Meeting to promote cultural transformation

When collaborating with peers in the Netherlands on designs for floating cities or interning with a local community-based environmental justice group, Cindy Xie strives to foster connections among individuals facing the repercussions of interconnected social and environmental challenges.

The MIT senior’s conviction that addressing climate issues requires a joint effort rooted in systemic transformation has propelled her to engage with various community initiatives and embark on educational journeys to places like Malaysia and Cabo Verde to gain insights into the social and cultural dimensions of global environmental shifts.

“In the realm of climate action, there’s a critical imperative for collective transformation. Engaging everyone in crafting solutions is essential,” she emphasizes.

Following her attendance at the Planetary Health Annual Meeting organized by Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur, where she networked with global researchers, practitioners, and students dedicated to tackling human and planetary health challenges, Xie has been actively involved with the Planetary Health Alliance since January 2023.

As a campus ambassador for the Alliance, she has led initiatives at MIT that leverage students’ interests in climate change and health while delving into community-building and holistic well-being concepts.

“Organizing events on campus and bringing individuals together has been my way of translating theoretical concepts into practical action,” she reflects.

Fostering Grassroots Community Bonds

An urban studies and planning major with minors in anthropology and biology, Xie is concurrently pursuing a master’s in city planning through a dual degree program, slated for completion next year.

Her academic pursuits and extensive community engagements have cultivated a comprehensive perspective on public health and environmental issues, encompassing spirituality, arts, and scientific and technological dimensions. “Being at MIT has afforded me the chance to bridge scientific disciplines with other fields,” she remarks.

As a Planetary Health Alliance campus ambassador, Xie orchestrated a club event during Earth Month last year that united climate, health, and social justice organizations from across MIT. Additionally, she spearheaded a year-long series, culminating in the final event last month, titled “Cultural Transformation for Planetary Health,” in collaboration with the Radius Forum and other partners.

Participating in the Alliance’s Constellation Project through a Public Service Fellowship from the PKG Center, Xie refers to it as a proactive endeavor to convene global stakeholders to delve into the intersections of spirituality, climate issues, and planetary health.

Her internships with the Comunidades Enraizadas Community Land Trust, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Wildlife Fund U.S. Markets Institute, coupled with international study programs facilitated by MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), have broadened her horizons. In 2023, she immersed herself in a pilot MISTI Global Classroom initiative in Amsterdam during the Independent Activities Period and later spent two months in Cabo Verde during the summer, contributing to a new research collaboration tracking the impacts of climate change on human health.

The Influence of Narrative

From a young age, Xie gravitated towards storytelling as a means of navigating the juncture of culture and health within diverse communities. This interest propelled her towards exploring medical anthropology and medical humanities, influencing her involvement with the Asian American Initiative.

The AAI, a student-led entity fostering pan-Asian advocacy and community connections on campus, welcomed Xie in 2022. Presently, she holds roles on the executive board and as co-leader of the Mental Health Project Team, sparking conversations on holistic mental health frameworks.

“Conversations around mental health stigma sometimes attribute it to specific communities. It’s crucial to explore alternative models for conceptualizing mental health beyond the individual-centered frameworks prevalent in U.S. higher education,” she remarks.

Conducting a listening tour with Asian American clinicians, experts, and community organizations in Greater Boston last spring, the AAI Mental Health team expanded its network, culminating in volunteering at the Asian Mental Health Careers Day. Engaging with mental health-focused events like the East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference at Yale University and hosting dialogues on family dynamics and stress-induced burnout on campus underscore the group’s commitment to community engagement.

Collaborating with MIT Taara and the South Asian Initiative, AAI recently co-hosted a storytelling night. Xie highlights the profound impact of such gatherings in nurturing collective narratives among peers.

Building Community Ties

Writing, both creatively and analytically, has been a long-standing passion for Xie. Between 2022 and 2023, she contributed to The Yappie, a youth-led publication covering Asian American and Pacific Islander policy and politics. Her written works have been featured in publications like The Tech, MIT Science Policy Review, and MISTI Blogs. Notably, she interviewed the founder of a local streetwear company supporting survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo for MIT’s fashion publication, Infinite Magazine.

Engaging in performances like the “MIT Monologues,” where she presented a spoken word piece encompassing themes of gender, relationships, and race, cemented her passion for creative expression. Her poetry has been published in Sine Theta and featured in MassPoetry’s 2024 Intercollegiate Showcase. Past involvements in the MIT Muses a cappella group and an appreciation for live music enrich her experiences.

Reflecting on her international studies through MISTI, Xie recounts attending a live concert by a Cabo Verdean artist at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. “The vibrant crowd transported me back to Cabo Verde. I’m grateful for these local connections,” she shares.

Post-graduation, Xie aspires to cultivate interdisciplinary bridges, contemplating roles in policy, academia, or hybrid sectors that emphasize partnership-building and alliances. Her global experiences during her tenure at MIT have kindled a keen interest in pursuing international endeavors in the future.

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