085. SHASS Hack

tldr: feminist hacktivism

This was blogpost #20 on MITAdmissions.

Approximately two weeks ago in Building 14 (the one between Building 2 and just before Hayden Library for those familiar), a hack was put up celebrating the brilliant and diverse faculty, professors, and staff in SHASS. I, for one, think this hack was extremely well done and the end result is beautiful. I will let it speak for itself, with a few comments from members of SHASS.

Before the area was hacked, the wall in Building 14 highlighted several economists such as Joshua Angrist, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Peter Diamond among a few others. And while these economists deserve recognition for their contributions to MIT, well, I think this message from the hackers says it best:

We recognize and appreciate the incredible contributions that the Economics Faculty displayed here have made to both MIT and their fields. However, we disagree with the values inherent in the choices of this display and are recreating it to better reflect the diverse departments and people of SHASS. The specific values and choices we disagree with are as follows:

1. By centering the Department of Economics, this display chooses to center one of the whitest and most male departments in SHASS over other, more diverse departments.

2. By centering the Field of Economics, this display further perpetuates the technical bias pervasive at MIT that the value of a field of research, knowledge, and exploration is linked to its “technical rigor.” SHASS is composed of humanists, artists, and social scientists, but this display reinforces the notation that even in SHASS, the fields involving more technical and scientific modes of inquiry are more valuable and worthy of celebration.

3. By centering the Nobel Prize in Economics, this display is centering an award that has historically had a massive diversity problem and overlooked countless exemplary contributions of women, People of Color, and people from the Global South to their fields and the communities they work with.

This is not to say that the individuals recognized here do not deserve recognition but rather that in choosing to display only these individuals in a corridor dedicated to all of SHASS ignores the contributions of other fields and individuals, particularly those that are not white cis-men.

the hackers

And recreate the display they did. They, without obstructing the posters of the economists mind you, covered the wall with numerous diverse members of SHASS (See MITAdmissions post for photos). The entire list of faculty members added to the display is included at the end of this blogpost.

I reached out to some SHASS faculty and some of the professors included in the new exhibit for comment, and recieved the following:

The Dean’s Office is postponing the installation of a planned new exhibit until this summer, and the hack will stay in play until then. We want that space to celebrate the entire SHASS community, and agree [with the hackers] that excellence comes from across our school.

– Michael Brindley, SHASS Director of Communications


There are so many things I love about the hack in the hallway of Building 14. Although it criticizes MIT, it does so in a thoughtful, positive way, ending with an incitement to celebrate SHASS, and giving a lucid, balanced explanation of the students’ concerns about the current display. The hack is appropriately low-tech: its tool is not technological wizardry but images and the written word, infused with careful critical thinking—a tribute to SHASS in style as well as substance. It provides a great opportunity to reflect on what MIT stands for.

– Kieran Setiya, Philosophy

The hackers concluded their message by welcoming others to create a space that celebrates all of SHASS:

We hope you will join us in reimagining this space as one that represents and highlights the work of all members of SHASS. While the changes we have made have taken a step in that direction, there are still others who we were not able to include here, from SHASS staff to librarians to many of the SHASS affiliated artists. We invite you to contribute the pieces that we overlooked! Add a shout-out to a SHASS professor, lecturer, or affiliate on the chalkboard or print out a page yourself and add it to the wall. Let’s create a space that visualizes and appreciates all of SHASS together.

the hackers

The hack is to be preserved in the Institute Archives.

List of faculty members the wall displayed:
Fox Harrell, Heather Paxson, Erica Caple James, Sulafa Zidani, Eden Medina, Javier Barroso, McKersin Previlus, Lily L. Tsai, Kieran Setiya, Emily Goodling, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Justin Reich, Chakanesta Mavhunga, Fatin Abbas, Manduhai Buyandelger, Marah Gubar, Sandy Alexandre, Deborah Fitzgerald, Sally Haslanger, Jennifer S. Light, Takako Aikawa, Justin Khoo, Athulya Aravind, Eric J. Goldberg, Wiebke Denecke, Keeril Makan, Michael DeGraff, Charlotte Barthwaithe, Natalie Lin Douglas, Lynn Chang, Emma Teng, Ellen T. Harris, Michael Scott Cuthbert, Tamar Schapiro, Lerna Ekmekeioglu, Graham M. Jones, Sana Aiyar, Melissa Nobles, Ariel White, Mai Hassan, Sabine Iatridou, Nazli Choucri, Héctor Beltrán, Kenneth Manning, and many more that others have added on over the week!

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

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