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"Segregation" is a response to social problems

Courtney Moriarta's letter ["MIT orientation programs segregate students," Sept. 19] makes statements about the segregation of students at MIT that I find disturbing. The state of segregation does not result from any manipulation on MIT's part but rather from a reaction to problems in the MIT community. Social awareness and integration require individual efforts and an open mind, neither of which MIT can provide. If Project Interphase students continue to stay in the same dorm, they do so voluntarily. To say that MIT somehow prevents international students from going east of Massachusetts Avenue and transfer students from going west simply because MIT has arranged the location of their events and their housing for that term seems insulting. I cannot believe that students who are able to leave their country or former school to attend MIT would not have enough guts to cross four lanes of traffic to explore the other side.

Just how guilty of special treatment are these groups that she mentions? Upon transferring, I was given housing in whatever slot was left after all the regular students had moved, the set of standard freshman literature, breakfast with the others who had transferred, and a list of twenty professors to track down for signatures. I did not find the experience that special.

Moriarta states that conflicts are always caused when people stick together in groups. Actually, conflicts arise out of intolerance and disrespect for other groups usually caused by fear and ignorance, not by the mere fact they have common traits or ideas and have organized around them. The attitudes expressed in the letter provide a typical example of this. Her denial of the existence of problems serves to remove the legitimacy of these groups' purposes and needs. Claiming that women's groups and activities are unnecessary because she herself has never experienced a situation where her sex was used to her disadvantage seems extremely egocentric. However imaginary these problems may be to her, many women find them all too real. Why should she feel so threatened or disturbed by diversity and organization, especially when the focus is on women. More importantly, why does she not address all-male organizations or feel threatened and disturbed by them? Progress does not happen through individual wishful thinking or blending in but through collective action.

Her plea to the MIT community to "give a little thought" and then try to "fit in" with the Asian and white American men would work if the community consisted of weak minds on strong drugs. She asks, "Is it really that hard to fit in with them?" It is not that hard -- if it is on their terms. Groups form because they find those terms unacceptable. Why does she place such an emphasis on conforming to the norms defined by this particular privileged class instead of promoting some sort of mutual understanding? Trying to fit in on unequal ground simply means hiding and hoping not to get stepped on. After all, Moriarta should not have to feel "sheltered or lucky" that her life has been free of sexual discrimination and harassment if she truly feels that inequality has been eliminated.

Jennifer Huang '90->