Letters to the EditorMany of us pass our years here without dwelling too much on race. Open racism and forms of institutionalized discrimination are no longer part of our reality, and they meet with the overwhelming condemnation of nearly all students at the Institute. Our classes, sports, and activities are racially diverse, and a casual walk around campus reveals, people of all racial and ethnic groups. It would be easy to say that, at first glance racial problems at MIT are a thing of the past. As a prestigious institute of higher learning attended by intelligent and educated people, one would hope that if any Americans could put race behind them, it would be students at MIT.
This superficial view of the situation is one that many at the Institute, especially non-minorities, hold. True, they might admit that minority representation in the faculty and administration is too low, and that there is little mingling between different ethnic groups. These facts are clear to anyone who observes the composition of student groups, or has ever seen the inside of an administrative office. Despite these problems, though, most MIT students and most Americans in surveys say that race relations are good -- and hopefully getting better.
Then came the Rodney King case in Los Angeles. Then came the PBE incident at MIT. Clearly, racism remains a serious problem at college campuses and the entire United States, 30 years after the greatest successes of the civil rights movement. But what can we do against racism when there are no more laws to fight?
You have to make people realize that racism is still a problem. The first step in combating the problem is to admit it. Because of ignorance, racially offensive behavior continues to be widespread in American society. Non-minorities in particular must realize that a large percentage of the population of the United States still faces racism on a daily basis -- by being followed around by a shopkeeper in stores, by being stopped by cops on the street or in their cars, by hearing harassing comments or insulting jokes made offhand. Racism is everywhere and racism is real, at MIT and in America.
As a real social problem, it must be treated seriously. Racial incidents cannot be swept under the rug. Both the first verdict in the Rodney King case and the lack of punishment or apology in the recent PBE incident send signals about acceptable and unacceptable behavior that are at odds with the principles that most Americans claim to hold dear: equality under the law and social justice.
On-campus interracial and multicultural dialogues have to be increased. They are an easy way to get different groups together, begin to bridge the cultural and social walls that divide us and lessen misunderstandings. In addition to treating the pressing problem of sexual harassment during Residence and Orientation Week here at MIT, the administration should hold a similar presentation and discussion session for in-coming freshmen about race relations on campus. The Association of Asian, Hispanic, African, and Native Americans should also continue to sponsor discourses dealing with relevant racial matters, such as the recent discussion about the issue of African-American students in predominantly white fraternities.
There are not any fast remedies. The legal battle against racism may be over, but the war goes on. Keep your eyes open and you'll see it.
Edward A. Miguel '96
Action Necessary On PBE Incident
I am no longer willing to be patient. Everything I have done, I have done in the interest of justice. However, my pleas to the administration to tell students on this campus how the PBE incident is being handled have gone unheeded. I did not understand why this was the case until now.
At this very moment, as I sit in my room at 2:25 a.m. on April 20, I now understand why nothing has been said or done, as it appears, in relation to allegations of racial slurs that were made to the Vest administration more than a month ago. The reason is right outside my window, where I can hear very loud music coming from East Campus' Talbot Lounge. There is a party going on and a vast majority of the patrons are Caucasian. To me, at this late hour, this seems unreasonable. I figure if I go to an Alpha party, a Delta party, or a party at Chocolate City where the majority of people are usually African-American, the chances are that a couple of Campus Police patrol cars are there waiting with personnel to enforce the 1 a.m. party closing curfew this administration has established. The drastic difference between the way these two types of parties are handled indicates the problem that needs to be dealt with.
This problem is that those political, social, and cultural bodies that lie within MIT. and are non-African-American and non-Latino go unpoliced and unprosecuted for infringing upon those rules and regulations that were set up for the safety and well-being of every student. After the PBE incident the Vest administration talked to the student body about the issue, but with the ongoing discriminatory enforcement of various policies, I can only repeat what I find to be a very truthful statement that I learned in my neighborhood: "Talk ain't nothing but a word." It seems to be a word that Vest's administration has underestimated to the nth degree. It also seems to be a word that Vest's administration seems to equate with fools or bumbling idiots.
How dare this administration believe itself to be unaccountable to the student body? Why, I ask, does the administration send this problem to the Committee on Discipline so soon? Do they not know, as I do, that the COD's practices and prosecution concerning a particular act are confidential? I do not in any way believe that the administration is untrustworthy. However, I am an intelligent man, and I do not believe in the virtue of other people, especially not when my rights are at stake. I honestly feel that the Vest administration sees me, a student who desires to know how it is handling this issue, as an idiot. Maybe I am. But if I am, every person on this campus "shares the same bed I slept in." Every sexually-diverse, racially-diverse, or politically-diverse organization on this campus, by allowing this incident to nicely go away, has opened itself up to the same sorts of attacks.
I believe one of two things must happen. Either the mutually helpful rules that have been created by this administration must be enforced or the inactive administration must be thrown out.
Finally to you, President Vest, I was the student you personally told a month ago that you would not disappoint. I am sorry to inform you that you have already done this. The only thing you can do now is explain to the whole student body what is going, apologize for the molasses-like manner with which you have handled the problem, and take this issue seriously. Then maybe you will re-institute my faith in your administration. However, if you continue to feel unaccountable, then maybe you should consider resigning and allowing this campus the chance to obtain a president who won't.
Tommie A. Henderson '95
Cesar Chavez Will Be Missed
Cesar Estrada Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers, who for decades led battles for the rights of millions of migrant workers, was found dead on April 23 at the home of a former union official. He apparently died of natural causes. He is survived by his wife and eight children.
Chavez spent his childhood as a migrant worker. He founded the UFW, the nation's first viable agricultural union, in 1966, becoming a figurehead fighting the battles of migrant crop workers in California's San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere. The life of Chavez, a tough-minded pacifist, was dominated by struggle and faith.
Chavez gave the Chicano civil rights movement a national leader, although he did not consider himself to be a Chicano leader, but rather the organizer of a union representing a multi-racial constituency of rank-and-file workers. It is nevertheless true that many Mexican-Americans were inspired by Chavez and that Chavez was certainly the first Mexican-American leader to receive national recognition and support for his cause.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said to Chavez, "I commend you for your bravery, salute you for your indefatigable work against poverty and injustice, and pray for your health and continuing service as one of the outstanding men of America." AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland called Chavez "an inspiration to generations of activists, unionists, and countless others." Former California Governor Jerry Brown called Chavez's death the passage of a "great union leader. He was one of the most important labor leaders since World War II."
The accomplishments of Cesar Chavez stand as an example to not only the Mexican-American community, but to all people who struggle for social justice and non-violent change. He will be greatly missed, but his struggles live on through those whose lives he has touched.
Alejandro Padilla '94
Kyle Shinseki '95
New Benefits Policy Recognizes Diversity
The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to Joan F. Rice, director of the Personnel Office:
As a long time employee of MIT (nine years in August), I am writing to commend you and the Institute for deciding to offer health and dental benefits to same-sex spousal equivalents.
Congratulations on joining the long list of universities and businesses who are recognizing the diversity of their employees' "families!"
I must say however, that I was disappointed that the Institute chose to only offer benefits to "same sex" married couples. Those who choose not to marry, whether they are heterosexuals or bisexual opposite sex couples, are now the ones left out.