For the first time in its 159-year history, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the top-rated university in the world, has elected a Black woman as president of the student body.
Mechanical engineering student Danielle Geathers, also a defender for the MIT soccer team, won the election to lead the Undergraduate Association in May, alongside running mate Yu Jing Chen.
“Although some people think it is just a figurehead role, figureheads can matter in terms of people seeing themselves in terms of representation,” the second-year student told CNN. “Seeing yourself at a college is kind of an important part of the admissions process.”
Geathers served as the Undergraduate Association’s diversity officer in her first year at MIT. This was part of her motivation for running, with friends telling her that one of the problems with the US is that people who care about equity “never want to run for the main role because they think they’re not for it,” as reported in the Miami Herald.
“In terms of coming from that diversity space and being focused on promoting equity across MIT, it would kind of be important to have someone in the president’s role who’s focused on that,” Geathers added to CNN.
Around 6 percent of MIT’s undergrads are Black, and just under half (47 percent) are women. Earlier this year, Geathers was funded by the Black Alumni of MIT’s funding programme for a project to address the under-representation of Black female students at the university. Called the Talented Ten programme, Geathers’ initiative will bring 10 young Black women students to MIT for advice on the admissions process and allow them to sit in on a few classes.
As MIT students have been at home since March, protected from the coronavirus pandemic, Geathers did most of her campaigning online. CNN says that her term as president has already started, including participation in discussions about how university life will return in the autumn.
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