LGBQT life here. The short story: MIT has renewed their You Are Welcome Here campaign.

For those of you who don’t know what this is, the You Are Welcome Here campaign aims to increase the visibility of LGBQT facilities and programs with small cards to denote an LGBQT student’s first port of call – namely, the offices or dorm rooms of anyone willing to guide curious students to available services.

As Laura, a blogger alum, noted in her own post on LGBQT life (and more specifically, The Rainbow Lounge), these cards aren’t hard to find.

Abigail Francis, MIT’s Director of LGBT Services and a strong advocate of the campaign, talked to me about how campaigns like these honor MIT’s commitment to diversity by drawing together a closely-knit, conscientious community in which nobody feels left out. “We need every member of MIT to feel welcome, not just tolerated,” she said, “Everyone should be on an equal playing field here.”

As we talked more, I was surprised to find that Abigail’s position, once a temporary offering, had only been around at MIT for five years. Over the two years that she pioneered her role at MIT, “It was important to justify the position,” she said, “But the need for it was very high.”

Perhaps one testament to this need comes from a story that Val, a freshman here who’s actively involved in [email protected] (GLBT at MIT), a Trans Task Force, and MIT’s Dramashop, told about her friend. Val’s friend came out while at MIT and wanted to check out some of the Rainbow Lounge’s resources.

“One of the workers greeted [my friend] and showed her around a little bit,” she said, “She was very happy that everyone was so at ease and friendly. It was really easy for her to get what she needed.”

Such a need has been around for nearly 40 years. The mission to advocate for LGBQT members of MIT began with the Student Homophile League in 1969, which exists today as [email protected]. Their efforts, along with the efforts of other groups, aim to promote a positive environment for LGBQT students and to raise awareness of related issues in the student body through workshops and a variety of lectures geared toward LGBQT students and their allies.

“It’s been really cool to go from there not being much of a [queer women’s] community two years ago, and thinking, ‘Oh, what can we do about this?’ – to now, having events that are attended by 30 or so people,” said Cal, a junior at MIT and [email protected]’s vice president, on her work on queer women’s issues on campus.

They’ve been doing a heck of a job. Abigail told me that attendance at LGBQT events has risen over 60% in the past five years. Cory, a freshman at MIT, a member of [email protected], and a prospective political science / math major, believes this is because there’s still a lot to do.

“Even within the last couple of years, all of these student groups just began doing more,” he said, “It’s getting past the point of saying it’s okay to be gay – we’re just trying to spread awareness about every single issue.”

So certainly, there’s student activism, but that’s not to say that talk about LGBQT issues pervades every aspect of every conversation of every LGBQT student’s life. There’s more that goes on in day-to-day conversation, according to Piper, a junior majoring in course 6-2.

“In my experience, people simply don’t focus on sexuality,” she said, “We’ll have conversations about it if it comes up, if it’s relevant […] But it’s not constantly looming on our minds.”

Lindsey, another junior majoring in chemical engineering, says he likes it that way: “Everyone, even if they don’t necessarily understand or even agree with certain aspects of my life, is accepting of who I am.”

As I pulled all of these insights together, I got some firsthand experience of how well everyone at the Rainbow Lounge got along with non-LGBQT members of the MIT community, as well as with people whom one might not initially consider to be allies. Not only was Abigail incredibly easy to talk to, but after I visited her in her office, several of her friends – ministers and representatives of various religious groups, no less – also had a discussion with me. One of them even offered me a delicious, chocolate-frosted cupcake.

It just goes to show you that MIT endorses a brand of diversity that isn’t about isolating communities because of our differences, but about generating positive discussion about those differences, and then growing closer because of them. When you do it right, it leads to understanding, support, and quite possibly, cupcakes.

27 responses to “A Welcoming Environment”

  1. MG '15 says:

    Is QWiLTS still active at MIT? Looks like they’re site hasn’t been updated since 2007…

  2. MG '15 says:

    Is QWiLTS still active at MIT? Looks like they’re site hasn’t been updated since 2007…

  3. MG '15 says:

    *their not they’re

  4. anonymous says:

    Dear Emad,
    Your entries are always so beautiful,congratulations for this post as well.It is great to know mit has such a welcoming environment for all communities.
    On an unrelated note,I am an international applicant and just recieved my sat subject test scores.They arent up to my expectations,as were my sat scores.Due to some reasons I cant take the january test,and now I am just helpless with these scores in my hands,knowing they dont reflect my actual potential.
    What do I do?I know fretting wont lead me anywhere but cant help it.

  5. anonymous says:

    I just realized i did not make myself so clear there.My sat reasoning scores were below my expectations too.

  6. 2012 says:

    To MG ’15 –

    Although the QWiLTS website is way out of date, there is a great community of queer women at MIT. It’s gotten even more well-organized this year and there are all sorts of social and support type events going on all the time. In general we’re friendly and welcoming and it’s great to have more people in our community.

  7. anonymous says:

    omg, please say LGBTQ, it’s was hard to read that whole post with all of the LGBQTs sprinkled through. most of the queer community agreeds on either LGBTQ or GLBTQ.

  8. Piper '12 says:

    ^ Heh. Personally, I hate alphabet soup, so unless we start using FABGLITTER (google it), I’m just going to use the nice umbrella word of “queer” to refer to LGBTQIAWXYZ things smile

  9. MG '15 says:

    but alphabet soup is so delicious… XD

    queer is definitely more succinct and beats lgbtlmnop (ok made that one up jeje)

  10. Shruthi says:

    I’m in the same state as anonymous..!! But a small change.. I never took my SATs or TOEFLs!! In fact i was never planning to, until my EC replied to my mail…!! And the interview went really well!! :D He suggested that i should take my SATs very soon.. But when i tried registering through collegeboard, there was no exam center available in my city!! i have no idea about what i should do now… =( Now that “MIT admission office” says that it won’t receive any mails or phone calls till JAN 3rd ( and JAN 1st being the deadline for regular action applicants ), i really don’t know whom to contact!! My teachers are even ready with my recommendation forms!! =( So somebody please HELP!!!!! :(

  11. Austin says:

    LGBTQ is quite a short word to describe such a diverse group of people. Queer – I, personally, don’t think it holds all those groups represented under one umbrella.

  12. anonymous says:

    @shruthi,
    My suggestion is,talk to MIT Admissions because you need to take SAT reasoning/TOEFL + 2 SAT subject ATLEAST for the application.And even if you try to register without talking to Admissions,(deadline for late registration for January 22 test is January 7) it will not be possible to take both categories on the same day.
    So talk to them,if things turn favorable register
    by 7th;dont bother if it is in another city;I had to travel some 1000 kms twice for the tests.
    But first talk to the Admissions.And good luck.
    OH YES: MOST IMPORTANT: If you register,list MIT as the top recipient of your scores.

  13. anonymous says:

    @shruthi
    I dunno what your teachers are doing with those forms.Send them as fast as possible.Only your scores and your mid year report is received after Jan 1.Good luck again.

  14. Piper '12 says:

    “LGBTQ is quite a short word to describe such a diverse group of people. Queer – I, personally, don’t think it holds all those groups represented under one umbrella.”

    “LGBTQ” still leaves out quite a few people. I don’t see how “queer” leaves anyone out. (I also don’t see how “LGBTQ” is short. It’s the same letter length as queer and 5x the syllables.)

  15. Emad '14 says:

    I’d like to keep the comments section relevant to the post, so if there are any more dangling questions regarding admissions, feel free to email me. If you’re curious about LGBQT/LGBTQ/FABGLITTER (thanks, Piper) life, then please ask some questions here!

    To quickly clear up what’s already been asked, the admissions office will still take anything postmarked by January 1st, as well as test scores from January test periods.

    Also even if you don’t think your scores are that good, your personality and drive to succeed at MIT might make up for it, so give it a shot anyway! You’ll never know about your chances here unless you try to get in.

  16. MG '15 says:

    The Idea Factory talked about gender discrimination against women at the Institvte as well as the suicide rate but this was in the 80s so I’m hoping that since the numbers of women are a lot higher in recent years the atmosphere is not the same as thirty years ago. The book also focuses on grad school at MIT

  17. MG '15 says:

    To change the subject, will there be any LGBTQ/ queer events at CPW this year (well technically next year but only for a few more days)?

  18. Piper '12 says:

    @Austin – My problem with the letters is that a lot more people end up left out. The T is often dropped, as is the Q, A’s generally aren’t even mentioned, or the F’s, etc etc. “Queer” leaves out a lot less people, and it’s up to the individual whether or not they consider themselves part of the group/culture/whatever. (I’m bisexual, but the way smile ).

    @MG ’15 – I’m going to point you at Matt’s blog with respect to the suicide rate, which will hopefully clear up a lot of common misconceptions.

    I’ve never felt stopped by my gender at MIT. I guess I can’t say more than that, unless you have specific worries smile. The Rainbow Lounge will typically do open houses and brunches during CPW, so feel free to take a look!

  19. Piper '12 says:

    @MG ’15 – I have not read The Idea Factory. What sorts of attitudes are you worried about?

  20. MG '15 says:

    @Piper ’12
    Thanks! I can’t wait til CPW!

  21. Austin says:

    @Piper
    Well, I’m just thinking that the word “queer” would leave out people who are questioning and maybe even bisexual students. They may not feel like they are REALLY that different enough to be called queer. After all, they haven’t really plunged into that world yet. LGBTQ (whatever the order) seems a bit more neutral.

    Personally, I feel like the word “queer” can feel somewhat derogatory and have negative connotations.

  22. MG '15 says:

    How difficult is it to maintain a relationship and survive the tough course load? (and yes I realize it all comes down to time management which seems to be a theme with Admissions here)

    Also, has anybody read The Idea Factory by Pepper White and has the attitude towards women exponentially improved? (I’m somewhat apprehensive about discrimination as I am a woman, queer, and disabled)

  23. Austin says:

    @Piper ’12 I can see what you mean.
    What does the A stand for anyway?

    In addition, if I get accepted to MIT, I’ll be sure to check The Rainbow Longe out at CPW.

  24. Piper '12 says:

    I’ve heard “A” as standing for either ally or asexual.

    Hope I see you both there! smile

  25. MG '15 says:

    @Austin,
    “A” is for “ace” or asexual
    Also best of luck!

  26. Albert says:

    I loved this blog post. Apart from MIT being a great school, one of the things that made me want to apply was the gay-friendly environment. If it’s as welcoming as I’ve read, I’d love to make MIT my alma mater, especially since I don’t come from such an accepting country.