Interview with Ceasar McDowell


This Wednesday I interviewed Ceasar McDowell, a professor within MIT’s Urban Studies department. He has done a profound amount of work over the years on issues like rent control and working to create community awareness on gentrification, in areas such as Central and Roxbury Crossing. He spoke that a central issue with gentrification was that it can creep in without people realizing it: developer’s projects are often reviewed on a one-by-one basis, and it can be hard for communities to be aware of the holistic effects of these development projects in terms of transforming the socioeconomic landscape of existing communities. His work relates to giving communities a channel to communicate with each other and be aware of the overall impact of development projects in a way that allows them to make decisions that will protect their community members.

He views the biggest challenge associated with addressing gentrification and displacement in Boston is increasing civic engagement of people who are most affected by these issues. He spoke about how organizations surrounding these issues often are not diversely represented by people who are most affected – and works towards spreading the engagement and education process to these communities by incorporating information in a way that would allow them to encounter them in a day-to-day setting: at banks, libraries, public transportation, etc.

One thing that we also talked about was the role of MIT in gentrifying the Cambridge area. He notes that although MIT is an academic institution and often is thought of as benevolent, its role and motives in terms of occupying space in Cambridge is also that of any other real estate developer. As someone who represents MIT, he and other professors in his department feel it’s necessary to take action and be involved in the conversation surrounding MIT’s impact on gentrification, mentioning he and other professors are involved in spaces such as the Cambridge Citizens Alliance.


Link to interview:

Interview w/ Caroline Mak

Caroline giving a speech in a meeting for Our Revolution -  Cambridge.

Caroline giving a speech in a meeting for Our Revolution – Cambridge.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Mak, a fellow MIT student of the class of 2018, and an eager student activist working in the MIT community and the greater Cambridge community. We started off talking about Caroline’s journey towards being more engaged in activism in the realm of local politics and voter registration. Previous to coming to college she considered herself generally disengaged from politics, found that her journey towards activism started by being inspired by Bernie’s sanders political campaign and integrating it within the MIT community. After registering to vote, she realized the process was super easy, and then was inspired to start helping others register in MIT. Over the course of several months she helped get students involved in Bernie’s campaign through mailing lists, restarted the MIT Democrats group (which had been dormant for 13 years), and worked on a app called VoteMate to facilitate the process of getting people engaged in politics through being registered to vote. Post-election, she also helped create an installation in MIT’s Lobby 7, allowing students to write their fears and thoughts about the election results on the lobby pillars. She also began to be involved in the greater Cambridge community – she worked with the group Our Revolution, which built off of Bernie’s Campaign in light of post-election results to continue momentum for action and organization on a community level. Many of the experiences she valued from being in this group deal with being able to meet such a diverse group of activists from all over, with assorted passions and backgrounds.

Caroline hopes to get people more involved politically – and in the interview mentioned that one of her biggest accomplishments was being able to narrow down what specific community she wants to see this change in. She hopes to be able to focus her energy on making the MIT community more socially active – with voter registration being one of the simplest, yet most impactful ways of getting individuals involved. Additionally, she hopes of implementing a pyramid-type structure of activists within MIT’s community among different departments that can help point people to relevant resources and opportunities to get involved, from very small actions such as registering to vote, to larger actions such as organizing events.

Caroline’s hope for the future is to see some of the passionate and committed young activists she’s met get recognition as leaders within governmental positions. She really hopes by 2030 that people taking office, both local and national, will reflect more diverse identities and experiences.


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You can listen to the interview here.

About me – Jackie

Hi, nice to meet you all! My name is Jackie, a junior in computer science at MIT. I went into MIT hoping to explore some intersection of art, design, and technology. Three years of being here is more than enough to help me understand that this intersection is actually extremely broad. Recently I’ve honed my academic focus to the realm of designing and implementing user interfaces, and some of my personal interests lie in reflecting on how the sometimes subtle visual and social cultures that are embedded into digital systems reflect or shape the lived experiences of humans. I’m also interested in art of a variety of media, and particularly enjoy art that involves combining tech with some sort of unexpected emotional rawness.

While not necessarily a direct social movement per-se, I find online art-collectives/ “aesthetic” groups a really interesting phenomena. Here is an example of one called “Cybertwee”:
It basically seeks to be a contrast to the dominant idea of what cyberpunk is (gritty and nihilistic), by proposing a cuter alternative. In addition to groups like this tending to be inclusive communities, I think embedded into these visual ideas is the idea of making technology more inclusive for people who don’t fall into masculine identities, and expanding the definition of what it looks like to engage with tech.