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Bexley - discussion on Apartheid Collquium

Should MIT students work for companies which operate in South Africa? About 20 Bexley residents discussed this issue with faculty and administration members last week.

The Institute Colloquium Committee sponsored the discussion, which was moderated by Judah L. Schwartz, Bexley housemaster and Concourse professor, and Charles Weiner, professor of Science, Technology, and Society. Dean for Student Affairs Shirley M. McBay and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert A. Sherwood also participated during the second half of the meeting.

"How does apartheid affect you ... here at 77 Massachusetts Avenue?" Weiner asked. One student said apartheid caused "an ache" in his mind. Several people expressed their support of MIT, which has investments in companies in South Africa.

Participants several times stressed the difference between indirect and direct investment, noting that MIT's investment is all indirect. Weiner added that there may be heavy government pressure on companies like Citicorp to stay in South Africa and maybe it would not do any good to divest. Several people questioned the "circle": if MIT divests, it will have no future influence with the companies, but if it does not divest, its influence may not be effective.

Weiner asked the group what they, as MIT students, could do about apartheid. "Would you work for a defense company?... Would you work for Polaroid [the inventors of South Africa's pass photography system]?" he asked. One student noted Polaroid did not develop that system only for South Africa. "Massachussetts uses the same system for their licenses," he said.

McBay suggested MIT should post a list of companies who recruit here and work in South Africa. MIT currently asks companies if security clearances are necessary in their work, and gives that information to students before they are interviewed, she said. If the Placement Office compiled a list of companies which operate in South Africa, it would have a big impact on those companies, several students agreed. National publicity would be guaranteed, Schwartz added, and it would influence companies without requiring MIT to take direct political action.

Weiner also asked about the situation here at MIT, which looks "very white." A student said the problem was almost surely not here but in the primary and secondary educational system.