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Race Relations Talk Defines Racial Issues

By Veena Ramaswamy


The Advocates for Awareness held a forum on “Discussing Race and Diversity at MIT” on Oct. 3 that discussed mainly the role of MIT’s Office of Minority Eduction and defining the term “minority” at MIT.

The forum began with opening remarks by AFA founder Terrence R. Strader ’04, who addressed the goals that he hoped MIT could achieve by holding the forum.

“This forum is an attempt to try to get MIT more involved in relations and actually go out and try to solve these [race-related] problems,” Strader said.

Attendees discuss OME’s role

The night’s discussions began with talk over an opinion piece written by Matthew D. Brown ’06 that appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Tech. In the article, Brown questioned the discriminatory nature of a freshman pre-orientation minority luncheon. “Would the same lack of attention be given had the event read ‘Majority Orientation Welcome Luncheon: For Whites Only?” he wrote.

The attendees of the forum went on to discuss the importance of MIT having such an office.

“The OME should be opened to anyone who supports what it does,” said Alia C. Burton ’05. In regards the luncheon, Burton felt that it should have been open to all those interested in welcoming minority students. “We’re all here to learn,” Burton said.

OME Assistant Director Margarita Ascencio, present at the meeting, attempted to clarify the OME’s role at MIT. “We cater to the under-represented minorities,” she said.

Ascencio also acknowledged the poorly worded advertisement of the minority luncheon. “I would absolutely support something to welcome multi-cultural students,” she said.

In discussion about the role of the OME, Janet H. Leung ’06, expressed her discontent over the OME’s exclusion of Asian students as minorities at MIT. “The fact that the minority office is here for all minorities but not Asians is very discomforting,” Leung said. “The vast majority of Asians here have to deal with our own discriminatory issues.”

Leung said she wished that the OME or a similar support system were also available to Asian students at MIT. “It would be nice to know that such help would be there,” Leung said.

Panel lists campus race issues

The forum concluded with attendees formulating a list of “Problems at MIT and ways to address them.”

Items on the list included better OME advertising, by clarifying and perhaps welcoming the luncheon to everyone. Attendees also stressed the importance of inviting others along to such events as the forum itself to raise awareness.

“People really need to take advantage of MIT’s diverse environment and get out of their comfort zones,” said Ivana L. Sturdivant ’04.

The other problem discussed was determining the “majority” and “minority” groups of the MIT community.

Strader said he saw these problems as some major issues that the MIT community must deal with and work on to improve.

“MIT has a long way to go for racial stability. So many people don’t believe that racism is an issue at MIT,” Strader said.

Strader also hopes for the AFA’s forums to become a monthly tradition where members of the community can come and discuss different issues at MIT regarding race relations. “My hope with the forum is that people continue these conversations and discussions,” Strader said. “We can learn so much from each other if people just took advantage of MIT’s diversity.”