Three presidents stress diversity at convocation
By Prabhat Mehta
"Three presidents" each took their turn at yesterday's convocation to stress to the incoming Class of 1994 the importance of appreciating MIT's rich diversity and of fostering a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance.
The revved up, standing room only crowd in Kresge intermittently broke into hooting and hollering, cheering and jeering during the addresses of outgoing Institute President Paul E. Gray '54 and President-elect Charles M. Vest, but was quickly silenced by the serious tone of Undergraduate Association President Manish Bapna '91's speech.
Gray presented a statistical profile of the freshman class: Three hundred were high-school valedictorians; 85 percent placed in the top five percent of their high school class; 46 states are represented among them; women compose a third of the class; Asian-Americans 26 percent; underrepresented minorities 14 percent; international students seven percent.
Gray's unpretentious style in delivering these statistics generated an enthusiastic response from the crowd, whose members cheered for the statistical categories which included them.
But after pouring out the compliments, Gray quickly focused on the convocation's theme, "Diversity and Community." He told the group that "excellence in a particular field of science and engineering is not enough." Students must also become aware of the social consequences of their endeavors. An important part of that humanistic aspect of their education will be to learn how to accept people as they are, he stressed.
Vest, who identified himself with the incoming freshmen at MIT, spoke along similar lines as Gray. All members of the MIT community are bound by their love for scientific reasoning and academic honesty and integrity, he said. At the same time, he believed that "the forces of prejudice and bias are in each and everyone one of us," and that those forces must be overcome with a sense of "mutual respect and comradeship."
Bapna focused upon recent controversies within the MIT community to emphasize that the Institute still has a long way to go to meet its commitment to diversity and tolerance. While the statistics for incoming women and underrepresented minorities were promising, he noted that women comprised only 10 percent of the faculty and minorities only two percent.
In addition, Bapna criticized the Whitaker College's decision last spring to deny tenure to Jeremy M. Wolfe PhD '81, a popular associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences. And as an example of how even seemingly innocuous actions may offend others on campus, he recounted last spring's controversy over the celebration of Christopher Columbus on the Class of 1992 ring, which offended Native American students.
Bapna also discussed some positive signs, including recent efforts by students to establish a Chinese language program, which may begin next year, and the joint effort of students and faculty to combat sexual harassment.