MIT Hired Six New Diversity Deans. Two of Them Are Serial Plagiarists, Complaint Alleges.

In dissertation titled 'Cite a Sista,' Tracie Jones-Barrett stole an entire passage on 'ethical considerations' from her classmate

Tracie Jones-Barrett (, Alana Anderson (LinkedIn)
May 14, 2024

In June 2021, a year into the cultural aftershocks of George Floyd's death, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set out to meet the moment, as so many other schools had, by hiring more diversity officers.

MIT welcomed six new deans of diversity, equity, and inclusion, one for each of the institute's main schools, as part of a "DEI Strategic Action Plan" launched the previous year. Aimed at boosting the representation of women and minorities, in part by developing DEI criteria for staff performance reviews, the plan pledged to "make equity central" to the university "while ensuring the highest standards of excellence."

But according to a 71-page complaint filed with the university on Saturday, at least two of the six DEI officials may not be living up to those standards. The complaint alleges that Tracie Jones-Barrett and Alana Anderson are serial plagiarists, copying entire pages of text without attribution and riding roughshod over MIT's academic integrity policies.

In her 2023 dissertation titled "Cite a Sista," which explored how black women in the Ivy League "make meaning of thriving," Jones-Barrett, MIT’s deputy "equity officer," lifts a whole section on "ethical considerations" from Emmitt Wyche III, her classmate in Northeastern University's Graduate School of Education, without any sort of citation.

The section is one of several long passages taken from Wyche's 2020 thesis, "Boyz in the Hoods: (Re) Defining the Narratives of Black Male Doctoral Degree Completers," which does not appear in Jones-Barrett's bibliography. Wyche and Jones-Barrett did not respond to requests for comment.

Anderson, who served as the diversity czar for MIT's computer science college until last year, when she left to become Boston Beer Company's inclusion and belonging program manager, likewise copied copious material from other scholars. Her 2017 dissertation, "#BLACKONCAMPUS: A Critical Examination of Racial and Gender Performances of Black College Women on Social Media," lifts over a page of material from Mark Chae, a professor of counseling at Pillar College, who is not cited anywhere in her dissertation.

"It would have been nice to at least get a citation!" Chae told the Washington Free Beacon in an email. "Anderson seems quite comfortable in taking credit for large portions of another writer's scholarly work."

Anderson, who held DEI posts at Boston University and Babson College before coming to MIT, lifts another long passage from Jarvis Givens, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, without an in-text citation. The omissions appear to violate MIT's plagiarism policy, which states that scholars must cite their sources any time they "use the words, ideas, or phrasing of another person."

MIT did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In total, the two diversity deans lifted about 10 full pages of material without attribution, according to the complaint, as well as dozens of shorter passages sprinkled throughout their theses.

Like former Harvard University president Claudine Gay, who resigned in January amid her own plagiarism scandal, Anderson even stole language from another scholar's acknowledgments, copying phrases and sentences used by Khalilah Shabazz, now a diversity official at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, to thank her dissertation advisers.

Anderson's acknowledgments contain several typos not seen in Shabbaz's, including missing words and commas and a lack of subject-verb agreement.

Givens and Shabbaz did not respond to requests for comment. Anderson, who received her Ph.D. from Boston College's school of education, did not respond to a request for comment. Boston Beer Company did not respond to a request for comment.

Saturday's complaint, which was submitted to Boston College and Northeastern University alongside MIT, is the latest in a string of plagiarism allegations against campus diversity officials. Since Gay's resignation, DEI officers at Harvard, Columbia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have been accused of research misconduct. Some, such as Columbia medical school's Alade McKen and UCLA medical school's Natalie Perry, copied pages of material from various sources—including Wikipedia—while others passed off old studies as new work.

The accused administrators have not been publicly sanctioned by their universities, which have either declined to comment on the allegations or issued statements in support of the officials. The complaint against Anderson and Jones-Barrett may be harder for MIT to brush aside, however, given the school's high-profile efforts to distance itself from DEI in the post-October 7 era.

The institute said this month that it would no longer require diversity statements from candidates applying to faculty positions, making it the first elite university to jettison the practice. It also led the way in restoring SAT requirements after many colleges went test-optional in an effort to boost diversity.

The pushback has come largely from MIT faculty and been driven, in part, by a sense that DEI programs excuse and even encourage anti-Semitism. An April article in MIT's faculty newsletter noted that an event on "Jewish inclusion" had whitewashed the rhetoric of the school's pro-Palestinian protesters, who have occupied campus buildings, called for "Intifada revolution," and allegedly chanted "death to Zionists."

"Jewish students," a blurb for the DEI event read, "are encountering much of the same discomfort that other minorities face on campus and in the world, in that they don't feel heard or acknowledged."

The two dissertations at issue are strikingly derivative, cobbled together from classmates, online sources, and even a book's dust jacket, and at times read like replicas of their unattributed source material.

Jones-Barrett's summary of her dissertation, for example, is nearly identical to the summary Wyche provides of his own. Both papers use "semi-structured interviews" to "gather insights" from black graduates of Ph.D. programs about their "subjective experiences" of "meaning-making," or, as Wyche misspells it, "mean-making." The primary difference is that Wyche's study deals with black men, while Jones-Barrett's deals with black women.

"This study, the first of its kind[,] uses Black Feminist Thought as a framework to explore and investigate how Black women at Ivy League graduate schools of education make meaning of thriving," reads the first sentence of Jones-Barrett's dissertation, which is missing a comma. "There are limited studies that center the voices of Black women at Ivy League graduate schools and there are no studies that look specifically at Ivy League graduate schools of education."

Jones-Barrett, who has taught courses at Harvard Extension School and was initially hired as the assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion for MIT's humanities school, also poached a passage on "potential research bias" from Wyche—now a DEI consultant who describes himself on LinkedIn as a "status quo disrupter"—which asserts that "it is nearly impossible for the researcher to isolate their experiences from the investigative process."

He's not the only classmate Jones-Barrett appears to have plagiarized: On the first page of her dissertation, she lifts an entire paragraph from Scott Fitzsimmons, who earned his Ph.D. in education from Northeastern in 2021, without attribution, swapping out "rural EMS leaders" for "Black women in graduate programs." Fitzsimmons declined to comment.

Anderson, meanwhile, lifts several paragraphs from a 2016 ThinkProgress article about her alma mater, Boston College, from which some of her study's interview subjects were drawn. That plagiarism undercuts her effort to prevent the school, to which she refers with a pseudonym, from being identified—a possible violation of the study's consent form, which promised participants that no "identifying information" would be disclosed.

Boston College and Northeastern University did not to requests for comment.

Anderson—who runs her own consultancy that offers "scientifically-based" DEI programming—also borrows three sentences from the dust jacket of Ebony and Ivy, a 2013 book by MIT historian Craig Wilder, who is only cited in one of the sentences and whose words do not appear in quotation marks.

Like many of the authors plagiarized by Gay, Wilder defended Anderson's decision to copy his work, writing in an email that he didn't think a citation was necessary.

"I cannot imagine why anyone would cite a dust jacket, nor do I see the urgency of criminalizing the failure to do so," Wilder told the Free Beacon. "I'm honored," he added, when other scholars "find inspiration from my publications."