The Ask Me Anything series at MIT Sloan has been supported by the Student Life Office since 2013, with the goal of creating a comfortable forum for students to discuss subjects such as ethnicity, religion, or sensitive topics in the news. The series enables students and others in the community to openly ask questions that in other circumstances might be awkward or considered inappropriate to ask fellow students. The only ground rules are to be respectful and courteous.
Sahar Dar, MBA ’17, who served as a vice president of the MIT Sloan Student Senate’s new committee on diversity and inclusion last year, worked closely with co-vice president Antony Mirie, MBA ’16, and the Student Life Office to create last year’s Ask Me Anything series. Each hour-long session features a student moderator and a panel of five or six students or staff members willing to field questions from audience members.
Six sessions were held during the past academic year, covering topics ranging from growing up black, Muslim or Latino in the United States to sessions on veterans, sexual orientation, and Jewish life and Israel.
Dar, who will also earn a master’s in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in a three-year dual-degree program, recently discussed her work on the series, which will continue next year.
How do you choose an Ask Me Anything topic?
In some cases, the topics are a result of what is going on in the world; an interesting news article will catch people’s attention and create a buzz about something, prompting students to want to discuss it further. But typically we have partnered with various student groups to plan the talks.
Why is the series important?
The Ask Me Anything series has explored issues of race, origin, gender, sexual identity, and religion. Each program in the series has broken unconscious biases and stereotypes, educated others, and shared the unique perspectives of many of our fellow classmates. It has celebrated the diversity of the MIT Sloan community in a way that very few other programs on campus have done and fostered a culture of inclusiveness. The dialogue generated from these panels was quite meaningful and reached dozens of MIT Sloan students who have felt that the conversations were ones that do not typically come out in traditional business school classes, but are important to developing the interpersonal skills and empathy needed to navigate an increasingly global work environment.
Can you recall a particularly meaningful moment from the series this past year?
I think there have been many. Many people have come up to me after programs and exclaimed, “I never knew that!” or “I would never otherwise have felt comfortable asking that were it not for your program.” It is that kind of feedback that encourages me to keep planning the series.
What other projects are you working on?
I am creating resources for incoming students who are from religious minority backgrounds to provide a more seamless transition to MIT Sloan. I am also working with Jeff Carbone in MIT Sloan Admissions to create Google Hangouts for prospective students and organizing coffee chats across the country with Sloanies in different cities. I served as a vice president of diversity of the MIT Sloan Student Senate this year, and I’m going to be the chief administration officer of the senate next year. I will also continue to work on the Ask Me Anything series.