MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 4
March/April 2005
Marginalization and Discrimination at MIT
MIT 2040
Academic Responsibility and Gender Bias
Summary Report from the Ad Hoc Committee on the Faculty Quality of Life
When Everything is Secret, There is No Truth
Professors of the Practice:
Bridging Industry and Academia
Goodbye To The Orchard; Singer
A Retrospective Look at
The Campaign for MIT
Improving the Graduate Student
Academic Experience
Making the Green Grade
MIT Retirement Programs
Satisfaction with resources that support research and teaching [from the 2004
Faculty Survey]
Printable Version

From The Faculty Chair

Marginalization and Discrimination at MIT

Rafael L. Bras

Two incidents that occurred at the Institute this month disturb me a great deal. In the first, a group of male students walked out in protest during the unveiling of the new class ring. The ring depicts a woman in a modified MIT seal. In the second incident, posters announcing activities of the Campus Committee on Race Relations were defaced with racial slurs. Allegedly this followed a disruption in a public meeting. This type of threatening, ignorant, and intolerant behavior is not what this community stands for. Unfortunately, it is not as rare as one would expect. It happens every year.

This is not the first time a woman has been depicted on the class ring. The perpetrators of the "protest" argue that they do not object to the image of the woman, but to the modification of the Institute seal. This argument, it seems to me, is disingenuous, at best. The MIT seal has been modernized before, and the tradition is for every class to design a distinctive ring. There is a process in place for implementing the ring design and this process has led to many permutations of the basic concept, including having a woman on the seal.

The MIT undergraduate population is nearly half women. It is obvious to me that, given the open and unrestricted process of the ring design, women would want clear recognition of their influence in MIT life. This type of "protest" by men is insensitive and seeks to promote a history that has no place in our present or our future. Some of our women undergraduates feel threatened. They are frustrated and angry at the disrespect of some of their male colleagues. The reality is that this incident is but the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper problem. Gender bias remains an issue, even when women are no longer a minority in the undergraduate class.

People of color, however, still are a minority. That members of our community would deface a poster with racial slurs is to me a sign that there is significant intolerance in our midst. As I said earlier, these incidents are not that rare.

Insensitivity, insults, marginalization, and demeaning treatment happen all the time, at all levels of the Institute.

Some of the incidents become subjects of public debate, most we never hear about. I am not naïve; society-at-large is full of bigots and hence a community like MIT will have its share. I would hope, though, it would be a smaller than normal share and that there could be civilized debate.

I do not believe in mandating education to all in order to address the ignorant few. I do believe in the power of the community to illuminate some of our friends in need. This should involve plenty of opportunity for voluntary debate. It should involve institutional zero tolerance for bigotry and constant reinforcement of our non-discriminatory values. More importantly, it must involve the active participation of the great majority of the community that condemns this behavior. Note that I did not use the colloquial "has no time for this behavior," because one thing we fail at, particularly the faculty, is to give these important issues the time they require. I call on you, my colleagues, to be vocal in supporting the rights of women and minorities at MIT. Lead by example, eliminating the discrimination and marginalization that still exist.

Back to top
Send your comments