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Student group aims fo more black recruitment

The Robert R. Taylor Network -- a student group concerned about the fate of the Office of Minority Education (OME), cutbacks in student financial aid and the retention of need-blind admissions -- is trying to increase the number of black students who graduate from MIT.

"[We're] building the organization and letting people know what [the group] is trying to accomplish," according to spokesman Norman L. Fortenberry G.

The group has issued one informational mailing, but the mailing occurred when many people were away, Fortenberry said. The group plans more mailings this year.

The network's goals, according to a press release, include:

O+ creating a scholarship and program fund;

O+ supporting and expanding efforts to ensure that more of the black students who enroll at MIT graduate;

O+ increasing interaction among current and former students;

O+ and supporting programs aimed at increasing the pool of black students qualified for admission to MIT.

The network is a non-profit corporation and has filed a request for recognition of federal tax-exempt status. The students named the group after Robert Robinson Taylor, Class of 1892, the first known black graduate of MIT.

Two incidents -- the dismissals of former Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Mary O. Hope and former OME Director William<>

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McLaurin -- sparked the group's formation, Fortenberry said. The group grew out of a series of meetings last spring, following fall meetings in response to the dismissals, he explained.

McLaurin was dismissed on August 24, 1984 by then-Associate Provost Frank E. Perkins '55. Perkins alluded at the time to two of the reasons for dismissal: the financial operation of the OME and the administration of Project Interphase.

Hope left on Nov. 30, 1983 after a dispute with Dean Shirley M. McBay. Both Hope and the Institute declined to discuss the specific reasons for the dismissal.

The two dismissals prompted protest and concern within the minority community.

In particular, the Robert R. Taylor Network would like to address the feeling of many minority students that they must make an extra effort to be accepted by the MIT community, Fortenberry said.

Minority students cannot afford the "luxury" of just being students at MIT, Fortenberry continued. "After you get done with the day's classes, you also have to concentrate ... on [making yourself] visible ... there may or may not be this set of prejudices out there that [you] have to deal with.

"If they aren't out there, fine, but if they are, you don't know that a priori. You've got to do all the additional politicking just to make sure that you are allowed to do your academics, and that takes time."

In an interview with The Tech last February, Lynda M. Jordan, then chairman of the Black Graduate Student Association, had explained: "It's hard to be accepted ... until you either prove yourself very good academically or they can get to know you as a person."

The group is also concerned by the decrease in the number of black freshmen entering MIT, Fortenberry said. He suggested the Admissions Office administer an undergraduate program similar to the graduate one in which minority graduate students go back to their undergraduate institutions to recruit students.

"I can't think of any reason why that can't be done on the undergraduate level," he said. Such recruitment among minorities already takes place on an informal basis, Fortenberry noted, but added he would like to see a more formal program.

Angela Conley, assistant director for admissions, said, "We do encourage students to go back to their hometown areas to visit their high schools. That's the first thing I told all the freshmen I met when I got here [in July]."

Conley also cited a number of reasons for the decrease in the black population at MIT, including a smaller applicant pool. "Two thousand fewer black students took the SATs," she said. MIT is receiving fewer applications from qualified students because of their perceptions of its cost and competitiveness, she added.

"Prospective minority students are often frightened away by MIT's financial aid package," said Nelson Armstrong, former associate director of admissions, last February. "It is initially perceived as not being [financially] competitive; the self-help package looks very large."

Students who are qualified are not applying to MIT because of its reputation as a difficult school to get into as well as its reputation for being a hard school to stay at, Conley said.

Fortenberry said the Robert R. Taylor Network does not work with any administrative office but may in the future. Conley said the Admissions Office is open to any kind of support it can receive.

"We would like to accomplish some degree of unity [with other minority organizations. We've] got to apply an MIT solution to an MIT problem," Fortenberry said.

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