Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum.
When Shirley Jackson arrived at MIT in the mid 60’s, she was one of only a few Black students on campus. She noticed a group of White girls working on physics problems and asked to join them. One of the girls responded, “go away.” Jackson said when the group rejected her she went back to her dorm room, cried, got herself together and finished her homework alone. Her 9 years at MIT would be isolating but successful. Dr. Jackson became the first Black woman to receive a PhD from MIT in any field and the 2nd woman in the US to earn a PhD in Physics. While at MIT, Dr. Jackson helped organize the first Black Student Union on campus where they drafted proposals to encourage recruitment of more Black students. During her graduate work, Dr. Jackson traveled the Midwest on behalf of the University to recruit minority students. It was MITs first minority recruitment program ever. One year later 57 Black freshmen enrolled at MIT. To help the freshmen succeed, Dr. Jackson started a summer program to provide them academic support realizing many of them were the first to attend college in their families. More than 2,000 students have participated in the program since its inception. Dr. Jackson left MIT after getting her PhD and worked in business, and for the government, serving Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She is currently the first female and first Black president of Rensselar Polytechnic Institute where she was charged with transforming the school into a worldclass research and tech university. Faced with heavy opposition including an attempt to get her fired, Dr. Jackson persevered and is in her 19th year as the university’s president. She is also the highest paid president among private university presidents in the nation. Dr. Jackson reminds us that rejection is a part of the journey. What we do with it determines our legacy.