A campaign for awareness

MIT Sloan’s LGBT Club in national challenge to find campus “allies”

November 14, 2013

Tiana Veldwisch, Jason Shapiro, Alexander Boutelle, Adam Kucharski

Tiana Veldwisch, Jason Shapiro, Alexander Boutelle, Adam Kucharski

A native of Ohio, Adam Kucharski, MBA ’14, didn’t fully appreciate the value of being part of a strong lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community until he spent five years working abroad. “I really came to understand how important it is to have a vibrant gay community,” he said. “In some countries the social stigma is so strong that it’s difficult to be part of a community or to see role models … [and] that’s subtly corrosive.”

At MIT Sloan, Kucharski has dedicated himself to building up the LGBT community and raising its visibility as co-president of the LGBT Club. “I see it as important at MIT Sloan that no one says they’ve never worked with an LGBT student,” he said. “We have the possibility to influence a generation of leaders [at MIT Sloan], and that’s not something I take lightly.”

To help raise awareness of the LGBT community this year, the LGBT Club is participating for the first time in the second annual MBA Ally Challenge, a competition to see which MBA program can most engage “allies”—those outside but sympathetic to the LGBT community—in LGBT concerns. “The premise is that the best way to advocate for LGBT issues is to integrate allies,” Kucharski said. “If a straight person can hear about gay issues from [another] straight person, it changes the conversation.”

Thirteen business schools—including Harvard, Northwestern, and Duke—are participating in this year’s challenge, which is organized by Friendfactor, an LGBT rights organization for straight friends.

“[MIT Sloan] is a very welcoming environment and I’m always appreciative of that,” said LGBT Club co-president Tiana Veldwisch, MBA ’14. “We don’t need to put on our capes and fight crime because it doesn’t happen. But there’s always room for increasing awareness between people of all different sorts.”

The MBA Ally Challenge judges MBA programs based on three criteria: 1) the number of allies who join the LGBT Club after participating in a club-sponsored event; 2) the number of Ally-specific activities held throughout the school year; and 3) the impact of the club’s outreach activities as measured by two Ally surveys on LGBT issues; one taken before the club’s series of events and the other at the end of the year. Survey questions run the gamut from “What’s appropriate to say to someone who has just come out?” to “In how many states can people still be fired or evicted for being gay?” (Answer: 29 states, according to the MBA Ally Challenge baseline survey.)

Already this year, the LGBT Club has held a welcome lunch for 35 (co-sponsored by the Student Life and Admissions offices), gave away cake for National Coming Out Day (October 11), and hosted an “ask anything” event, which featured a panel of five LGBT students who answered questions about their lives and challenges for an audience of more than 70. This event was also co-sponsored by Student Life.

Future events will include a week of activities in February centered on the theme “love is love,” which will culminate in the club’s annual C-Function on February 13, and an observation of the National Day of Silence (April 11), which is an annual day of reflection on anti-LGBT bullying or violence. The club is also planning a “Queer Voices” night of storytelling co-sponsored with The Yarn, an occasional series where students share their own life-changing stories.

Such events provide not only a sense of community for the LGBT Club’s 200-plus members, but also an opportunity for the wider MIT Sloan population to learn more about LGBT issues, which range from marriage parity to job security to estate planning, the club’s co-presidents said.

“[MIT Sloan graduates] are going to be leaders all over the world, and in some places they will be in an environment where the status quo is that you don’t talk about something, or in organizations that explicitly are not pro-equality,” Veldwisch said. “Preparing them to fight the good fight for us is important.”

Kucharski agreed. “I hope there’s a time when we don’t need to call on allies—when most people are naturally allies—but we’re not there yet.”