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‘Dreamer’ Journeys to the State House

In 2001, 14-year-old Danillo “Dan” Sena ’19 moved to Massachusetts as an undocumented immigrant from Brazil. Today he is the Honorable Danillo Sena, a state representative from Acton, Massachusetts, after handily winning a special election in June.

Sena family with campaign signs. The young daughter’s sign reads: “Vote for my dad.”

Photo courtesy

“The fact that I’m the first Brazilian and first Latino immigrant elected from this district shows people want a change and a different kind of leadership,” he told CommonWealth Magazine.

Sena’s journey from a farming community in northeastern Brazil to Massachusetts lawmaker is an American dream story—and Sena calls himself a “dreamer.” He applied for and received protection from deportation under the federal program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Sena became a U.S. citizen in 2018, and completed his bachelor’s degree in political science in 2019. He worked for State Senator Jamie Eldridge as a district director and legislative liaison for six years, and said the need for immigration legislation at the state level was part of his motivation to enter politics. Sena’s campaign website asserted that his win sends “a strong signal that the democratic values about opportunity, hard work, and inclusiveness are alive and well in Massachusetts.”



Complex Problems, Complex Solutions

With the coronavirus pandemic shining a light on health disparities, housing insecurity, and many other issues, it’s clearer than ever how complicated the big problems of the world can be. That’s why the Institute of Diversity Sciences takes a multidisciplinary approach to solving them. Program Manager Leyla Keough-Hameed ’08PhD says, “We’re interested in bringing together scientists, engineers, technologists, people from all around campus and all the Five Colleges in order to tackle some of these really big social problems.”

One such project funded by the institute this year brings together a sociologist and a public health scientist to examine how everyday police discrimination impacts Black people’s health and aging. Other recent projects have focused on biodiversity’s connection to wellness and how to price clean energy at a rate that maximizes implementation while remaining affordable.

In addition to addressing important issues related to health, the environment, and social equity, the institute also seeks to prepare a diverse new generation of STEM students for the workplace. “All of these projects involve students—either graduate students, undergrads, or a combination of both—and the mission there is to have students see how science and engineering really make a difference in the real world through what they're learning in the project,” says Director Nilanjana “Buju” Dasgupta. “They’re learning the technical skills of how to do the project, but it’s not abstract or made up. It’s something that is really meaningful.”

“Our second mission is really to grow the next generation of diverse STEM students and workers in Massachusetts,” says Keough-Hameed. To that end, the institute offers mentoring support through its BRiDGE initiative, which brings scientists from underrepresented backgrounds to speak to current graduate students about research and career development.

Dasgupta sees these two missions as intertwined: “Multidisciplinary STEM research that is focused on equity problems offers exactly the kind of topics that attract underrepresented students and women into STEM.”



Inclusivity Pays

Professor M.V. Lee Badgett of the Department of Economics analyzed the financial cost of discriminatory policies, practices, and environments, and found that they cost countries a staggering 1% or more of their gross domestic product (GDP). In her new book, The Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fair and Equal Treatment Benefits Us All, Badgett outlines just how these policies cost money and offers counterexamples of how inclusivity can increase the bottom line for countries and businesses.

Badgett standing in conference room.

Making a financial argument for LGBT equality might seem novel, but for Badgett, the observation of this insidious problem was personal before it became academic. “I got interested in studying these issues back in the 1990s when I started reading about the stereotype that gay men and lesbians were an affluent elite,” she says. “That never made sense to me. Discrimination makes groups worse off, not better off. As a lesbian, I knew many people who didn’t fit that stereotype.”

Badgett’s book analyzes anti-LGBT practices across multiple countries—including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and the Philippines—revealing how our economies suffer when our LGBT citizens do. When it comes to equality, we shouldn’t need to have a financial incentive. But Badgett’s research gives us a fresh understanding of discrimination’s financial costs.

Learn more about Badgett’s book, and research, in her Q&A with Beacon Broadside.