Danielle Geathers made history in May when she was elected Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) first Black female student body president in its 159-year history. The 20-year-old Miami native also has roots that stretch across the Atlantic to Bahamian shores.
Her maternal great-grandmother, Isabella Miller-Russell, was born on New Providence. Her grandmother’s paternal grandmother, Lillian Sarah Aranah, was born in Green Castle, Eleuthera; and her paternal grandmother’s grandfather, Solomon McKenzie, was born on San Salvador.
Geathers was elected into office in May at the prestigious university known for its engineering program, ushering in a new era in student government, with diversity and transparency at the top of her platform. Adding to the strength of her ticket, Geathers chose a fellow activist, an Asian-American woman, to round out the most diverse administration in MIT’s history of student government leadership.
“I see the Undergraduate Association (UA) as an underutilized engagement tool that will be essential as MIT designs and implements its plans for COVID-19,” said Geathers. “I am excited about the opportunity to amplify underrepresented student voices and make the UA more visible as a both resource and efficient communication channel.”
She told The Nassau Guardian that she was “humbled and honored” to serve her community.
“There have been a couple Black males in the past, but I’m the first Black female.”
She ultimately prevailed because of her message of unity, equity and authenticity, which she said she plans to demonstrate by uniting and amplifying the voice of the multicultural student body who she ran to empower.
In her first year, she felt MIT’s student government was less than supportive of its incoming freshmen. Geathers says she will spend the next year putting systems in place to ensure future freshman are given the foundation they need to succeed within student life.
The student government president with Bahamian roots says she looks forward to being more effective and really making sure that all students at MIT feel supported by the student government.
“I think, honestly, with great power comes great responsibility, so I am excited to be able to bring diversity and equity and inclusion efforts to the forefront of our student government’s policy initiatives, especially given the events of today.”
Geathers, a mechanical engineering major, finished her sophomore year with a recruitment project to purchase and send 250 books recommended by current MIT students, to potential Class of 2024 members, as well as launching Talented Ten, a program she created to increase the matriculation rate of Black women at MIT.
She is focused on shifting the student government to have a bigger policy focus, as well as a larger impact regarding national issues such as COVID-19 and racial inequality.
Geathers assumes the presidency during an unprecedented era with the new coronavirus global health pandemic. She says a lot of her time is now spent in meetings with MIT administrators, and they were still working out whether in-person learning would resume in the fall. She anticipates a decision being arrived at by mid-summer, and says that MIT is passionate about having students involved in the process.
Geathers was elected in a tight race; she ultimately prevailed by approximately 28 votes in an election cycle that saw her working social media during the COVID-19 era.
“I would be on my computer for like 12 hours a day trying to contact people, trying to post on social media. It was really intense. One of the good things was, I was involved in student government this past year before I was elected president and so MIT actually came to us asking about what academic grading policy we should take. I was one of the people advocating for what’s called pass or no record. It’s like a P if you get 60 or above, so luckily, I advocated for that, because if we had grades during the campaign season I definitely would not have been able to have like half as good as a campaign as I had, and either way, my grades would probably have suffered. It would have been impossible, just considering how many hours I needed to spend talking to constituents and trying to reach the student body.”
When the school resorted to online learning in the wake of the coronavirus, Geathers said MIT made learning really accessible in terms of recording the lectures and having them up, having everything the students needed posted on their site and also taking into account time zone issues.
“So, no matter where you were, information was accessible. I also was really lucky I only had one final. If I had three, I had no idea how I would have studied. One was doable.”
On election day, by the time it was all said and done and people had stopped voting, Geathers says she took a self-care day.
“I just took a day to lay out, hang out with my mom [and] do a brunch,” she said.
“There was a lot of anxiety that initially just left my body once I saw that I’d won. But then pretty quickly, anxiety came back because our student government was like six weeks behind because of COVID-19, so I had a lot of work that people usually have about four weeks to do that I was forced to do in one week. But it was okay. We had a lot of planning to do. So, it was like right away, let’s get to work.”