Over the course of the past academic year, anyone who walked down the corridor of the north wing of Building 14 would have noticed the large image of a language tree on the poster board outside of 14N-310.

Next to the poster were four signs with different colored pins in each, reading “what is your native language?”, “what is your second language?”, “what is your third language?” and “what language are you learning now?”.  As such, students, staff, faculty, teachers, and all passersby were prompted to interact with the display by finding the leaves on the tree on which the languages they speak were written and putting the appropriately colored pin on those leaves. To what end was this invocation aiming?

The project was launched to spark engagement with the community in a way that is directly relevant to the mission and values of GSL. To wit, many GSL faculty and instructors enthusiastically embraced this cross-cultural exercise and took time from their classes to bring their students to the tree.  Participation, however, was not limited only to those affiliated with the section. Our Building 14 colleagues and visitors were invited to take part and share something of their cultural backgrounds and experiences.

Likewise, the activity was extended to all of the Cambridge campus for Random Acts of Kindness Week in March. Enticed by the promise of collecting a baby cactus or a mochi treat, dozens from across the Institute turned up find their languages with the colored pins.

By the end of the spring term, the activity proved to be quite popular and successful. Over three hundred blue pins, used to indicate one’s native language, were affixed to the leaves of forty-nine languages, with pink, green, and orange pins stuck to those and even more.

While English and Spanish were the mostly commonly indicated languages, the variety of all languages that were pinned offers a powerful and dynamic symbol of MIT’s richly diverse and truly global community.

A fresh tree will be posted in August to kick-off the academic season, starting a new tradition of bringing people together through a common appreciation for cultural expression and diversity.