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Scrutinizing the ‘Superstar’ Event

Today, the Admissions Office will hold a reception for “a group of highly talented admitted students.” This group will include participants from the National and International Math, Physics, and Chemistry Olympiads, the Intel (formerly Westinghouse) Talent Search, and prestigious summer programs such as MIT’s own Research Science Institute. The Tech is strongly opposed to this elitist gathering and has serious concerns that this could create another faction on campus -- the “academic superstars.”

The conditions used to determine just who are members of this group of “highly talented admitted students” are suspect. Prospective students have had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of programs; selecting a few programs as particularly exceptional introduces a rather arbitrary criterion for selecting the “superstars.” In addition, students who come from poorer communities will likely not have had access to such programs as the Intel Talent Search, yet they may be just as capable, or perhaps even more so, of overcoming the academic challenges presented at MIT. Any gathering based on these criteria is bound to be unfairly skewed on the basis of class.

And what if today’s gathering is the beginning of another faction on campus, that of the “academic superstars?” We are already a campus divided in many ways -- residents of dormitories versus Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups, and undergraduate versus graduate students are two of many examples. We have all seen the negative impact gatherings such as the Freshman Leadership Program -- creating closed groups that remain estranged from the larger MIT community. How can we be assured that today’s meeting is not the start of another such faction?

Worse, this meeting reeks of elitism at a time when MIT should be extending its best welcome to all of its prospective students, not just a select few. What message does this gathering send to the overwhelming majority of the class that was not invited? Logically, they would conclude that they are less important to the Institute than the annointed “superstars.” Any person admitted to MIT has shown exemplary academic discipline and achievement and has the potential to succeed here. The Admissions Office, however, sends a different message through this gathering.

Finally, we worry that such a program could divert resources and opportunities from the entire MIT population. Professors, for example, could be more likely to seek out superstars for UROPs and other projects, leaving other talented individuals shut out of rewarding opportunities. All undergraduates should have an equal opportunity to participate in these rewarding projects, and anything which would promote favoritism and insider dealing for research opportunities ought not to be pursued.

At best, today’s meeting between the Admissions Office and the “academic superstars” demonstrates Admissions’ time and attention is not devoted to making all students feel welcome, the ostensible goal of Campus Preview Weekend, but only an elite few. Yet more frightening is the chance that the propagation of this program would rend the campus asunder between academic “superstars” and “peons.”