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Huma Gupta Celebrated as Graduate Woman of Excellence

The Office of Graduate Education recently honored Huma Gupta as one of the 2019 Graduate Women of Excellence at their biennial celebration on Monday, April 29. Huma and her fellow honorees were nominated by members of the MIT community, and selected based on their leadership and service contributions, dedication to mentoring, and commitment to improving the student experience. Huma is currently completing her PhD dissertation with the History, Theory, and Criticism Group of the Department of Architecture. Her dissertation, titled The State Between Dwelling & Building: Sarifa Settlements and the Formation of Modern Iraq, investigates "the architectural, political, and environmental history of Baghdad’s informal built environment, often improperly designated as sarifa settlements, and the rural migrants residing there from the 1930s to the 1960s."

Huma previously received her Master’s in City Planning from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. After graduating in 2011, she worked as a project coordinator for the NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan, where she monitored the quality of clinics, roads, and schools in various communities throughout Afghanistan. Such structures “were constructed by irresponsible contractors and negligent international donors” and were the focus of her 2011 master’s thesis. “In this way I was able to translate my scholarship into the realm of practice, and after two years, bring my experiences back to the university,” Huma writes.

Since returning to MIT, Huma has been actively involved in the University’s Graduate Student Council. She served as the chair of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee, the largest of the council’s executive committees, from 2015 to 2016. As chair, she organized a petition to expand graduate students’ paid parental leave. By granting parental leave exclusively to birth mothers, Huma argued that the policy “discriminated against gay couples, biologically-defined males, adoptive parents, and those who had a child placed in their custody by the courts.” After years of advocacy, the parental leave policy was expanded in 2018.

Huma has also served as a Graduate Student Representative on the Student & Affiliate Health Insurance Advisory Committee. She assisted in keeping health insurance co-payments for graduate students and premiums for their children affordable. The committee also obtained improved dental insurance for students through Blue Cross Blue Shield.

During the ceremony on Monday, each honoree prepared a poster discussing their work and life story. Of her vision of the future, Huma wrote: “I became an ardent activist when I was 13. The subjects of my scholarship are deeply political projects that seek to intellectually deconstruct a given ‘reality’—a reality which is deeply unjust and unequal. So far, I have been deconstructing the alleged problem of the migrant and the problem of informal settlements. I hope in the future to become a public intellectual who is able to fundamentally transform how migrants and low-income neighborhoods are dealt with by the state on both a discursive and policy level.”