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Black frosh enrollment drops

Only 3.8 percent of MIT's freshman class is black -- the lowest black percentage in 10 years, according to statistics from the MIT Office of Admissions. Black enrollment has dropped from 65 students last year to only 40 in the Class of 1989.

"There is a very dramatic drop this year in black enrollment; it's very disturbing," said Michael C. Behnke, director of admissions. "We have had relatively decent success recruiting students in other minorities."

Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and American Indians are still extremely underrepresented, he said. MIT considers only these groups to be minorities.

"Quite frankly, it seems to me that the Admissions Office is not spending enough time recruiting blacks," said Nate Whitmal '86, member of MIT's Black Students' Union. "Not enough blacks are interested in coming to MIT ... They have comparable ability to other students.

"But black applicants think, `I'm a black person and I'm applying to this prestigious institution that has been predominantly white for over a hundred years, and so they may not be interested in me,' " he continued. "They don't bother applying to MIT because they don't think they'll get in."

MIT -- with a 25 percent minority student body -- has one of the highest total minority percentages in the country. But the large number of minority students is caused mostly by Asian-Americans, he said.

The Office of Admissions employs an associate director to focus on minority recruitment, a higher post than at most universities, according to Behnke. Recruiters give presentations at high schools with significant minority or women enrollment whenever possible.

MIT uses an affirmative action program in judging applications, Behnke said. "We don't admit anyone who is not a good candidate. But given the pool of strong applicants, we try to admit minority students.

"The goal is to admit as many as possible," he added. "The pool of black applicants was not as good as it has been in past years. Also, nationally, the numbers of black students going on to college declined" from 32 percent in 1977 to 28 percent in 1984, he explained. "And less blacks took the PSAT, from which we base our recruitment ... There has been a drop from 1973 to 1984 in black applicants into the Ivy group."

No Puerto Rican students were enrolled at the Institute 25 years ago, according to the Admissions Office. But enrollment in that minority group, unlike black enrollment, has been increasing steadily over the past 25 years. Puerto Rican enrollment at MIT currently stands at above the national average -- nearly two percent of the Class of 1989 are Puerto Rican, more than twice the figures provided by the 1980 national census. American Indian enrollment has been holding steady over the past 8 years.

Blacks composed 11.9 percent of the US population in 1982, according to that year's census. Blacks only compose 3.8 percent of the Class of '89. Harvard University has seven percent black enrollment in its incoming freshman class, while Wellesley College has 6.4 percent.

Similarly, MIT's Mexican-American population has averaged 2.1 percent over the last five years. The 1980 figures indicate a national Mexican-American presence of 3.86 percent, but that is on the rise.

"I don't think MIT recruits anywhere south of San Antonio, or in southern California and Texas where there's a high concentration of Chicanos," said Arnando Bernal '88, president of La Union Chicana por Atzlan. "They don't know that MIT exists; no one's telling them to come here.

"There are only about two percent Chicano students when there should be six percent by national average," he said. "We're planning our own student recruitment program to change things but that's not our job."

Minority students have many difficulties even after enrollment. "It's never very clear why a person is here ... The student never knows whether he's here on merit or affirmative action," Whitmal explained. "Self-confidence is the key to success at MIT. If you think you're not going to do well, you're probably not going to."

He added that "the low visibility of black administrators and professors makes black students feel alienated and alone. You think you're going to have a harder time getting through here because you're black."

Another major problem is lack of finances. "MIT is not recruiting poor Chicanos," Bernal said, "and it is not helping those enrolled to pay. Chicanos haven't been graduating for financial reasons. Only one Chicano graduated last year [out of 20 enrolled in the original class]."