MITES Student's Racism Charge Seems Unfounded
I am writing in response to the article "MITES Controversy Attracts National Media Attention" [Oct. 25, 1994]. I have problems with the charges made by Cedric Jennings, the student who charges Professor of Aeronautics and Astrophysics Leon Trilling with being racist.
First: given that the Minority Intoroduction to Engineering and Science program is a program for minority students, how can Professor Trilling's candid advice to Jennings be construed as "racist?" It seems to me that Trilling was giving honest academic advice to a student who happened to be African American. If there were white students in the MITES program, no doubt Trilling would have advised some of them the same way.
I'm sure Professor Trilling often advises high school students who are white, Asian, and of many other backgrounds that they probably will not get accepted into MIT because their Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and other academic work are not quite MIT caliber. As MITESAdministrative Director William H. Ramsey '51 points out, Trilling did indeed give similar advice to other students, but only Jennings construed his advice as somehow racially motivated.
Second: What is it that Jennings wanted Trilling to do? To give him false hope and insincere advice based on the information he had on Jennings' academic work by encouraging him to apply to MIT? This would have been unfair and unprofessional. There seems to be a dangerous and growing trend in this country: students leveling charges of racism and sexism at instructors or institutions that tell them truths they do not want to hear - truths that have nothing to do with race or gender.
If I submit a paper to a conference and it gets turned down because it's not good enough, how easy for me to allege sexism on the part of the male conference organizers rather than accept that the paper isn't as good as it could be and work toward making the next one better. Of course racism and sexism do exist in academia, but such charges should not be made lightly, as the result of a bruised ego.
Program in Writing