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ComMITment event makes the case for international focus on DEI efforts

MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein, in addressing the audience during the ComMITment, began with a note of gratitude to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion staff.

“You’ve done a great job to make a difference in a very short time,” he said. “We’ve learned new things and the school is better for it.” 

The Office of DEI’s ComMITment is its capstone event, an annual speaker series designed to facilitate conversations between members of the MIT Sloan community and global leaders working to combat systemic inequality.

The 2023 ComMITment was held Thursday, February 23 in building E51, the Tang Center’s Wong Auditorium. Dozens of students, faculty, staff, and other members of the MIT and MIT Sloan community, including MIT Chancellor Melissa Nobles and Provost Cynthia Barnhart, braved harsh winter weather to attend.

During a panel moderated by Dean Schmittlein, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Officer, and Jessica Stern, Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Persons, both with the the Department of State, talked about their work on America’s behalf.

Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley (left) and Special Envoy Jessica Stern

“Our diversity, inclusion, and accessibility challenges have been profound and apparent,” Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley began when asked about her role at the Department of State. “It needed an office and a leader that was absolutely focused on it.”

Globally, there’s peril and promise for people who identify as LGBTQI+, according to Special Envoy Stern. “There’s an overwhelming amount of violence and discrimination impacting LGBTQ people around the world,” she noted, while also sounding a note of optimism. 

“All the forms of intolerance are not intractable problems,” she continued. “These are fixable problems.”

The Ambassador and Special Envoy shared that they don’t work alone. 

“We’re trying to change our culture at the Department of State,” the Ambassador said, “which is a highly competitive one.”

“At the State Department we have an incredible cohort,” the Special Envoy continued. “There’s a Special Advisor on International Disability rights and an Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom.”

These and others, the Ambassador and Special Envoy shared, help with a growing workload. “The challenge,” Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley recalled, “is in giving people the tools to train up and train up quickly.”

“The biggest challenge we have is being in high demand,” Special Envoy Stern continued.

Both Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley and Special Envoy Stern sounded hopeful about their work. They lauded colleagues’ and countries’ commitment to inclusive practices and policies for underserved and at-risk populations. 

“The first comment I hear when I travel overseas is ‘I’m glad you’re working on it’,” Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley said. 

Both the Ambassador and the Special Envoy believe they can help create lasting, positive change both at the Department of State and in other countries invested in building more diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces.

Learn more about the importance of inclusive spaces

“The good news is that there is an enormous appetite at the State Department to engage with LGBTQ people and human rights in general,” Special Envoy Stern enthused.

“The work of teaching people to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion or an inclusive foreign policy must start before you get a job as a diplomat,” Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley concluded.