A welcoming effort

Jimena Almendares Dorantes, MBA ’11, brings You Are Welcome Here campaign back to life

As you walk around the MIT campus, take a look at the new, colorful “You Are Welcome Here” cards that can be seen on office doors and windows. According to Jimena Almendares Dorantes, MBA ’11, the organizer who helped re–launch the campaign, these cards stand for openness and diversity at MIT.

The campaign was developed years ago to show people with diverse backgrounds that they are welcome at MIT. Cards with rainbow colors and the words “You Are Welcome Here, LBGT@MIT” were seen in many offices across campus. However, with new faculty and staff, thousands of incoming students per year, new programs, several new buildings, and people moving to different offices, the campaign gradually lost visibility and momentum.

Given the recent suicides of several gay youths across the country, Jimena saw this lack of awareness —and compassion in some cases—as a problem she could act on. “You never know who is dealing with stressful problems related to diversity,” Jimena noted. “One out of 10 students who are members of the LBGT community drop out of school because of bullying; moreover, recently, I have met MIT undergrads who almost had to quit school after their parents stopped paying for their tuition because they came out to them.” Seeking to improve things for the generations to come, Jimena recruited almost 20 students from all over campus, from undergraduates to postdocs, and organized a new campaign focused on awareness, education, and openness.

With the help of MIT’s Rainbow Lounge, Jimena brought awareness not only to lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender students, faculty, and staff, but also to the vast amount of diversity at MIT. “By creating a new image that featured more than the acronym LBGT, we felt that we could reach out to a larger population,” Jimena said. “Most importantly, we created a website and an informational tri-fold brochure to help educate members of the MIT community so they have a common ground of knowledge concerning sensitive subjects such as transgender issues or practical information on how to deal with someone coming out to you.”

In addition, the group worked with MIT President Susan Hockfield, who has endorsed the campaign. President Hockfield sent a letter to the entire MIT community explaining why the new campaign is important. She encouraged faculty and staff to display the card on doors or in their offices—all in an effort to accept diversity. The “You Are Welcome Here” information was mailed out to 12,000 MIT faculty and staff members, and for the first time in the campaign’s history, to 7,000 residential students. The campaign was able to reach out to a very large population from different backgrounds and countries.

The new brochure has several elements. For instance, it describes what LBGT means; it also outlines 10 steps to becoming an ally to a transgender person and offers many statistics so people know and understand the relevance of acknowledging diversity. Anonymous quotes from people across campus further help to explain the importance of the project and detail people’s experiences with coming out. Jimena noted, “The more I worked on the campaign, the more inspired I was with the testimonies of students, staff, and professors describing what the campaign meant to them. MIT already offers a great support network in terms of resources and student services; however, there are many things that can be improved. Our goal is to see that these types of efforts are relevant and mobilize not only LBGT or diverse students, but the whole community.”

You Are Safe Here

In that respect, Senovio Shish, MBA’11, Jimena, and all of the members of the MIT Sloan LBGT group, are working on bringing “Ally” stickers to the classroom by providing them to MIT Sloan students. Students have placed the colorful stickers on their nameplates to show their support. “I don’t think that overstating that MIT Sloan is a safe and diverse place is a problem. Sometimes people do not come out because they are afraid,” Jimena said.

“You never know what is going through the mind of someone sitting next to you in class. Putting the Ally sticker on your nameplate is a simple gesture, but it means a lot to others who might be afraid or who do not know how others will react. The sticker and the card let everyone know that MIT Sloan is a safe place. That is why this is important and why we need to make an effort to say this is a campus that is open and a community that values diversity,” she said.

Jimena would like to thank all the students, faculty, and staff who worked with her to revitalize the “You Are Welcome Here” campaign. If you would like to participate in the campaign by posting a sign in your office or workspace or would like more information, please e-mail lbgt@mit.edu or visit either Student Life Programs, located in W20-549, 617-253-6777, or the Rainbow Lounge, located in 50-005, 617-253-5440.

Furthermore, the website (yawh.mit.edu) has been updated and enhanced as a resource for everyone. It includes LBGT resources available on MIT’s campus, national LBGT information, proper use of transgender pronouns, and diversity efforts. Other helpful links include: ACLU, the AIDS Action Committee, Student Support Services, and the MIT Omsbuds office. The new website also offers people the opportunity to sign up for a monthly e-newsletter from the group.

Article courtesy of News@MITSloan