The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 84.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

SWAMee letter misunderstood discrimination at MIT and beyond (1)

I read with interest Timothy G. Wilson '93's letter to the editor, ["Oppressed SWAMees deserve same treatment as minorities," March 8]. While I think many of Wilson's arguments are incorrect, I do not think he is racist, sexist, or a Nazi, as he fears his detractors might. Instead, I think Wilson's primary mistake is that he underestimates the discrimination present in our society.

Wilson makes several good points in his letter. I have always had mixed feelings about the Margaret Cheney Room, to which male students are not admitted. However, I wonder why Wilson does not question male-only facilities.

During Residence/Orientation Week of my freshman year, my primary concern was getting a single room. My male friends who wanted their own room chose MacGregor, a dorm not open to women. When the policy changed, the criteria were demographic changes and what the residents wanted and not fairness concerns. I had to take my chances with the dorms that would admit women, in all of which freshman were at risk of crowding.

While parts of MacGregor are open to women now, parts are not, and there are still many single-sex fraternities (and sororities) which Wilson does not criticize. One cannot help wondering if Wilson is most concerned about discrimination when it keeps him from getting something that he personally wants, such as access to the Margaret S. Cheney (Class of 1882) Room, as opposed to fairness in general.

One point where I agree with Wilson is that SWAMees should not be punished for the sins of their ancestors. I disagree with him, however, that this is the justification for giving some form of preferential treatment toward other groups.

In my opinion, the best justification for special programs for underrepresented groups is that significant discrimination exists today and that these programs help level the playing field.

Last year, The Tech printed a letter from a black student who was often harassed when he visited friends in Baker House, as he was assumed by some Baker residents to be an local troublemaker instead of a legitimate guest.

This is just one form of discrimination blacks face at MIT, and I encourage Wilson to ask his black, Hispanic and Native American friends about their experiences at MIT and the obstacles they overcame to get here in the first place.

I have recently done research on discrimination against women and can confidently say that Wilson is overly optimistic if he thinks that "the United States of America is a land virtually free of discrimination."

One reason that someone can have the illusion of the absence of discrimination is that much of the bias, particularly against women, is not overt. Research has shown that many unconscious biases exist against women.

One example is that people rate an article or resume with a woman's name on it less highly than when the same document is presented with a man's name. This has been proven in study after study.

Additionally, the media is full of stereotypes of SWAMees as heroes and achievers, while females are "half-clad, half-witted, and waiting to be rescued," as one recent report found, and blacks and Hispanics are likely to be shown as criminals or in low-status professions.

Women and minorities have to overcome stereotypes and both subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination. In large part because of these barriers, these people have not been able to achieve as much and are less likely to remain in some prestigious fields where they encounter biases.

In order to counteract these effects, there are scholarships and special programs to encourage these people. I fail to see why providing women and minorities with scholarships is done at Wilson's expense, as he claims in his letter.

The money that is spent on these scholarships is not taken away from Wilson, and there is no reason to think it would be given to him if it were not given to others. Because of all the ways women and minorities are discouraged, the scholarships are useful and justified in providing them with needed and deserved encouragement.

As Wilson does, I look forward to a day when discrimination no longer exists and when there are no wrongs that sex- and race-based scholarships will need to right. As Wilson suggests, we should do what we can to reach this point.

Until then, however, special programs can help groups that are discriminated against, "to have a fair and equal chance to succeed," a stated goal of Wilson. I think that if Wilson better understood the treatment that minorities face, he would not have asked to receive the same treatment.

Ellen Spertus G->