Racism Research Fund

Deepening our understanding of the complexities of systemic racism, illuminating its deleterious impact on American life and society, and devising methods to mitigate or eliminate its effects.

In July, 2020 MIT outlined steps to address systemic problems regarding racial equity at the Institute. As part of the commitment to confront our history, challenge common assumptions, and incorporate previously marginalized voices, the Institute made an initial $1 million commitment to invest in antiracist research at MIT.  The goal is to seed new research, amplify existing research, create links between related efforts across MIT, and establish connections with researchers at other institutions.

The Investment

In 2021, the Office of the Provost provided a $150,000 grant to support the Initiative on Combatting Systemic Racism, bringing together faculty and researchers from all five MIT schools and the college, as well as partner institutions, with the aim of using big data to develop and harness computational tools that can help effect structural and normative change toward racial equity.

In spring 2022, the Provost also established a $1.2M pool for new research to pursue related goals. Dean of the School of Science Nergis Mavalvala and Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Agustin Rayo co-led a selection committee tasked with reviewing proposals that will then be selected for funding. 

The initial round of successful proposals was announced to the MIT faculty in spring 2023 (details on the projects are available below). They represent schools and departments from across the Institute.

The selection committee for AY24 Racism Research Fund projects: 

  • Fotini Christia, Ford International Professor in the Social Sciences; and Director, MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center
  • Karilyn M. Crockett, Assistant Professor of Urban History, Public Policy, & Planning and Chief Equity Officer, City of Boston
  • John Dozier, Institute Community & Equity Officer, MIT
  • Kuheli Dutt, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, School of Science
  • Malick Ghachem, Associate Professor and Research Affiliate at the Center for International Studies
  • Daniel E. Hastings, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Ray Reagans, Sloan Professor of Management, Professor, Work and Organization Studies, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

AY24 Racism Research Fund projects: 

Between-Organization Segregation and Anticipatory Discrimination

The project aims to examine how Black and other marginalized groups interpret and respond to work environments where they anticipate racist treatment, known as anticipatory discrimination, by conducting survey experiments to test and validate the influence of anticipatory discrimination for different groups. 

Victoria Yiluan Zhang, graduate student in Economic Sociology at MIT-Sloan, with Susan Silbey, Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology, and Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences 

Economics Transformation Project

The goal of the project is to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive field of economics by reducing the racial and gender imbalance in economics to better represent society. It also aims to bolster the relevance of the field’s research questions, the strength of its findings, the resulting conclusions it draws, and the policies it impacts.

Laura Feeney, Co-Executive Director of J-PAL North America, with Amy Finkelstein, the John & Jennie S. MacDonald Professor of Economics, MIT Department of Economics

Explaining Systemic Racial Disparities in Personal Bankruptcy Outcomes

The project investigates the role of systemic racial bias in explaining racial disparities in personal bankruptcy outcomes. The research will also improve the precision and credibility of algorithms imputing race and drive future work on the long-run effects of bankruptcy debt relief and failed bankruptcy filings.

Christopher Palmer, Albert and Jeanne Clear Career Development Assistant Professor, Sloan Finance (matching funds for this project were provided by the MIT Sloan School of Management)

Improving Organ Procurement for Health Equity

The project aims to improve both the efficiency and equity of the organ procurement process, helping organ procurement organizations (OPOs) procure more life-saving organs for Black, Indigenous, or other people of color who have end-stage diseases. The research will focus on an audit of OPOs and on developing computational methods to help OPOs improve their outreach to donors from these communities, with the goal of improving equity in the organ-transplant allocation process.

Hammaad Adam, graduate student, Social & Engineering Systems, IDSS, with Marzyeh Ghassemi, Herman L. F. von Helmholtz Career Development Professorship, Assistant Professor EECS and IMES

Studying the Impact of Police Surveillance on Racial Bias Using Open Data

This project will develop the first country-wide study to measure the effects of new technologies on racial biases in law enforcement using large open-source data sets. Building on the public data published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the project will follow the adoption of policing technologies – including face recognition, drones, body-worn cameras, predictive policing, and home-security partnerships – across more than two thousand police departments between 2000 and 2022.

Fabio Duarte, principal research scientist, DUSP with Fotini Christia Ford International Professor of the Social Sciences and Director, MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center 

Designing a More Inclusive Retirement Savings System

The project will investigate the extent to which the U.S. retirement systems and tax codes exacerbate racial wealth disparities at the expense of Black and Hispanic households and quantify how changing the design of retirement savings incentives and other plan features can help address racial wealth inequality. 

Taha Choukhmane, Class of 1947 Career Development Assistant Professor, Sloan Finance with Lawrence Schmidt, Victor J. Menezes (1972) Career Development Assistant Professor of Finance, Sloan Finance

Witnessing Comics for Social Justice

The project explores the concept of witnessing through the medium of comics via a collaboration with participants from Fenway High School, which serves a racially diverse community in Boston, many from low-income backgrounds. The project will focus on participants’ experiences and firsthand accounts as the basis for a comic book anthology, and it will use comics to explore issues of social justice such as racial and gender equity, climate change, and economic inequality. 

Kenneth R. Manning, Thomas Meloy Professor of Rhetoric and of the History of Science, Comparative Media Students and Writing with Mauricio A. Cordero, Lecturer, Comparative Media Studies/Writing (CMS/W) and Tracie Jones-Barrett, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, SHASS