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Is discrimination an issue at MIT?

Is discrimination an issue at MIT?

Laurie S. Goldman G, a second year Ph.D. student in the Urban Studies and Planning department, says discrimination is “Not an issue for me.”

Goldman feels that MIT is not a very discriminating place, but points out that non-discrimination is not sufficient to make many minority students feel comfortable at MIT. They often need more explicit signs that they are really welcome. Students from the Urban Studies and Planning department have done many recruiting events all over the country geared specifically towards inviting minority students. She feels that the Course 11’s diverse environment is particularly welcoming. “Our department can be a model for other departments.”

Jessica M. Donnelly ’02, course 13, says “I haven’t seen anything myself or experienced anything myself. But it would be nice if there were more female professors at MIT.” She thinks they would be good role models for MIT women.

Mathew Evans G, a first year post-doctoral associate in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, says discrimination is not an issue, noting that MIT is much more diverse than the University of Cambridge in England, where he spent last few years.

He commented, though, that MIT’s high cost of education can be a discriminatory factor. This is not an issue in the U.K., where students are never required to pay more than a thousand pounds per year, he said.

Mona M. Fawaz G, from Lebanon, is a Ph.D. student in the Urban Studies and Planning department as well as the president of the Arab Student Association at MIT. She feels that racism at MIT has its roots in mainstream culture and media.

“MIT is embedded in the context of the U.S.,” she said. “Mainstream media uses discriminatory terminology, publishes biased or even harmful stereotypes.” Racism against Arabs is widespread to the extent that it appears politically correct, Fawaz said.

Fawaz places some of the blame on MIT’s media outlets, who “uncritically let those stereotypes and biases penetrate MIT campus. The Tech uncritically reproduces news from mainstream media and thus perpetuates the discriminatory terminology. The movies [The Lecture Series Committee] shows are often mainstream Hollywood productions that perpetuate the same images of certain minorities.”

According to Fawaz, minority students have tried to speak both to The Tech and LSC about the issues, but have made little progress. “The burden of proof lies on the victim of racism because you often raise issues that make some people uncomfortable; you always have to defend yourself.” She points out that bad stereotyping of certain races has tragic effects: “This is why when people hear that there is a kid dying every seven minutes in Iraq, they think it’s okay. After all, they are sub-human.”

“MIT becomes more diverse after midnight,” she concluded with a smile, “when the people who get to clean our offices and classrooms start working.”

C. Terence Gan ’99, from Singapore, is a graduate student in the Electrical Engineering Department. MIT “is pretty much discrimination-free,” he said. Gan said that MIT is very diverse both as far as students and lecturers are concerned. A lot of ethnic variation among U.S. citizens attending MIT makes the place very inviting towards international students of various racial backgrounds, Gan said.

R. Erich Caulfield G, a second year Electrical Engineering graduate student from Louisiana said that “discrimination is definitely present here” both along the gender and racial lines. Discrimination is most often noticeable “in small group settings like tutorials, recitations,” he said. “Certain individuals are not recognized when they volunteer an answer or their answer is not recognized as valid.”

Like some other students, Caulfield pointed out that the social atmosphere of New England, including MIT, appears less friendly than that of some other parts of the U.S.

Belal M. Helal G, from Saudi Arabia, is a second year graduate student in Course 6. “MIT as an institution is fine,” he said, pointing at the table in front of him. Helal was distributing free literature on Islam for the Muslim Student Association, one example of religious tolerance at MIT. He commented, however, that the atmosphere at MIT is generally cold and uninviting. “MIT people are considerate after you get to know them,” but otherwise “most people do not say ‘Hi’ or make eye contact.”

Ayida Mthembu, dean of the committee on racial relations, said that “there is no doubt that there is discrimination on campus.” Students, faculty, and staff alike have been reported both as offenders and victims in incidents of discrimination. These incidents have involved gender, race, nationality, religion, social class or sexuality.

Mthembu pointed out a series of video tapes titled It's Intuitively Obvious as a good source of information on the topic. The tapes show minority students talking about experiences ranging from racist remarks made by fellow students, to racist material published in MIT student publications, to acts of discrimination in classrooms.

In response to Fawaz’s comment on racism against Arabs in mainstream media, Mthembu said, “racism against Arabs is not the only one but it is present.” She pointed out that villains in today’s media are often Hispanic, Arab, Italian and Asian; “no longer Black, because people complained so much.”

Mthembu detailed other kinds of discrimination at MIT, ranging from events scheduled on religious holidays to poor wheelchair access in many buildings. Arts and humanities students often feel they are not understood by peers, and homophobia is a significant problem. “It’s not easy to find a solution at such a diverse place,” Mthembu said.