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Minority Events Build Community

By Soraya Scroggins

As MIT observes its 29th annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, we are prompted to take a look at MIT’s continual commitment to maintaining diversity and positive race relations in its student population through the support of its minorities.

Leo Osgood Jr., associate dean for the Office of Minority Education, has witnessed this transforming nature of race and race relations at MIT. The OME was founded over thirty years ago as MIT’s response to a changing student body. As predominantly white colleges and universities throughout the country first began recruiting minority students, it became apparent that these schools, which had never before seen such a diverse student body, lacked the infrastructure to support its varying student population.

The term “underrepresented minorities” includes African Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, and to an extent, those with Hispanic surnames.

Osgood said that since its inception, the primary goal of the Office of Minority Education has been to “create a foundation to enhance the successes, both academic and social, of students of color.”

MIT has eighteen academic, professional, and cultural minority groups dedicated to achieving this goal. Through an array of programs and events geared towards minorities, the OME works to provide a welcoming and open environment for students.

“The purpose of [minority programs] is not to segregate. For a lot of people, it’s a way to be a part of a close-knit community and gain familiarity if you feel out of place,” said Henry M. Hilton ’04. “That gives them the confidence to go out and expand their circles and make other friends.”

This sense of community plays an important part for many minority students.

“When I saw my Hispanic brethren celebrating their graduation, I felt extremely proud of my origin,” said Danny A. Bravo ’04 referring to a graduation event held by La Union Chicana Por Aztlan last June.

OME provides support from start to finish

The OME sponsors programs for minority students throughout their MIT careers.

According to Osgood, minority Orientation, which consists of a welcome luncheon and an upperclassmen panel, serves to “open up the MIT community.” It is followed by a parents’ dinner, which extends the welcome further to students as well as their families.

Rising minority sophomores are eligible for the Research In Science and Engineering Program, sponsored by NASA, where they are taught valuable research skills during six-weeks in the summer.

The OME also holds an annual Minority Awards Banquet to distinguish those who may not normally be recognized for their academic or community merits. “There most definitely is a need to give special attention to these students,” Osgood said.

OME programs go mainstream

MIT released a statement yesterday announcing that two programs historically open only to underrepresented minorities, MITES and Project Interphase, will be opened up to nonminority applicants.

Many other events and services that are campuswide today have evolved from earlier programs and initiatives aimed at minorities.

Campus Preview Weekend was originally only for minority students. As the success of CPW increased, the focus grew to include women and finally all admitted freshmen.

The Freshman Watch Program, designed to alert minority freshmen to borderline passing grades, has come to be known ominously throughout the Institute as Fifth Week Flags.

The Tutoring Services Room, or TSR, began 25 years ago to remedy the exclusion of blacks from study groups. It has since expanded its services to students of all races and employs tutors of all backgrounds.

The Second Summer program was established by the OME to provide minority students practical experience as engineering interns and evolved into the Freshman Alumni Summer Internship Program, open to all MIT freshmen.

For more information on the OME and its programs, visit <http://web.mit.edu/ome>.