Any college campus can be an intimidating place. Feelings of isolation are not uncommon for undergraduate and even graduate students. For black women on campus, that sense of disengagement is often heightened. MIT wanted to address this issue while supporting the continued success of its black women students. This was the impetus behind the collaborative initiative, My Sister’s Keeper, launched last year with the goal of building community for black women at MIT.
"We wanted something unique," says Helen Elaine Lee, Director of the MIT Program in Women's and Gender Studies (WGS) and Founder of the initiative. "We hope to provide emotional and psychological support, foster kinship and community, strengthen academic performance, and cultivate engagement in social, political, and cultural matters beyond the classroom."
"I remember what it was like to be a college student in a new environment," says Karinthia Louis, a program manager for MIT Sloan Executive Education who also serves on the planning committee for My Sister's Keeper. "You're away from home, you automatically feel out of place. It's easy to stay in your bubble. My Sister's Keeper can change that by offering a variety of memorable experiences to bring black women on campus together."
The group's inaugural gathering last fall drew more than 160 people to the R&D Commons on campus. Attendees were surveyed about what they most wanted from the organization, and the responses revealed that black women students want someone they can turn to for mentoring and advice.
The organization has created "sister circles" to provide this connection--small groups of five or six students, staff, and faculty united by common interests. The circles are encouraged to meet regularly and share experiences. Each circle deliberately teams undergraduates with at least two older women. "Our goal is to build bonds and mentoring relationships. But we also want it to be mutual, so that we can learn from each other," say Louis.