Opinion guest column

After 150 years, MIT is heading in the wrong direction with affirmative action

The policy for hiring women and underrepresented minorities hurts MIT’s mission of being merit-based institution

A key question brought up at the recent MIT Diversity Summit, and the MLK Jr. annual breakfast, was how can MIT balance excellence with diversity? It has been commonly noted that students and faculty alike perceive tension within the Institute between the frequent appeals for increased diversity, and the culture of hard work and meritocracy that make MIT what it is. This question received heavy emphasis in the 2010 Report on the Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity. One of the final statements of that report was that, “While almost everyone at MIT would like the Institute to be an institution of merit and inclusion, it will be difficult to reach this ideal if race and ethnicity are ignored and presumed irrelevant.”

For the good of the Institute, I feel compelled to rephrase this — while almost everyone at MIT would like the Institute to be an institution of merit and inclusion, it will be difficult to reach this ideal if race, ethnicity, and gender continue to play such a big role in the social engineering agenda of the administration of MIT.

This agenda actively pursued across the Institute — the goals of which are to dramatically increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in the student and faculty body at MIT, and thereby to attempt to increase nationwide participation by the same in STEM fields — is well-intentioned, but eroding not only the meritocracy at MIT, but the quality of experience that these same females, minority students, and faculty experience here.

To anyone who claims that MIT’s affirmative action policies only focus on outreach recruiting but do not provide preference in admissions, faculty hiring, or positions, and therefore do not discriminate, then please explain the following: last spring, a gloating announcement was made by the interim dean of the School of Engineering stating that, for the first time ever, more women than men were hired for faculty positions that year. Compare this with the fact that in 2011 women comprised only 26 percent of the graduate student body in the MIT School of Engineering, and only 11 percent of career engineers nationally. Unless we conclude that the female student and postdoc engineering population is vastly more qualified then their male peers, which we have no reason to believe, then clearly there is more going on at MIT than just “attracting” more female faculty. The same can be said for racial and ethnic considerations.

There is more concrete evidence of the way in which affirmative action at MIT really works. At the MLK Jr. breakfast this year, President Hockfield stated, “We need to engineer a set of underlying institutional mechanisms, expectations, habits, and rhythms that make diversity and inclusion simply part of what we work on here, every day.” She then went further to point out that, as reported by MIT News, the School of Science is identifying new funds to expand its pool of URM faculty. Wait a second — last time I checked, reserving job positions for certain racial groups is blatantly against federal law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their race in any aspect of employment including: hiring and firing, recruitment, and training and apprenticeship programs. Can you imagine the outrage if President Hockfield stated that the School of Science was raising funding specifically for hiring more white faculty?

MIT claims to be a fair, equitable, inclusive, and merit-based institution. Yet, when the powers that be at this institute essentially declare that, “We are doing everything we can to admit, hire, and promote more women and underrepresented minorities, necessarily at the expense of white and Asian men” — and we compare this to the definition of discrimination: “Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of, a person based on the group, class, or category to which that person belongs rather than on individual merit,” then how is MIT not being discriminatory and hypocritical?

The affirmative action plan at MIT is instituted in different ways. Officially, MIT uses policies such as “7.1.3 Affirmative Action Serious Search,” which mandates special recruiting and hiring consideration processes for women and underrepresented minorities. Unofficially, affirmative action is achieved by giving preference in admissions and hiring. To anyone who wants to argue about the latter claim, I think hiring statistics like those I presented earlier and the statements of the administration speak for themselves. Either way, both of these practices are illegal under the law.

Don’t get me wrong, every student and faculty member that I have ever met at MIT have the intelligence and ambition to “deserve” to be here — but when admissions boards and faculty hiring committees start placing racial and gender goals high on their list, then the culture of fairness and merit go by the wayside. Additionally, the salience of the constant push for more women and underrepresented minorities at MIT has actually in some ways hurt the same people these policies were meant to assist. Many women and minorities at MIT report feeling that they don’t know whether or not they “deserve to be here” and feel like they are perceived with such suspicions by their white and Asian male colleagues. The unfortunate reality is that as long as race, ethnicity, and gender play a large role in admissions and hiring, then such thoughts and assumptions will never go away, nor can they.

Reverse discrimination at MIT goes beyond admissions and hiring, it also affects preference for committee positions, promotions, awards, and invitations for speaking engagements. As an example of this, in the most recent Institute report on the Status of Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT in 2011, many women faculty complained that overrepresentation of women on committees has become burdensome. “All of the committees are supposed to have a woman, but there are not enough women to go around. It is crazy,” was one of the quotes in the report. The irony here is that the reason women are overrepresented on committees in 2011 is that this was a recommendation from the 1999 MIT report “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT,” which stated that women faculty should be on more committees as a means to achieving power equity.

I concur with the woman who observed the “crazy” in these policies; the artificial push for more women and minorities in anything and everything at MIT, regardless of whether or not there is any discrimination to be overcome, is crazy. Not only that, but it has become in some ways counterproductive to the very goals these policies are meant to achieve. The fact is that both recent Institute reports regarding diversity at MIT found zero evidence of any systematic discrimination against women or minorities, and not only that, but the reports inadvertently highlight evidence that MIT diversity policies might be giving preferential treatment. The 2011 report on women stated that, “Indeed, a subset of faculty suggested that it can be helpful to be a woman in a field: ‘I have definitely found it to be advantageous to be a woman and get speaking slots.’” This theme of preference seems pervasive across the Institute.

As a white male, how am I supposed to feel anything but discriminated against and offended by MIT’s policies of preference and “inclusiveness” for everyone but me? Furthermore, how does such reverse discrimination further the core mission of MIT?

For the good of everyone, MIT needs to stop obsessing over gender and race, and start refocusing on merit and true equity, fairness, and inclusiveness. Some contend that affirmative action measures are necessary to overcome past discrimination, but does fighting past discrimination with reverse discrimination ever achieve the stated goal of ending discrimination altogether? I call for fairness, equality, and meritocracy. If MIT accepts that, then it will certainly be a great institution for another 150 years, if not, then I have my doubts.

Brandon Briscoe is a senior in Courses 15 and 17.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

It has been well-established that women and minorities often face other challenges and obstacles in getting into colleges like MIT without some sort of affirmative action. People who come from less-privileged backgrounds will also appear to get these same benefits, but I don't think it's to the detriment of the culture of the school. When you come from a disadvantaged background, simple things like SATs and filling out applications and essays properly are difficult because you might not have the financial resources to take or prepare for the exams and you may not have the resources in school to help you put together a great application packet that would be competitive with someone from a more privileged background. Nevermind not having a supportive atmosphere in which to just pursue academics to get into a great college (I and a lot of people from my town always had to work, so we were diverted a lot from studies).

Rather than looking at it as a disadvantage that is negatively affecting the merit-based culture of schools like MIT (which is an incredibly presumptuous, insensitive and disgusting opinion), you should be praising the diverse atmosphere at a school like MIT, where it effectively doesn't matter what kind of socioeconomic background you had the fortune (or misfortune) to be born into. We may not be able to achieve an outcome of equality, but we darned well better make sure that the playing field is equal when you at least start out in college.

While it may seem like things are better now in terms of equality for women and minorities (at least after the 1970s), it still does not completely erase the favoritism that privileged (or middle class) white people enjoyed before these policies were implemented. In fact, things are still pretty darned good for this group of people--so quit writing tired, redundant articles about reverse discrimination and just look for another college.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

The author has little idea on faculty hiring in academia. If he truly believes in "fairness and meritocracy", what is he gonna do with the faculty who got hired because they went to the right school, postdoced for the right PI, and just so happen to be working on the latest "hot" field that brings in grant money?

We all like the idea of a pure, unadulterated meritocracy, but in reality there is no such thing once all the factors that go into faculty hiring are considered. Connection. Ability to bring in research funding. Research topic matching the need of the school. How are these things "merits"? They are not! School does not hire you to be a professor as recognition for your hard work, it hires you because you are potentially of value to them.

MIT is committed to address the gender and racial inequity in students pursuing STEM field (and I think most would agree that it is a problem that needs addressing), and the best way to inspire women and minority students to go into STEM is that they see people like themselves becoming successful in STEM. In that regard, of course gender and race ought to be factors in faculty hiring, just like all the other non-merit criteria that determine who gets hired.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Good thing we have people like you, Brandon, to decide who "deserve[s]" to attend MIT.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Sigh. As an alum, I would have hoped current students would have given up on this whole meritocracy argument in favor of more thoughtful and enlightened opinions by now. Anyone who treats this issue as black and white, as Brandon makes it out to be, clearly hasn't bothered subjecting themselves to the vast dialogue revolved around this issue. Hopefully, he is young, and MIT teaches him something more than physics.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

This author clearly grew up in a very privileged neighborhood and went to a school that clearly held his hand and carried him to get to MIT. It is obvious that he is completely oblivious and frankly ignorant to the conditions and situations that a number of people are currently in.

MIT admits people solely on merit. The fact of the matter is that every individual who attends MIT has the ability and competency to be very successful at this institution. I have seen individuals who have come from a rural school of 15 people, where the highest level of math was Algebra II, and AP courses weren't even made available to him, attend MIT and graduate with a 4.8.

Frankly it disgusts me that it is individuals such as the author here who continue to perpetuate the stereotype that students who attend MIT are completely out of touch with reality.

MIT's admission policies solely insure that every individual is given an equal chance to receive one of the best educations in the world regardless of their background, and regardless of the situation that they grew up in.

To see this article posted by a fellow MIT student is an embarrassment.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I hate when people use the term reverse discrimination. Discrimination is not a vector quantity. It is the same regardless of the victim of the discrimination. Apparently, Brandon is too good to be discriminated against like anyone else. He must be the victim of reverse discrimination.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

A political science grad with a big whiny baby's understanding of really important political science issues?

Course 17 fail.

Tell me more about how MIT is "inclusive to everyone but" white males.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

This article's argument just exposes the guilt that pervades the modern West that any mention of privilege is politically incorrect and hushed-up policy designed to discriminate against white and Asian males is acceptable so long as the beneficiary of the policy is the cleansing of this guilt, not necessarily the true benefit of any minorities. Good job, Brandon.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Ah yes, tell me more about the "privilege" that white and Asian males so conspicuously lack at MIT.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Anonymous at 3:21PM on February 17, 2012:

As a white male, I totally felt discriminated against and powerless at MIT. It was like, where ever I turned, someone was trying to take away my white male privilege.

Anonymous at 3:22PM on February 17, 2012:

If I interpret your sentence correctly, when you say "privilege", do you mean privileges supposedly enjoyed by underrepresented minorities and women?

Omri over 11 years ago

MIT's mission is "Established for Advancement and Development of Science its Application to Industry the Arts Agriculture and Commerce. " I see no mention of being merit-based in that wording.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

As a female and an MIT alumni, I disagree with this author's commentary. Anybody who is admitted to MIT deserves to be at MIT. If females and minority race/ethnic groups are able to successfully learn and achieve at MIT, why shouldn't the institue provide these traditionally underrrepresented groups with the opportunity to learn and excel at a top science and technology school?

Anonymous over 11 years ago


That said, I am incredibly embarrassed for MIT and The Tech that someone decided to publish this article.

Evan over 11 years ago

Affirmative Action may not be "perfect", but it is indeed necessary.

Fact of the matter is, people tend to select people who are more like them, and yes that includes race. It's inherent in us.

After being behind in this country for literally hundreds of years, 60 or 70 isn't going to put us on a "level playing field". Compare and contrast the socioeconomic backgrounds of different races. With a higher socioeconomic backgrounds come better opportunities, both for learning and advancement. If you truly want to achieve equality (and I personally don't see why not), how can you argue that this is an "unfair advantage?"

We as a people benefit from diversity, from seeing and learning from different cultures. It's one of the things I love most about this place.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

13 I think it is fair that the Tech allows a guy to embarrass himself. If someone asks to publish his/her opinion- it is not the institute's fault or the newspaper's fault.

Political science and management people are a little special everywhere in the world.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Why even pretend that "every student [. . .] that I have ever met at MIT . . . 'deserve[s]' to be here?"

Lots of people at MIT aren't as smart as the adcoms hoped when they admitted them. That's inevitable but they make it worse by systematically overestimating the abilities of people who went to elite high schools, girls of any race, foreign-born applicants, athletes, and upper-class minorities. You probably fall into the first group which is why you're majoring in 17 and you added 15 (or vice versa) because you felt like your peers looked down on you. My advice: write about MIT's judgmental culture, not it's inability to judge applicants. It's a bigger problem.

Brian over 11 years ago

In my time at MIT, there has been exactly one excellent black student that I've met. He has singlehandedly overturned many of the prejudices/biases I had about black people, and it would have been a service to black people if he had been the only black person on campus. The remainder of the sub-average black people on campus only serve to reinforce the notion that blacks are less capable than their white/Asian peers.

Derek over 11 years ago

Just because women and minority groups may be generally disadvantaged in

pursuing math/science opportunities doesn't mean they all are. What about

women who have also been encouraged to pursue science, or minority

applicants that come from privileged families? Do they get a double

advantage then? Not all women and minority families are underprivileged,

you don't mix these criteria up. This is something that should be done

case-by-case, not by haphazardly lumping level of privilege based on other


It's appropriate to choose applicants based on their achievement within

the context of their environment, but not because a school needs to fill so

many slots of so-and-so group. Affirmative action to some extent is

necessary to provide diversity that increases the quality of the college

education, but most colleges are taking it too far.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

MIT alum and current law student here.

Brendan, you have misunderstood and misused Title VII in your argument. In United Steelworkers of America v. Weber, the Supreme Court ruled that voluntary affirmative programs ARE permitted under Title VII to "break down old patterns of racial segregation and hierarchy" in "occupations which have been traditionally closed . . . Congress did not intend [Title VII] to limit traditional business freedom to such a degree as to prohibit all voluntary, race-conscious affirmative action."

In Johnson v. Transp. Agency, the Supreme Court found that affirmative action policies designed to "achieve a statistically measurable yearly improvement in hiring, training and promotion of women and minorities...in all major job classifications where they were underrepresented" was allowed under Title VII. The Court found that such affirmative action programs are justified when there is "conspicuous imbalance in traditionally segregated job categories."

University and Community College System of Nevada v. Farmer addresses the exact scenario of affirmative action in academic hiring, and found that an affirmative action plan designed to attain racial balance in the University's faculty was permitted under Title VII.

Brendan's argument in this piece is a clumsy rehash of the conservative justices' positions against affirmative action. I recommend reading the Thomas/Scalia dissents in key affirmative action cases for a more sophisticated argument (against which your current beliefs may be better challenged or solidified!).

Anonymous over 11 years ago

"The remainder of the sub-average black people on campus only serve to reinforce the notion that blacks are less capable than their white/Asian peers."

What about the sub-average [every other race]? There aren't enough minorities at MIT to make up the half that are below average, so some of the below average must not be a minority. What notion do they serve to reinforce, that they could be above average if they wanted but they're just too cool?

Lyla over 11 years ago

Note that having a high gender ratio can create a positive feedback loop where other women want to be in an environment where they feel less alienated, creating an even higher gender ratio etc etc. To say that the only way MIT could possibly recruit so many women faculty is by lowering the bar is to dismiss the possibility that awesome academics might tend to select institutions where they can actually contribute to their field instead of being sucked into feministic debates all of the time.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Fine, not everybody has had the same opportunities depending on background (be it due to economic/social/or even ethnic reasons). And therefore MIT practices affirmative action.

BUT - what is the GPA ranking by ethnicity by the time we all leave MIT? What minority groups have been most involved in extracurricular activities or serving their community?

All these figures would have nothing to do with the opportunities that different groups of people have had in life - and yet, until I see numbers proving that every minority group averages about the same as the "majority", I can't say this article is wrong.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

MIT Undergrad

Your inability to recognize the value that so many MIT URMs possess seriously shocks me. I can only hope that you, or none of our white/asian peers judge or assume anything about any URM walking through campus. That would be a much worse threat to the institute than any affirmative action policies. There are so many URMs whom achieve at such a high level and don't deserve to be prejudiced by whatever intolerance those that "deserve" to be at MIT have built up.

A Thought over 11 years ago

I think it's important to recognize these contentions occur in a larger context, which is essentially a question of how one defines merit, inclusiveness, and the constitution of an education.

Our socioeconomic characteristics define us, not because of intrinsic values that inhere within them (as a eugenicist might argue), but rather because the lived experiences which adhere to these characteristics differ by them. I grew up as a white, straight male from an upper-middle class background in a rural state. My experiences, which shaped and supported my perspective, opinions, and interpretations of the world, differ greatly from, say, a black, gay woman from a city as a result.

This is part of the reason diversity - broadly defined - is a good thing in and of itself. Suppose MIT's faculty/student body were entirely composed of white men, or for that matter black women, or rich gay people, or poor straight people. I think intuitively we would understand that any such educational experience would be an impoverished experience because it drew on such a shallow slice of the world. It leads to intellectual inbreeding.

One might quarrel reasonably with the epistemology of diversity (how do we know we are diverse? and how do we know when sufficiently generative diversity has been attained?). But that is not what the author does here. Instead, he launches a broadside assault against these practices by positioning himself as an individual disempowered and deprivileged by his status as a white male. This is nuts. And it is nuts because the world in which we live simply does not discriminate structurally against white males in STEM fields the way it does against subaltern groups.

In fact, what he holds up as evidence of discrimination against him - the fact that MIT values diversity in its faculty searches - is in fact evidence of the converse; that MIT needs to put extra effort to find nonwhite nonmales is proof positive that we still live in an era characterized by systemic disadvantage for those groups.

Finally: none of this is about "merit." Dumb people do not become professors of MIT. The question is: how do you make decisions around the margins? If one person will contribute a new perspective or experience that is rare in your community, that seems to me to be an entirely valid trait to consider. And in practice that's what we're talking about.

MIT Senior over 11 years ago

Brandon should be applauded for setting forth a position that has unfortunately become a sort of taboo in today's society. Speaking out against affirmative action is not racist, it is the responsible thing to do and gives voice to the current victims of discrimination. I believe in affirmative action in the perfect sense--if two students are identically qualified, then it might make sense to have preferential treatment for URMs. The situation in which this makes no sense, and the situation that is occurring at MIT today is that race and gender are being used as qualifying factors. Let's just get one thing straight, if I am an Asian male who has better test scores, grades, research, etc. in high school than a URM competing for the same spot, I am MORE QUALIFIED. I DESERVE the spot at MIT, the URM DOES NOT. If the URM student has better metrics than myself, then of course, by all means I am the undeserving one.

MIT is an engineering school, not some cultural experiment in diversity and equality. To excel at engineering, we need to admit only those most qualified to be good engineers. This is not to discount factors such as personality and socioeconomic context, but it does exclude race and gender. We also need to reframe what we mean by "qualified". Proponents of affirmative action vehemently deny that the URMs that they admit are unqualified. As a school that prides ourselves on excellence, are we really setting "qualified" as the bar for the students we admit? Just because most of the URMs that are admitted here will not face the CAP doesn't mean that they are adequately qualified to attend MIT-- we should be admitting the people who will excel here, not simply get by.

I know the pain of many high school friends who were geniuses in math and science and great people to boot who were not admitted to MIT because of its hideous and disgusting affirmative action policies. Trust me, the pain of not getting in and then seeing people from your own high school (as was the case) that you know (from being in school with them for 12 years) are not fit for MIT is a far greater societal cost then some URMs not being handed spots. Affirmative action discourages the students who would make far greater contributions than those admitted in their place. I am attempting to start a discussion here about something that people are generally afraid to discuss. Come at me.

MIT Soph. over 11 years ago

Commenter 25... are you seriously suggesting that some of the URMs admitted would not contribute as much to MIT than their non-minority counterparts? Really?

Honestly, the sheer ignorance in that is astounding.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

"Let's just get one thing straight, if I am an Asian male who has better test scores, grades, research, etc. in high school than a URM competing for the same spot, I am MORE QUALIFIED."

That, plainly stated, is an opinion. In your university, where you are responsible for admissions, you would look at only these criterion. That's fine. That doesn't necessarily mean that MIT agrees with you.

I don't believe that it makes sense to place your expectations on everyone else, especially MIT.

Only in the last decade or so has MIT placed more emphasis on being a well-rounded student. That meant that students good at math and science only were no longer the only students accepted. The belief of course if that the university improves because of these changes. The same can be thought for affirmative action, whether you agree with it or not.

I've been at both MIT and Caltech, where (believe it or not) it is much worse with regard to gender and race diversity (imo). It's not a good thing. I can comfortably say that MIT has a much more engaging and intellectually stimulating environment. Just my two cents--diversity is positive.

MIT Soph over 11 years ago

edit, the commenter directly above my post. Not, 25.

MIT graduate over 11 years ago

25: You're assuming that everyone is on equal footing in their training in high school and before. And you're assuming that high metrics such as test scores and grades correlates with later academic achievements: I'm not entirely convinced this is true. Above a certain threshold score, pretty much every student is equally qualified to be at MIT. It's the other qualities such as drive, determination and creativity that really determine who will be a star and who will just get their degree. MIT is one of the institutions who can afford to make those gambles, because even though they're high risk, they could be discovering the next Nobel laureate. Most scientists (at least in my field) came through backgrounds that presented at least some challenges and probably did not have perfect test scores (many actually openly admit it), and they still succeed. Diversity is a great thing, and it's disgusting to suggest that test scores are the only way to assess a person's potential in life--they're not. And MIT is smart enough to realize this.

Anonymous over 11 years ago


So, Briscoe was apparently 2 and 14 and is now 15 and 17 and it seems that he was supposed to graduate in '11 given that he was junior at the time of the article.

Anyone else feel like they're at a tea party rally?

Anonymous over 11 years ago


alright...mt. express doesn't have the best web editors. try the link above.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Not to advocate any side in this discussion, but I noticed a lot of discrimination against the author's majors here. Isn't the point not to judge people by arbitrary keywords?

Have a nice day!

-Course 8 freshman (not that the course number should matter in your perception of this statement)

Anonymous over 11 years ago

So, as a student who as worked in, and become a close acquaintance of, the Admissions Office for three years, I can honestly say that you guys JUST DON'T GET IT. It doesn't matter that you have perfect SAT scores and a perfect GPA. Ask Admissions if you want to, but really what they care about is YOU. They study your applications for days to find out about YOU - your likes, your dislikes, your interests, the way you socialize, the background you come from, what you value. I'm sick of people talking in theory (well if URM X is blahblahblah compared to white-male Y). The joy of MIT is that they want a well-rounded individual who will ADD TO THE CAMPUS AND GREATER COMMUNITY- SOCIALLY, INTELLECTUALLY, ETC. I've had white students and black students come up to me asking why they didn't get in to MIT since they had the "top" SAT scores, and I always want to say, so what? There's obviously nothing else spectacular about you. Stop complaining about URMs and women just because people are now realizing that they are amazing. I guess white males just need to start stepping up.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I think this article is coming from the right place, that merit needs to be the main factor in admittance to any selective program. However, the one thing I remember most on my college tour experiences was at Yale when an admissions representative said that they could reject the first 1200 people and take the next 1200 and NO ONE WOULD KNOW THE DIFFERENCE because there is an overabundance of qualified people applying to these prestigious universities. When it comes down to it, MIT turns away qualified people every year, people who could thrive at MIT cause there are only so many students we can take. If there is a pool of say 3000 qualified people to attend the university, then diversity SHOULD be one of the factors deciding admissions. Should a women or minority who is not qualified take the place of a white or Asian male who is qualified? No way, but I don't believe that our institution would ever make that choice. Everyone who gets into MIT can thrive here.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

It saddens me that the author of this article fails to acknowledge his privilege of being a white male in this society. Yet he flaunts it fervently through this article all the while playing the victim role and ignores the fact that white males are largely represented in many fields. It is not the committee that should change their practices to get rid of the assumptions and thoughts being made by white and/or asian males. That is the responsibility of those who carry those thoughts and assumptions. It still amazes me that someone would have the gall to flaunt their ignorance like this. Especially on a month that is supposed to honor the accomplishments of a minority group.

MIT Senior over 11 years ago

27, sorry it came out that way- all I was saying is that this is what happens if affirmative action admits a less qualified student (which is definitely the case some of the time, although of course not all of the time). Has absolutely nothing to do with the race/gender of the student, of course there are many URMs at MIT that really should be here and probably would have gotten in regardless of affirmative action.

28- I am thoroughly in favor of a holistic admissions process that does not solely rely on academic metrics. Of course essays, interview, context etc. all matter. Matter a lot in fact. All I am saying, to reiterate, is that race/gender should not be one of the factors considered. A black person with a great story and reason for being at MIT is not any better or more worthy of admission than a white person or Asian with an equally good story/background. That is the line that MIT has been blurring. Based on stated policies, MIT currently works towards a certain class composition with racial and gender guidelines (I'm not going to use the word quota for fear of inciting some backlash, but its pretty much that). Diversity matters, but the focus should be more grass roots-- try to give URMs better opportunities/access early on (MITES and similar programs are amazing), but when it comes to admissions, race/gender have no place.

30- I agree with everything you wrote. Every word. I just don't see how race/gender have anything to do with drive, determination and creativity. Affirmative action has nothing to do with the goal of holistic admissions. I am tired of seeing people lump the two ideas.

Briefly, let's return to the root of why affirmative action even exists. It's because URM groups have been historically discriminated against, and as a result of this, they tend to not have access to the same opportunities as other groups. I fully agree that stories of overcoming hardship, taking initiative etc. have a role in admissions. But these stories do not have a color or gender. It should be case by case, not a policy seeking to premeditate the composition of a class.

Instead of harping on and on about the virtues of diversity, how academics aren't everything, etc. can someone tell me explicitly why MIT should use race/gender (distinct from background and life experience) as a major factor in admissions?

Jessica over 11 years ago

I agree with most of what Brandon and #26 said. And I'm not a white or Asian male; I'm a female of mixed race. Also, #33 raises a good point.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I'm a bit taken aback by the presumption in some of these arguments. Why would anyone ever assume that because of how they performed in high school, they somehow "deserve" to be at MIT? MIT isn't a reward for good behavior and scores. It's a testament to your potential. It's a prospective decision, not a retrospective one, and therefore, is necessarily a qualitative decision, not a quantitative one.

Once you get out of MIT, no one is going to shower you with medals. You still have to earn your keep. Pointing fingers at who you seem to think can't hack it now is a bit laughable...wait 10 years. The ones who hit the most obstacles will be the most successful (NOT the ones who necessarily got 5.0s). If you can't understand why, you need to hit some obstacles yourself.

Also, instead of attacking your fellow classmates (and the staff who believed in your potential-I can promise you didn't get in because you "deserved" it more than some other student), I'm surprised there isn't more unity. You're all at MIT together. You're expected to make the future better, together. Who cares how any of you got there...?

To the author: how can you claim reverse discrimination with no specific examples of your own? In my time at MIT, I didn't notice white males losing out on opportunities because minorities and women were suddenly taking up all the Rhodes scholarships.

To #26: your friends who didn't make it into MIT will be fine. Not getting into their top choice shouldn't defeat them. And if it does, they didn't deserve to be at MIT. Your argument that MIT should account for personality and socioeconomic factors but not gender and race is nonsensical. If you're going to parse those two out, distinguish them from gender and race for the rest of us please. I see no difference. They're all qualitative factors that require a judgment call from an experienced admissions professional.

Dextina over 11 years ago

I have never felt so disrespected in my entire life. And to comment on number 18, Brian, I am not here to represent all black people. I don't live my life to prove your prejudices wrong. It does not matter to me how little faith you have in my color or my gender because whether you like it or not, I am still here and I am going to keep being here and keep excelling. I've faced worse trials than your ignorance and I will continue to triumph. So my advice is, get used to me, my skin and my lady parts, or not. Because your prejudice is more of a YOU problem than a ME problem.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

This whole argument is covered up by the fact that university admissions isn't a machine system, it's a holistic process. But the crux of the argument is: Women and underrepresented minorities receive preferences in getting in, and Brandon argues that this is wrong. And it isn't about white male privileges - for instance Asian Americans receive reverse discrimination in college admissions as documented in many books and articles (see The Gatekeepers). Yet arguably they still experience much discrimination in American society.

The author isn't arguing that EACH and EVERY minority or female applicant doesn't deserve their admissions. He's just saying that there's a bias in the preferences, one that makes life hard (as is a well known fact) for white or Asian applicants. The plural of anecdote is not data - no need to feel emotionally attacked from this article on a policy.

Law Smith over 11 years ago

Personally, as a black male, I do not like the necessity of affirmative action. Some people use the notion of affirmative action to lessen the merits of otherwise very successful people by saying things like, "Well, you only got into MIT because of affirmative action." However, in this society, I find it necessary, because racial minorities do have a more difficult time making progress than their white counterparts. The same can be said of women to men. Hopefully, one day (in my lifetime) we will not have need for affirmative action, though that day is not soon, I think.

However, I would not say that affirmative action itself is "fair." It's not designed to be. It's a retributive act meant to give minorities and the less-fortunate historically a greater opportunity to succeed. However, to those who equate "unfairness" to "wrong," remember that up until 50 years ago, the situation was heavily in the other direction.

To the author of this article; nice try, but affirmative action does not hurt you like you think it does. Remember, diversity is key to progress (and survival).

Laura over 11 years ago

"Many women and minorities at MIT report feeling that they dont know whether or not they deserve to be here and feel like they are perceived with such suspicions by their white and Asian male colleagues."

I can't imagine what on Earth might cause them to feel that way.

Tong Chen over 11 years ago

Well said. I hope my being Asian American and supporting your argument at the same time doesn't subtract any merit from it. ;)

Aaron Fryman over 11 years ago

I have a relevant video for you all. Louis CK talking about how nice it is to be white. It's VERY NOT SAFE FOR WORK, but very good for your overall world view. http://www.youtube.com/watch?vTG4f9zR5yzY

MIT \'13 over 11 years ago

As an international student, I agree with Brandon. I'm sorry that a lot of people are upset with your message, but I applaud you for bringing up a topic everyone is too uncomfortable with voicing.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

There is absolutely no one who is at MIT without merit.Reading one of the above comments that included the example of an Asian student nearly brought me to tears. What has intelligence got to do with color or race for Christ's sake? I had a 1900 on SAT1, oh yeah, so does that make a white kid or some other privileged person with a 2400 better than me? I only heard about MIT two months before applying, worked 12 hours EVERYDAY while I prepared for the SAT, had four younger siblings and a mum to support, had no access to computers or even tutors that could help me prepare, studied at night in a 35m40m room occupied by 5 other people, with a kerosene lamp, had almost no access to electricity, and u want to compare me with a kid who had almost everything at his/her beck and call, and had access to all life's basic necessities? What is your definition of merit by the way? Is merit just dependent on 4.0s(which I have) and 2400s? what about the numerous challenges and the terrible lack minorities face in their arduous journey towards success? what happens to the overall character of the applicant or the promise they have shown in the face of great hardship? Please people should get their facts straight before spewing rubbish to the public. Everyone at MIT MERITS to be here in their own different ways and there is no doubt about that. If I come from the same background as a white or Asian kid, I see no reason why they should not be picked if their overall personality puts them ahead of me. Minorities are given a chance at this our great institution to give them a better and smoother ride to success given the great promise they have shown in the face of the problems they had encountered. Most American kids (especially the whites) tend to do better than the other students at first because they had a better exposure, a stronger background, and better access to tools that could help them learn. I had to put in double their efforts to prove myself so I deserve to be here. The SAT or whatever standard u used is just a mere score and shows nothing more about the applicant.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I am so happy you wrote this now so that it can ruin your political career in the future.

i have taken the liberty of taking your article and spreading its message via youtube.


Alejandro Ojeda over 11 years ago

Mr. Briscoe unequivocally demonstrates a shallow understanding of this issue. His piece excels in degrading his peers and the institute at large. I am frankly appalled that the Tech editors would let such a piece be published.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I wish people would not attack him for being a 15/17 major or for any other academic issues -- those seem largely unrelated to his opinions.

I think the comments regarding his position of privilege are appropriate, though.

MIT graduate over 11 years ago

As a recent graduate of MIT and new member of the federal workforce, I would like to inform this author there is a shocking amount discrimination by sex still prevalent out there. I deal with it daily in the office and around the workplace. Men do not want women rising to the top, and are intimidated by successful, confident women. Some men will go out of their way to undermine a woman's progress, while others see her as sexual prey. Sexual harassment and harassment-by-sex (two different things) from men is too common, and from experience I can say with confidence that it such behavior is a huge distraction and makes it difficult for the woman to focus on her work. It remains incredibly difficult for a woman to be hired for a top-tier management or faculty position. Like hires like and these hiring panels are still comprised mostly of men. A male professor in a department within MIT's school of science, who had experience with its recruiting and hiring process, once told me he felt that several unnamed male leaders of certain departments 'walk the walk and talk the talk' but it still remains incredibly difficult for a woman to be hired in certain disciplines. The interviewers and application reviewers are at least twice as critical of her as they are of men. "For a woman to be hired, she must be much, much better than the men she is competing against. Bottom line" I was told. The same is true in the work place. As I watch women of the baby-boomer generation edge towards retirement, they tell me that the one and only possible thing that can gets a woman to the top is to 'out-work' the men by a large margin. So in fact, this author has it all backwards. The women who MIT is hiring are not less qualified than the men candidates, and being hired because MIT offered them some sort of 'leg-up' due to diversity inclusion pressures, as the author suggests. In reality, these women who have been hired must be much, much MORE qualified than the men. Finally, I question the author's qualifications to make such statements. He offers merely observations and analysis of what he's heard and seen, but no insightful experience from one side of the fence or the other. It is clear he does not understand the fundamental workings of the diversity inclusion dialogue with respect to staffing a workplace environment. Unless he's served on a hiring panel or experienced repeated discrimination, his assessment has little legitimacy.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I am reading this article shaking my head right now. The author of this article and those who agree with him, essentially are saying that individuals who live in a poor neighborhood or don't have any access to academic resources prior to college have no place at MIT, while the student who goes to a $30,000/year private school in north Massachusetts are more deserving than those students.

MIT admits people solely on their ability to perform and excel at MIT. Every individual who was admitted to MIT was admitted solely on merit. The bar is not necessarily lowered for them. But the fact of the matter is that they have gone above and beyond what the bar may have been for them, and they have displayed their innate ability to perform.

Until the author and those who agree with him have grown up or raised children in the areas with poor education systems than he shall forever remain ignorant and clueless. I am sorry but until URM's are able to go to these high end institutions likely paid by their personal trust fund, or live in high income areas (oh btw, where their parents had to have been able to excel by going to a top university, but wait wasn't allowed to because they grew up in poor areas -- circle of life) where government money is funneled into the public schools they will never have the ability to show off the talent that they have.

Sorry to some of the posters on here, but MIT is smarter than that and probably don't want to admit every John Doe white boy from Sun Valley, Idaho, such as Brandon which is 92 white, with a median income above $70k. Please somebody give this guy a wake up call.

DB over 11 years ago

As an alum of MIT and The Tech staff, I am extremely disappointed that this uninformed individual was able to perpetuate a stereotype on this public a student forum. For the record, I am very involved in the interviewing process for undergraduate admissions in the Detroit metro area. I am responsible for interviewing roughly 16 students per year, male and female, white and minority. The idea that minority applicants and female applicants are intrinsically less qualified, or that they are not academically up to snuff, is ludicrous. My experience working with the applicant pool has been as follows. Of the three women I interviewed, all three were the top applicants in my area. All three were URM students.

Brandon assumes too much about the qualifications of his contemporaries. I suggest he reserve judgement about the technical and academic abilities of his classmates, and the inner workings of the science and engineering departments at the Institute, until he becomes an STEM student himself. As an individual with no firsthand experience in these fields, Brandon's commentary is willfully ignorant.

Glenn Graham over 11 years ago

Brandon's comments actually nicely illustrate the results of systematic bias and ignorance of the subtle obstacles placed in front of minorities.

First, there's no such thing as "reverse discrimination". To this such a thing is to presume that discrimination only happens by the majority against the minority. And it also suggests that discrimination by a minority against the majority is somehow different. Thoughts like this further stigmatize minorities by perpetuating a "separate but equal" atmosphere that was the core of segregation.

Considering that Blacks make up around 12 percent of the American population. But if any organization goes to a recruiting firm or other source for candidates to fill a high-level prestigious position, they will not receive a list of which 12 percent of the candidates are black. Therefore it's clear that the "normal" approach doesn't fairly produce candidates. So entities like MIT recognize that and put remedial efforts into trying to find minority candidates to even have any representation, and usually never close to the 12 that would represent the population proportion.

Also, due to the constant hardship and inequalities that many minorities face, they are often more qualified that a similar majority person because they (the minority) had to overcome greater obstacles just to achieve the same thing.

When I was in high school and after taking the SAT, etc. I was informed of two things (among others). One was that I'd received a scholarship to a large university in the upper midwest. A few days later I received another letter that apologized and said that they didn't know I was black and that the scholarship was only for white students. Now, I'm sure that whomever endowed it made that stipulation.

Another situation occurred at MIT my freshman year, where in a required course I had all answers correct and showed all my work, but was given a 96 and not a 100. After meeting with the professor his final answer was "I didn't want to give you a perfect score, because no one else in the class got a perfect score." So Brandon, why should I have to receive less than what I earned, which in turn lowers my GPA, and makes it appear that I'm less capable academically (if you simply compare GPAs) than another person who didn't suffer that injustice? There are many reasons why institutions with the intelligence and comprehension of MIT understand that they need to put additional effort into recruiting minorities including women.

Inter Course over 11 years ago

50 -

"I wish people would not attack him for being a 15/17 major or for any other academic issues -- those seem largely unrelated to his opinions. "

Generally, I think any course bashing is completely inappropriate.

In this case, however, it is shocking and appalling that someone with such an impoverished understanding of foundational concepts in the field of political science is graduating from MIT with a degree in it.

Let me be clear that I am not arguing for groupthink here, and characterizing Briscoe as an apostate to the faith. However, in order to mount the argument in the way that he has, one must possess a conceptual apparatus so fatally flawed that it is too dangerous to be allowed out to menace the general public.

If I may make an analogy to the physical sciences:

Reading this op/ed from someone purportedly trained in political science is the equivalent of reading a commentary written by an astrophysicist operating with a geocentric model of the universe in his or her head. It's not that their opinions are controversial, or go against the conventional wisdom, or whatever. It's that in order for the argument to be made in this way you have to be ignorant of basic concepts and frameworks within the field. That's why it's sad that he's Course 17.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I scored an 1870 on my SAT. I didn't have any research experience or go to a fancy prep school. I didn't know anyone or have any connections and I finished 4th in my graduating class of 400 where only about 100 attend four year universities. Regardless of my race (which I'm choosing to not to disclose) I didn't deserve to get into MIT.

Now I'm a sophomore with a GPA well above the institute average, I've held a UROP for over a year, I've participated in numerous clubs and this summer I'm working for one of the top companies in the world.

Its all about potential!

Anonymous over 11 years ago

The author has clearly struck a nerve. Sometimes necessary surgery can inadvertently do this.

The problem is people have made this into an argument that it is not. The author states unequivocally that the people here "deserve to be here" - which I take to mean that everyone here meets at least a certain high standard of qualification.

It is not wrong to ask the question, "have MORE deserving people been turned away due to race?" Affirmative action has at its core a noble goal. That is is why this question should be asked and answered each and every year, without emotion or defensiveness. Transparency, integrity and accountability are the key to achieving that goal - and indignation over questions such as this only serve to further breed suspicion in the minds of its opponents.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

"Instead of harping on and on about the virtues of diversity, how academics aren't everything, etc. can someone tell me explicitly why MIT should use race/gender (distinct from background and life experience) as a major factor in admissions?" - 37

I disagree with Brendan's argument, but I think that 37's comment makes a good point. Why should URM applicants from wealthy / privileged backgrounds (say, Obama's children for example) be given a purely race-based advantage during the admissions process? While many of the URMs at MIT have overcome significant barriers, a good chunk of them (anecdotally around half of my URM friends) also came from very upper-to-upper middle class upbringings, with professional parents, good schools, and every opportunity. Culturally, they have more in common with the prep school set than with inner city youth. Why should they be advantaged over similarly achieving white/asian students who have ALSO overcome significant difficulties?

Are we mostly using race/gender diversity as a proxy for factors like economic background, life experience, and overcoming challenges during the admissions process? If so, why not select directly for those latter characteristics in a non-race dependent way? URM students may still disproportionately benefit under economic or life-experience based affirmative action, and it seems like a better proxy to target the actual underlying characteristics that contribute to a diverse student body.

Response over 11 years ago

57 -

"It is not wrong to ask the question, "have MORE deserving people been turned away due to race?" Affirmative action has at its core a noble goal. That is is why this question should be asked and answered each and every year, without emotion or defensiveness."

This is fair point, which I alluded to earlier in my post about the epistemology of diversity (how do you we know what constitutes desserts, and when will we have attained an optimal composition, etc).

But I think you've deploying a fair point to defend something unworthy of defense. For while Briscoe does have a throwaway line that says "sure, people deserve to be here", he also has lines like:

"As a white male, how am I supposed to feel anything but discriminated against and offended by MITs policies of preference and inclusiveness for everyone but me?"

That betray such fundamental ignorance of the dynamics he purports to describe that it's hard to take anything in this article seriously at all.

Amanda/senior over 11 years ago

While I agree with some of the principles of affirmative action, I actually resent it because it gives the "majority" an excuse to complain about the "minority". As someone mentioned earlier, admissions is based on your potential here, not necessarily a reward for how you previously performed. I am a female and a minority, who graduated in the top 10 of a school mostly filled by the white "majority". I was told by a number of people before coming here that I was only accepted because I am a minority. One such white person who told me this, had grades on par with mine, went to a school on par with MIT, and had to change majors after a year because they failed all of their engineering classes. I am now going to be graduating here after four quite successful years here at MIT. I firmly believe that I could not have excelled if the school was still full of only one or two types of people. In addition, the vast diversity at MIT has caused me to expand my thinking in a more global manner. What the author fails to realize is that part of the learning experience at college is being exposed to new trains of thought, new perspectives from backgrounds other than your own. It is clear that he has not taken the time in his 4-5 years here to expand his own mind and actually get to know some of the URMs that are here. In that light, he himself has failed to achieve the learning experience MIT wants us to obtain, and it can be argued that HE does not deserve to be here.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I like how just because Brendan doesn't support the standard liberal affirmative action views, he's no longer worth of course 17. And that's been the source for attacks on him.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

To the people who are saying "you obviously don't understand this because the admissions process is HOLISTIC": Of course it's holistic. And grades/scores aren't everything. But that doesn't give you an excuse to mix in race and affirmative action into the rest of a candidate's personality profile (activities, passions, whatever).

Also, those who say Brendan thinks URM students are "intrinsically unqualified" are missing the point. If they were as intrinsically qualified, there would be no affirmative action needed to ensure 'enough' representation (by definition). Obviously they can then select for potential and then fuzzy factors which they give URMs more in order to get the necessary affirmative action boost. It's well documented that on average in order to get into an Ivy the non-affirmative action candidate will need 200 extra points on the SAT to be competitive.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Regardless of anything stated in this article, the fact that at least two of the comments have said something to the effect of "I can't believe we let such an ignorant person post an opinion on a public forum at the Tech!" is really sad. One of the comments was even from a former Tech staff! Why would we prevent people from expressing their opinions on an opinion article, no matter how whiny or misinformed they are? I don't believe you can argue against any form of discrimination when you discriminate against people who have an opinion.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I think number #60 makes a great point. Considering the low probability of getting into a school like MIT. Removing only increasing the likelihood of individuals belonging to a race that is "discriminated-against" while having a disastrous effect on diversity (and culture). This is well documented in many books. (Apologies, but I can't remember the exact names now.)

I think if people arguing against affirmative action understood this concept better they would find they aren't complaining about much: perhaps, a 2 higher chance at getting in. As it turns out, in the end, you would still be competing with all those people who would benefit from race-blind admissions.

Honestly, you should be thanking MIT for this policy, because if you get your wish there will be fewer girls. Not only are girls very intelligent and bring a lot to the community, I also personally date girls.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

"But I think you've deploying a fair point to defend something unworthy of defense."

Hmm. Actually, from the general tone, I would tend to think you mean "someone" rather than "something" - but that is sheer conjecture on my part.

This may indeed be a case of "wrong messenger for the topic", I cannot tell. I would find it enlightening if people would engage as much energy in validating/refuting the supporting quotes and statistics included in the article. It can indeed sound whiny for a white male to complain about reverse discrimination - but if you remove every self-referencing section of the article, there is still some food for thought. I am convinced every question raised in the article has a satisfactory answer - but I don't think it is offensive to ask the question. Therefore, I think that it is very reasonable for MIT to provide more clarification about the goals and methods of their policies. It would certainly be much more productive for MIT to do so explicitly, than for rampant speculation to build on both sides of the argument.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

#65: "I would find it enlightening if people would engage as much energy in validating/refuting the supporting quotes and statistics included in the article."

Here's one response to a similar article from last year: http://tech.mit.edu/V131/N28/letters.html

And another response to that article from the Graduate Women at MIT blog: http://gwamit.blogspot.com/2011/06/would-rather-be-queen.html

It's not a case of "wrong messenger" it's a case of telling the women and other minorities of MIT that they don't belong despite the evidence otherwise.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

"Many women and minorities at MIT report feeling that they dont know whether or not they deserve to be here and feel like they are perceived with such suspicions by their white and Asian male colleagues."

I would really appreciate it if you would provide sources if you're going to make gross generalizations.

Tony over 11 years ago

misinterpreting facts: check. Just because we hired more women IN ONE YEAR, does not mean that our inclusion of women is higher than the national average. There still remain the other faculty members, majority male, which he so advantageously forgot.

Twisting the meaning of quotes: check. Not only did he mention everyone he's met deserves to be here, but he still concludes that the allocation of spots for URM is clearly bringing down the merit of the institution... Makes sense, right..? And I don't think the "crazy" that he interprets is not the "crazy" that the quote meant.... Even though the focus of the institute is to include the URMs in their application process, they are not only looking for just that one check in our application process. They are looking for the same thing that they look for in other applications: potential. Potential might mean winner of ISEF, or just tinkering with electronics at a young age. It does not correlates with opportunity. Maybe the potential winner of ISEF will never be because he lives in a town with a horrible science curriculum, or he's just poor and cannot afford to go to the better school down the street. MIT looks for URMs because the URMs usually do not have that opportunity to excel their potential, and that's why they're here. I honestly don't see where he's coming from.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

TO BE FAIR...his name is Brandon. NOT Brendan. I think it's offensive that people are misconstruing his name!

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Many highly qualified women often don't apply to MIT because of the sexist reputation. That doesn't mean that unqualified minorities should be admitted. Author would be more convincing if he was a real engineer at MIT (and not management and poly-sci.)

Anonymous over 11 years ago

There is an element of TRUTH in this article, however, discomforting. As an international male student who has secured MIT admission purely based on merit, I attest that in spite of being in the top 5 of my class, I routinely get discriminated by my dept for RA/TA in favor of attractive women. Im having a hard time paying for my living and Im not well off...I grew up in city ghettos and slums, while all these so called minority" candidates are much better off. Let me tell you this, the REAL MINORITY do not have access to good education in the first place. By placating these psuedo minority, MIT is making a big mistake!!!!

Anonymous over 11 years ago


" You're all at MIT together. You're expected to make the future better, together. Who cares how any of you got there...?"

Going through injustice does not mean you need to let it live on for future generations of students. Why let it slide because "it doesn't matter anymore" when many Supreme Court cases and laws will be based on this? See Michigan and California for examples of states that don't allow affirmative action in state schools. You think people who oppose affirmative action are a tiny minority of racist privileged people? What about these voters? Is their voice now unworthy?

"To the author: how can you claim reverse discrimination with no specific examples of your own? In my time at MIT, I didn't notice white males losing out on opportunities because minorities and women were suddenly taking up all the Rhodes scholarships. "

Try applying to any other types of scholarships as a non-minority candidate. You'll find that tons of options are just closed for you because programs don't target you. If you don't have much money or had other significant hardships, tough luck, these engineering scholarships aren't for you.

Anonymous over 11 years ago


By using course discrimination in your argument against author, your statement is hypocritical at best. How do you know a double major student in 17 and 15 would make less sound argument than an engineering student? In the real world, people/management skills is as important as technical skills, as evidenced by the backgrounds of world's political and business leaders. So why don't you start with an evidence to back up your claims and stop using ad hominem attacks?

and btw, im double majoring in course 10 and 15. and im graduating in 4 years.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I completely support the author of this article. Part of what attracted me to MIT was it's meritocratic nature. Its amazing to have a school where RESULTS matter, where SCHOLARSHIP matters, where EXCELLENCE matters. There are lots of other great schools that need affirmative action - MIT doesn't! If MIT wants to well and truly hold the mantle of the world's best institution of higher learning, it can't lessen its standards, neither for students nor for faculty.

MIT admissions (and scholarships) should be solely based on merit, and should be race and gender blind.

Towards a more meritocratic (and more successful) Institute.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

There is a gaping omission that many here--including the author--fail to take note of: there are scores of students that are qualified to go to MIT who do not get in for the simple fact that MIT is not able to accommodate them all.

The question, then, is NOT whether MIT is letting in students who are not qualified. The question is what criteria MIT should take into account over and above merit in their admissions decisions.

Criteria such as socio-economic background and diversity are, in my view, perfectly legitimate.

Anonymous over 11 years ago


its meritocratic (not "it's")

It's amazing (not "its")

Do you really belong in this meritocracy? :P

Anonymous over 11 years ago

For someone who didn't study science, engineering, or technology at MIT, how does he even have any idea of how to measure merit by MIT standards? Not only that, I'm sure the Course 17 faculty are wondering what they ever did to get a dud like him in their department. MIT has a wonderful political science department, and he is making a bad name for it. His opinions aside, his arguments don't even logically build upon one another.

What was the editor THINKING in even allowing this to go to press. Sure, it's an op-ed, but MIT Tech should have higher standards for its journalism.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

It is very unfortunate that after 4 (or is it 5) years at MIT you still think like that Briscoe. As a place where merit and mutual respect seem to do very well, I do not know what dorm or classes or hallways you were at while here. This should be one of those articles satirized on Southpark (thank you no. 48) and condemned to the core ... the geniuses at MIT and CCC do not agree with you, I hope!

Yoni Miller over 11 years ago

I want to start off, by saying, that as an advanced institution, the dynamics of MIT's classes will be different and don't necessarily have to be reflective of general population. Of the URM's who get in, or even international students, there is a contingency of students, who are living in outstanding circumstances, e.g. have excess of educational capital (wealth, and educated family), and a person of color who come's from such background does not reflect the true aims of AA, the way it would, for the average urban class working/unemployed POC family.

I don't think education is completely the key to purging institutional racism, as many times it continues the cycle of racism, without making any meaningful changes, however an area where the author of this ignorant article is completely off, is the affirmative action of non black/latino people, e.g. the GI Bill helped propel millions of Russian, Slavic, Italian, Jewish students get degrees from college. Yet, when it comes to black or latino people getting GI Bill it's called "freeloading".

Representing women in colleges, is just another one of the well intentioned steps of liberal feminism, and not in any way reflective of meaningful gender equality.

To illustrate what I mean by that, take bathrooms for example, in Liberal feminism, the goal is for women to achieve equality of men, and thus there would be 50/50 split of the bathrooms, yet in reality, the line for women's bathrooms would be longer, whether it's for biological or cultural reasons.

MIT HAS made meaningful steps towards gender equality, by creating facilities for mothers to drop of their kids, as well as safe spaces and counseling for self identified women.

Feminism and Blacktivism needs to be attacked from where necessity is form, ie Capital/market, an amazing analysis of this, can be derived from the laws Sweden passed for women.

Confession: I am an anarcho Marxist, my views represented here, only represent Social Democratic views, as discussing radical marxist critiques here would be impractical and turn off my capitalist friends :)

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Man, can we go one Black History month without a white male whining about the affirmative action that causes the outrageous 7 percent black students make up of the undergraduate population? A mere 2 percent - or even 1 percen - comprised purely of those "exceptional" black students who "deserve" to be here would be better for everyone. It would certainly be better for the black students, who don't feel invisible enough on campus, as they will no longer have to feel like they don't deserve to be here. Rather, they can feel like the only black people worth giving a crap about because they've assimilated enough to pass a white person's intelligence/behavioral standards - and that's the only reason they're worth giving a crap about. And frankly, being viewed as a model minority has certainly never hurt anyone.

Briscoe and those who agree with him say what they want is a meritocracy, but when you're completely fine with people having worked just as hard as you being passed over because they didn't have as much available to them as you for them work just as hard over, then what you're really saying you want is an aristocracy. Are we really going to say you're less deserving of admittance because you don't have a mandatory computer science class on your record when your school can't even afford computers? How are we going to tout MIT's history of using knowledge to improve the lives of others if we refuse to accept and teach knowledge to those who weren't afforded the same opportunities as us yet still have that same thirst for knowledge?

Contrary to the words of the random white guy speaking for women/minorities in this op-ed piece, as a black female student, I have never felt less deserving of being here than my peers. However, I have felt that my life experiences weren't really understood or respected by my peers and it is the resulting social isolation and racial pre-judgment I have felt as a black female here that more than anything has made me doubt whether I belonged at MIT. A lot of people here have such stereotypical views of black people. I seriously just had someone today say it must be hard for me having to listen to that contemporary/slow adult station they play in the MacCon convenience store since I would (obviously) prefer to be listening to RB. Actually, I would prefer to be listening to Thursday, but there's nothing wrong with Savage Garden, thank you very much.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

About me: MIT grad student in an engineering discipline.

Of course admissions and hiring should be based on potential. That's why in addition to past accomplishments and scores, MIT and other places account for any circumstances that may indicate not yet fulfilled potential beyond what's evident in a person has already achieved.

The author does not dispute this. Rather, he suggests that this should be done in a way that is blind to gender and race since, at best, they are vague proxies for an individual's actual history. To the extent that any social groups, whether ethnic, religious, etc, experience more adversity on the whole, that would be reflected in aggregate in the circumstances of all individuals.

Is this not reasonable? I argue it is.

But then why on earth measure outcomes by racial or sexual composition of student body or faculty? If the process is based on merit (on terms of how far a person has come, with allowance made for where they started), the outcome will be fair -- but crucially, there is no way of telling a priori what gender or racial composition such a fair outcome would lead to (due to different preferences, or -- yes -- different average aptitudes).

Also, why have scholarships, mentoring/leadership events, etc that cater exclusively to one gender or one race? This is blatantly discriminatory. There are NO scholarships or student societies that exist solely for the benefit of men, or whites -- in fact, they would almost certainly run into trouble with the law. How is it even remotely acceptable to have ones exclusively for specific protected groups?

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I still really don't get how affirmative action brings "less qualified" students to MIT. What exactly makes people believe that the "majorities" are a lot smarter than their counterparts?? Is there any fixed standard by which smartness is measured?? This is a school where over 2500 out of the yearly applicants are VERY qualified to be given a chance. What will you have the admission officers do in this case? The number of students admitted out of the QUALIFIED applicant pool have to be such that diversity is promoted, a process which supports MIT's mission to maintain its status as a world class institution that solves problems across different nations.Of what good will it be if various QUALIFIED applicants from across the world are not given a chance at the Institution? As for the so-called MIT Alum who claimed he knew only one smart black student through out his days at MIT, good luck with growing up. I do not think such a baseless/shameless statement can come from someone who was truly trained at MIT. I understand Brandon's argument but I honestly do not think the hiring process for faculty at MIT has been skewed to favor "under-deserving applicants", that argument is completely baseless!! A good number(not all) of minorities never had the opportunity to develop to their full potential because of a myriad limitations they faced, as compared to MOST of the white and Asian counterparts who had access to constant electricity, computers and other salient learning tools. Given the same opportunity from childhood, they will all have almost similar academic outputs because intelligence is not a function of race.

Anonymous over 11 years ago


By definition, affirmative action gives preferences to less qualified minority candidates over more qualified non-minority ones. If these candidates were as qualified, then we wouldn't NEED any affirmative action for them to be as represented. People are saying if we had no affirmative action their representation would fall dangerously low - so they need preferences put in place. You're now not giving these white or Asian candidates their chance, no matter if their family were poor immigrants who could barely speak English when they moved to the US, because affirmative action mainly works on race and gender in addition to class factors.

Also, it's disingenuous to suggest that it's the white majority is discriminating against every else. Once all the URM categories have added up (females and all non-white/Asians) over 60 of students get preferences, so it's really a case of this majority being preferred over the minority.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

For people pro affirmative action, it wouldn't hurt your case if you just laid off all the personal attacks on Brandon's character, his background, and his major (course 15/17).

Also, is holding anti affirmative action views now grounds for censorship from the Tech? A great percentage of Americans don't approve of affirmative action either, all they all morally bankrupt and ignorant?

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I think everyone should just read the rest of the above comments before posting their own. It takes about about 10 to 15 minutes but made me (as an MIT alum) feel proud about the general level of thoughtfulness and critical thinking exhibited in the discussion. Regardless of what you thought of Brandon's article or what you know about the various issues, most of the comments here are enlightening.

I will say this: discussions about affirmative action and race are completely different at MIT than at most other places. Everyone involved in math, science, or engineering wants to be at MIT. The institute has its pick of the most elite and so everyone here is ridiculously more capable than the average person. This means they have the luxury of considering other things besides just test scores, etc. in admissions and hiring and not diluting its excellence.

Those people who think that most URMs are not less intelligent than everyone else at MIT (this is the crux of the issue, isn't it?) are the truly unintelligent or atleast ignorant. I could explain try to argue why, but most people with such a mindset will not change it in the face of compelling reasoning for the opposite.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Sorry in post 85, I meant to say "Those people who think that most URMs are less intelligent than everyone else at MIT..."

Pretty big typo. Oops.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

To 85, and others who argue along the lines of this:

"The institute has its pick of the most elite and so everyone here is ridiculously more capable than the average person. This means they have the luxury of considering other things besides just test scores, etc. in admissions and hiring and not diluting its excellence."

In essence you are saying that above a certain cut-off from its vast applicant pool, it doesn't matter who MIT picks.

That might be true -- the noise might be greater than the variance in the signal as far as merit or potential goes. But this argument then cuts either way: If A and B are equally well qualified to within measurement error, why SHOULD the minority candidate get a preference? Not just in a single isolated case, but systematically?

At this point, the issue is no longer only maintaining high standards -- it also becomes about fairness and justice.

And justice happens at the level of the individual, not between societal factions or collectives. GIVEN a certain qualification or merit, it simply shouldn't matter who you are. THAT is the crux, isn't it?

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I am a female alum and I agree with Brandons points. For those negative comments that claim that Brandon needs a source for his statement that "Many women and minorities at MIT report feeling that they dont know whether or not they deserve to be here and feel like they are perceived with such suspicions by their white and Asian male colleagues," I am a source to attest to this statement, along with many other women I have spoken to.

There were many times at MIT where I felt as though I was perceived to have been accepted at MIT because of my gender. Comments came from not only white men, but from other women, URMs, and everyone for that matter. Whether these comments were jokes or not, they raised uncomfortable doubts. If there were no affirmative action policies then there would be no question of whether someone was filling a quota or not. How are women supposed to feel as though they got in with their own merit if affirmative action is so salient? Also, there are plenty of whites and Asians at MIT who are underprivileged; its not just the underrepresented minorities.

I encourage everyone to take a look at how many events, groups, scholarships, awards, and job opportunities at MIT and advertised at MIT are explicitly for women or URMs and ask yourselves, is this really fair?

To all those people who are personally attacking Brandon for expressing his opinion, shame on you. It is those negative comments that are an embarrassment to MIT.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

While at first this argument seem to have merit, affirmative action has only been in effect for 30 years. Once generation's worth of time cannot solve 200 years of oppression.

This is like a pendulum - it must swing a long way before returning to the middle. Anyone who does not see this is ignorant of the reality of the situation.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

To 87 (I'm number 85):

I agree that even MIT's mild version of affirmative action is unfair. And in a place that makes us feel we must compete as much as MIT does, the thought you might miss an opportunity you have earnedjust because you're not a woman or a minority can get genuinely emotional.

Poster #46 expressed my thoughts on the fairness of it better than I could. What would be fairer is if MIT could go back through the elementary, middle, and high school systems of the under-resourced students it does admit and give them all of the same opportunities that most people who are able to get into MIT have.

I honesty don't think MIT would be better if it simply gave an ass-kicking science/math entrance exam and just took the 1000 highest scores in every year.

In this day and age, in this country (never mind other countries), race, gender, and socioeconomic background matter when it comes to a career at the upper echelons of science and engineering. I think we (MIT) are doing an admirable thing by trying to address.

But that is just my opinion, and I have little doubt there might be a better solution.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Damn.... I meant "Poster #42 expressed my thoughts on the fairness of it..."

Pretty good day for typos.

Emily over 11 years ago

Brandon says that URMs should be against affirmative action because it makes others question whether we belong at MIT. But why does he think we'd be so selfish?

Sebastian over 11 years ago

I don't think that affirmative action as a policy is beyond criticism, but any argument conflating the presence of a policy aiming at creating a more diverse environment with the presence of reverse discrimination is not nearly complex enough to adequately represent reality. I find it rather curious, for example, that, despite the author's apparent attendance of the Institute Diversity Summit, his eulogy of meritocracy does not seem to have taken a hit, for it was at this event that Sloan Professor Lotte Bailyn presented convincing research that exposed meritocracy to be a set of biases based in historically conditioned understandings of what constitutes merit. As such, it appears to me that what we are confronted with in Brandon's article might be as much implicit racial bias as it is his mourning of a set of privileges based in an unconstitutional supremacy of the white male for which he feels he has to take part of the blame without enjoying the benefits. Now while it does seem intriguing to consider whether the proliferation of the 'white male' as an evil figure in discourse might be a somewhat anachronistic generalization (although some adults John Howard Griffin met on his 1959 journey are probably still alive), it seems that the more pressing matter would be to investigate the effects of history on the understanding of what constitutes merit, worth, achievement, validation. And here, it seems to me, may be one of MIT's most pressing problems, as this understanding appears to be much less than diverse.

Emily over 11 years ago

The subtitle of this article and the basis of many of his arguments reference "MITs mission of being merit-based institution." However, if we head to web.mit.edu, we quickly find that "the mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century." So what's all this garbage about "merit?" MIT is out there to educate its students and improve the world, not to make every honor student's parents proud.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

re 94:

"So what's all this garbage about "merit?""

MIT has developed a meritocratic culture over time, and became famous for it.

"Advancing knowledge" does require, at the highest level, the maximum excellence. Few can master and even fewer can expand, say, physics at its most advanced frontiers.

Many of us came to MIT because of this culture (or its reputation for it).

Good intentions are not enough to "improve the world". Results matter; ability matters. That's why it's a bad idea to allow anything to distract from merit.

Kylie over 11 years ago

I respect that Brandon put himself out there on such a challenging issue, and don't think we should be personally attacking him. Although white males have many privileges (that they often will not acknowledge) that URMs do not, I think civil discourse is still warranted on how to make affirmative action more just and effective. It is reasonable to consider basing affirmative action on socioeconomic status, as previous posters have suggested, rather than race or gender, as this would still allow the targeting and inclusion of URMs (who make up a significant of the lower socioec0nomic classes anyway) without stigma (as comment 88 alluded to). Moreover, I think that socioeconomic background plays a much more important role than gender or race in disparities in education and opportunity.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I think 87 does the best job of explaining the terms fairness and merit in terms of how MIT does affirmative action. For those who don't understand the feelings of "less qualified" connecting with affirmative action, look no further. Some say that it's fine to use affirmative action to correct past discrimination since white males are considered a privileged class in the US. But if this is really the reason for affirmative action, why does affirmative action also select against historically discriminated-against groups e.g. Indian Americans and East Asians?

"Model minority" myths aside it doesn't take long to find many issues affecting the Asian American community in 2012, much less in the pre 60s when legal discrimination was just as strong as against other minority groups.

I generally am not super hostile to affirmative action programs, but I think supporters need to be more mindful of some of the negative effects, and explain that the purpose isn't just to correct past discrimination, it's to also balance out the demographic groups on campus. The use of the word quota is usually taken badly by people, but the end goal is to make the numbers better.

MIT needs to own up to these issues and consider rethinking its policies, allowing this discussion to take place openly among the administration and the campus, instead of saying "that's how we're doing things, and we aren't discriminating against anyone". Perhaps affirmative action mainly based on socioeconomic class instead of by race can do a better job of making our policies fair.

Lulu over 11 years ago

Aw, I feel bad cause I think Brandon is going to be embarrassed of having written this article in a few years when it's like the #1 Google hit for his name.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

This, like many politicized issues, is simply a matter of semantics. "Affirmative action" has become a politically and emotionally charged phrase for URMs and others. So MIT is partially to blame if it still uses the phrase when describing its policy. It should instead simply say that admission to MIT is not based on what you have accomplished so far, but about your character and your potential. Very little of this can be interpreted through numerical statistics attached to your application, so the admissions committee must look elsewhere - this is why MIT needs to pay an admissions staff, this is why you have to write essays and get letters of recommendation, interviews, etc. Beyond a fairly low threshold of good grades and tests, MIT is and should be most interested in how you and the institute would benefit from your presence. This whole-picture view of a person should include things that could have been a detriment to the student and explain why their scores weren't higher and why this could be overlooked in favor of a strong showing of character and drive. These factors could include race, given context though. An African-American from an affluent family should not be given the same benefit that a truly disadvantaged minority is given, because the former was already given every opportunity to prove themselves on a high playing field. So there - we just erased race from the discussion while still preserving the essence of "Affirmative Action." We are giving opportunities to students who might not have been able to show their potential due to a disadvantaged background, but about whom we have confidence that they will be able to excel at MIT. This could mean a poor white boy from a farming family, but more often it means a racial minority. Just don't say "race" and don't say "affirmative action" because that's when things get contentious.

Also, even though I generally disagree with the author, I'm appalled at the comments in support of censoring this student's opinion.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I am a little alarmed that this discussion did not end with comment #35, which points out the obvious logical flaw with the original opinion article. To Mr. Briscoe, and those who made similar elementary errors of logic, I heartily recommend supplementing the nonscientific education you have received at the Institute from Courses 15 and 17 with an offering from one of the scientific departments that will teach you logical reasoning. I particularly endorse 18.100 (B is what I took, A is also excellent) - it's never too late to try and master clear, logical thinking.

Anonymous Alum (SBx2, PhD)

Anonymous over 11 years ago

EPIC FAIL on the editor's part!

I'm disgusted by this piece of misinformation. Please see comment #20 for an example.

Brandon, why the Tech? Why not any of the idiotic, right-wing media outlets but the Tech? You're embarrassing us all, MIT alumni, with these invalid and redundant arguments.

How could you write this piece with a good conscience? Is it ignorance, bad-intentions, or selfishness? You were at a top US institution, yet you came up with such garbage. This isn't minorities' or women's fault. What happened to all the HASS courses you took? Are the instructors and TA's only correcting your grammer, when your way of building and presenting arguments is so weak?

MIT \'07, Courses 10 and 7 over 11 years ago

Brandon is among the more courageous of his peers to bring up this important issue so vocally. This article is not just an MIT senior worried about his future, Brandon's article represents the attitude and perceptions of many people of all races and genders. Whether it does or not, the mere perception that affirmative action or any policy acts in favor of an individual for reasons beyond what they perceive as just and fair will likely cause this same reaction, whether realized by the individual or not. Rather than labeling Brandon as prejudiced, insensitive, or uneducated, it is important to recognize his sentiments as the normal human reaction to a seemingly biased and unjust system. Of course, Brandon would feel this way and how can we expect him and many others like him not to? Instead of trying to force or shame them to feel differently, we must ask, what have we done to make him perceive that the best candidate for a particular faculty position was not chosen? What can we do to improve our communication, and thereby our relationship, with the majority of faculty of students (though more females were hired than males this year, the majority are still males) so that this attitude and perception does not negatively affect the collaborative and educative environment that the diversity is working so hard to achieve? If we are not doing these things, we are not addressing the real problem - that the system is at fault for not naturally allowing for a 50/50 choice of females/males, not individuals. No individual should suffer from females being left out of the academic process at an earlier point in time, and somewhat even more importantly, no one should perceive that they are either - males or females. Females also do not want to be perceived as being hired only because of their gender. It undermines the very principles that the institute strives towards and then the institute suffers.

Please see: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/03/21/mit_issues_new_report_on_status_of_women for a summary on the "Backlash" based on the 2011 MIT Report on Women.

There is a better way to communicate with the members of the university what the institute is doing and why, and it would benefit all members, both the majority and minority, in many ways.

elmega over 11 years ago

My most important learning during the six months that I have been studying at MIT is the lack of curiosity and capacity to understand other cultures or minorities of the overrepresented majority of white American middle-high class students.

No offense. These student and their contribution to others are great (and, of course, there are many exceptions). However, I believe that they should reflect on those mental frameworks and biases that make them perceive that URMs lack of talent and do not contribute as they expect.

Amanda/senior over 11 years ago

Seriously? Has no one noticed comment #71?? I find it appalling that anyone thinks they have a right to distinguish a "real" minority vs. a "pseudo" minority... Making such blanket statements such as "the minorities at MIT are pseudo minorities only demonstrates the ignorance so many people possess here even further. Let's get one thing straight... You will NEVER know what the URMs have gone through to get here if you base all your opinions off the tiny fraction of URMs you have met during your time here. It sounds very much by your comment that you are simply threatened by the diverse population at MIT. So you have been beaten out for positions by "attractive" female students? Why must you list that they are attractive? There is an overwhelming number of people that attribute a woman's success to the way she looks, the way she dresses. That, my friend, is sexual HARASSMENT at its finest. It has been shown (and only further backed by some comments already listed) that women have to work MUCH harder to achieve the same success as men. so, why don't you get on board with the future and leave yr ignorant and male-dominated ideas behind?

MIT Graduate over 11 years ago

Let's talk about why special benefits like scholarships or hiring pushes for URMs exist. The reason: America was designed based on the idea of equality of opportunity - for white men. When they crafted the constitution, our founding fathers had white men in mind - in fact, at that time, white, land-owning men. Women and blacks were inconsequential. (If you look at the history of court cases in this country, you will find an overwhelming number of lawsuits stemming from racial/immigration/gender prejudice. Just look at many of the lawsuits that occurred when authorities of jurisdictions within this country tried to quarantine groups of individuals (like the Chinese) because of their ethnicity, not out of any scientifically justified public health reason.) Anyhow, the point is that white men always have been able to, and still can, rise from the lowest to highest rung in society through hard work and judicious spending of their income and time. Women and minorities have not been able to because of prejudice and discrimination. No matter how hard they work and how smart they are, prejudice and discrimination has stood and still stands strongly in their way. The amount to which they are challenged varies among industry; academia appears to be the most friendly to them. To anyone who is unconvinced, look at the number of CURRENT lawsuits due to harassment and discrimination, as advertised on the federal EEOC ticker: http://www.eeoc.gov/. According to this website, EEOC recently sued Mavis Tire for refusing to hire women who were overly qualified. As another example, unlawful discrimination based on pregnancy and care-giving responsibilities is a widespread problem - women who become pregnant face demotions, prejudice, and loss of a job even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed over 30 years ago. Bias charges in the private sector are at an all time high. I hope these examples demonstrate the need to do some research before forming an opinion.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

The article in The Tech about reverse discrimination is really insulting. I think it just speaks to a world in which there are still people who don't believe that equality for both women and minorities is still a constant struggle. In an egalitarian world where this is no discrimination rampant in society, MAYBE you would have a mildy decent argument. Clearly, you are too closed minded to see through your veil of delusion. I personally hate being judged on my race or on my gender. But I have NEVER felt undeserving to be at MIT. I worked hard to get here and I work hard everyday that I am here. Even if I am lucky to have a great family and schooling, I am here today because someone saw the potential in me to help make the world a better place--regardless of my race or gender. You don't always need to have the best educational background, you need to have a special something that can add to this community. Having a balanced study body of 50/50 women and men and having a large number of international students and diversity makes MIT the most amazing place that I have ever been "privileged" or "deserving" enough to be in. MIT isn't just a place where great people come to, it is an institute where great people are MADE.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

107 The point is that you think any argument from a white male is invalid shows that the judging criterion is not fairness, it's group politics. Obviously, when compared to the population as a whole, white males at MIT are only about 20-25 of the campus, so MOST (the other 75) people feel the need to argue for affirmative action because it benefits THEMSELVES. There have been actual supreme court cases on affirmative action such as the case of Allan Bakke where the courts ruled that reverse discrimination is NOT OK and white males have the same legal rights as everyone else. This is an example of an overwhelmingly clear bias charge that the Supreme Court decided.

I don't think Brandon's arguments or logic are bad at all. It's just that the way MIT has brilliantly pitted the majority of the population as a 'minority'. And when their share of the cake is set to decrease, they have all the reason to scream against it. No one really wants to be one of the few to make a stand against affirmative action in principle because it's defending that white guy. Asians are also discriminated against in the affirmative action game, but in the end they have very weak political influence compared to other groups.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

104 People will always judge others based on how they look. Right or wrong, it's human nature. It's been around forever and isn't going to evolve out of us soon. And mostly because it works. Attractive people, both men and women, make more money and are promoted more. Why does everything need turn into a case of sexual harassment?

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I disagree with almost everything in this article, but Brandon had every right to write it and to suggest that he doesn't is asinine and un-American. URMs don't feel like they don't deserve to be at MIT because of affirmative action. URMs feel like they don't deserve to be at MIT because people like Brandon claim that they don't deserve to be here. Even though we know its not true on some level, hearing it over and over again can be quite demoralizing.

Affirmative action does not exist so that women and URMs can take deserving spots away from deserving white men, as many people would like to believe. Unfortunately, most schools fail to adequately explain what it is for and why it was necessary to implement in our society. Instead of being angry with Brandon for his ignorance, when most of the country is ignorant on the same matter, and accusing him of being racist, stupid or a typical illogical humanities major, perhaps now would be a good time to educate him and people who share his views about the matter.

Affirmative Action was established (in the US) to attempt to rectify a series of social injustices committed by both the US government and society for decades (and in some cases centuries) and the impact they had on equal opportunities for employment and education, including but not limited to wage discrimination, segregation, mortgage discrimination, and racial steering.

It would have been easier to walk away after integration and say, the matter will resolve itself, but realistically, that was never going to happen.

Imagine an 100 yard dash where all of the white runners got to start 20 yards ahead. It doesn't matter how fast the black runners can run, making up 20 yards on an 100 yard race is almost impossible.

Affirmative action exists to try and correct this problem and establish how people would run if they started in the same place. Of course, this task is almost impossible when it comes to the real world, and affirmative action does have its problems when it comes to its execution, but to deny its objective as not having merit is ridiculous.

Instead of doing some research and trying to figure out how to make the process more efficient and fair, everyone seems to feverishly support it or feverishly oppose it, neither of which is the best for society.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

to mit graduate (105): im asian american and while what you said about past discrimination rings true, but i feel in this society im faced with a hard choice on affirmative action - since its goal is to fix problems from the past (ie chinese exclusion act), but it ends up discriminating against us anyway. as a group asians are tend to to work hard while still facing much prejudice in america (and getting that nerd label stuck onto us at the same time), affirmative action doesnt seem to care and requires that we need to work harder than even caucasians to get into college.

i just dont see how this is fair to asians. maybe its the price we pay for a diverse campus, or for giving spots to other minority groups, but to say that everyone who defends race blind admissions and not having affirmative action is a white male, is wrong. i remember reading an article in the news about the increasing number of asian applicants who check the 'decline to state' box for race in college admisissions. of course, you can usually tell by the last name what ethnicity we are, but the fact that the admissions committee needs to do this to separate us from caucasian or urm students says something.

one quote that really shocked me was the old mit admissions officer who said something in an affirmative action related case to the effect of "this kid was probably rejected since he was another boring korean math star."

Anonymous over 11 years ago

ok, i found the quote by marilee jones: "It's possible that Henry Park

looked like a thousand other Korean kids with the exact same profile of

grades and activities and temperament - yet another textureless math grind."

take this how you will, but this pissed me off when i first heard it.

adding 'korean' in there wasnt a coincidence. its a stereotype. if affirmative action is to right past discrimination in america, i dont understand how this is


imagine that 100 yard dash - but now to correct wrongs, you move the starting line for black athletes ahead 20 yards, and asian athletes behind 20 yards. maybe thats why jeremy lin had such a hard time making it in the nba.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

The question of race on any application that contains essays/an interview can do nothing but invite racial discrimination for any race: asian, hispanic, white, etc, and anyone else. It is a question that should be left off the application entirely, and data collected only after admissions decisions made.

Every one agrees here that MIT is/should be a meritocracy. Ethnicity is decided at birth-when everyone is equal and nobody has had the time to act on the opportunities, however small, that they encounter in life. Thus, how can it provide any information about the merit of a person? If an individual feels that their race has obscured their merit and achievements during their life, the essays (not a multiple choice question) are a MUCH better venue for establishing a context in which the admissions staff should evaluate an individual's accomplishments.

Everyone's situation is unique, and discrimination because of a lack of information will always exist until colleges and employers stop simplifying complex backgrounds and histories into a simple question of a person's ethnicity. MIT should again emerge as a leader above institutions and remove this question entirely from its admissions considerations.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I perceive in the arguments I have seen over the years against affirmative action-type policies, including those in this article and responses, the belief that, if there are two "equally qualified" candidates, no matter how that is measured, the white male should be the preferred choice. That to do otherwise is reverse discrimination. The suggestion is - white male first, all others second. These so called "victims" decry what I consider to be constructive policies "actively affirming" the abilities of others to be the preferred choice. Until the perception of entitlement changes in this country such policies must remain.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

My father had a friend in college who put down his ethnicity as "Native American". This guy thought he was Native American because he was born in the United States. Should race matter in issues of qualification? It did in this situation because the guy had terrible grades and no extra-curricular activities yet managed to be a prime candidate for the admissions office anyway. Needless to say, once admissions found out that this guy was actually white, they were enraged.

I believe 100 that MIT would be a stronger school if the application form was blind to race and gender. A college rep once told me that the notion that minorities "really want to get in" is the reason that they have higher acceptance rates than whites or Asians. I mean in terms of accepted from number applied for all those people slow with stats out there.

Making ANY decision based on race or gender, whether it be for better or for worse, is discrimination. To be honest, catering to minorities sets them back in their pursuit for equality. They will always need to hold hands with the government and will never stand on their own two feet. Do them a favor MIT and treat them as equals.

And for all of you people posing nasty comments towards the author out there I have only this to say; you guys are hypocritically narrow minded...is there a worse kind of person?

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Brandon, you claim that MIT is an engineering institution, and in fact one of the best engineering schools in the world. However, you attempted to major in an engineering discipline, but sold out and majored in Course 15 and 17. If you attend MIT why would you major in a non-engineering major. The reason might be because you didn't get into the schools that specialized in these fields. But instead you were accepted into MIT because of diversity. Rather than only teach engineering students MIT attempts to create a learning environment for a variety of different courses, and because few people apply for undergraduate Political Science and Management to MIT, you were lucky enough to be accepted.

However, myself and many other of my minority peers were accepted to countless other competitive institutions, but chose MIT because it is deemed the hardest engineering school in the country. Rather than sink many of us flourish, and amazingly do well here. The statements that you make in this article don't upset me because I've heard them before, but rather fuel me to display my learning capabilities. I will do well at MIT, I will graduate from here, and I will succeed.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I would assume Brandon should be against legacy admissions/hiring given his comments. Legacy admissions have a 50 increase of being accepted at MIT---and wait till you hear it, most of the alums back then are white males. But no mention of this. Convenient, eh?

Sid Farkas over 11 years ago

I was shocked not only by how unqualified most of the minorities at MIT were, but also how well off many of them were. It was like the worst of both worlds. Not only were they not admitting truly disadvantaged people, but the people they were admitting on the grounds of being "disadvantaged" came from backgrounds that could hardly be called disadvantaged.

If you went to one of the premier magnet schools in the country (Bronx High school of Science), are you really disadvantaged?

If you have two parents where one is a doctor and the other a lawyer, are you really disadvantaged (This person had less than 1300/1600 on the SAT's, surely his admission had nothing to do with race)?

If you own your own laptop and start every day with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, are you really disadvantaged?

The truth is that the real world (i.e. the private sector economy) doesn't have racial or gender quotas. Unsuprisingly, high paying private sector jobs in intellectually challenging fields are overwhelmingly held by white and asian males. While many people might be tempted to cry discrimination, consider that if that were the case it would make sense for some entrepreneur to establish a new firm and hire the supposedly underpaid women and minorities to outcompete established firms. Until I see that I can be fairly certain that these disparities are the results of differences in competence, not the result of sexism and racism.

David, SM (XV), \'87 over 11 years ago

I fail to see the urgency to refute the young Mr. Briscoe's positions. When I was first made aware of the campaign to address this issue in a fairly public manner, I thought that maybe this Mr. Briscoe was a brilliant academician, an otherwise respected researcher, or an influential MIT department head.

I was somewhat encouraged to learn that the young Mr. Briscoe is merely a senior in an undergraduate curriculum. With as little life experience as this young man has, it is no wonder that his view is so uninformed, narrow, and filled with self-woe. He has an awful lot to learn, and I wish him many years in that endeavor. The longer he lives, the more time he may have to come to grips with himself and the world in which he lives (and within which, by the way, he is quickly becoming a vulnerable minority, right?).

What's so puzzling is that he whines about being "discriminated against and offended by MITs policies of preference and inclusiveness for everyone but me." I really don't get that. He wouldn't be writing in The Tech if he hadn't already been included.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Great article. And props to Briscoe for writing it in Boston, which I hear is pretty darn liberal.

Having said that, I will note that I am a big proponent for racial justice and am well aware of white privilege. That doesn't mean that I'm going to be blinded by extremism and lose my ability to see things objectively.

A recent comment noted that students from low-income backgrounds do not have the resources to prepare for tests or present a competitive application. Okay, that is an issue of class/income, not one's race and sex. Also, they mentioned that some students will lack a supportive atmosphere for pursuing rigorous academics and getting into a great college. Yep. What does this mean? That funds, time and resources should be invested in programs for the youth, which will recruit and train them in the skills necessary to succeed at these top-tier institutions once they turn 18. Opening doors for students who do not have the skills necessary to thrive in these schools is not helping them; it's setting them up to fail, as Thomas Sowell has professed (his clips are all over youtube). If MIT is putting funds into recruiting minority groups, maybe those funds would be more effective in creating sustainable value if they were used for developing programs that trained and educated the youth, equipping them with the skills necessary to succeed at top-tier schools, closing the achievement gap and eliminating any need for affirmative action, which is discriminatory and hurts the very people it intends to help. If that statement raises your ire, then I suggest you read Shelby Steele's "The Content of Our Character," if for no other reason than to be well familiar with the counter argument.

Oh, and what's up with the phrase "reverse discrimination?" "Discrimination" The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, age, or sex. Therefore, giving preference to a group of people based on race, sex, age, class, etc. is discrimination. The concept of "reverse" is silly here.

In conclusion, we need to treat the root of the problem, not the symptoms. Peace out.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

When students from the higher socioeconomic backgrounds get in, and black and Hispanic students from the lower socioeconomic backgrounds are left out - you end up rewarding a student's family of origin instead of their potential.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

These are the words of an oppressor and I think the only thing MIT has failed to do is re-educate Brandon.

Brandon, I'm sorry that you've been lied to your entire life and that you were made to believe you're superior to women and people of color. I can only hope that you see the truth before you children.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I think we just need to send every MIT applicant to be re-educated with the proper political views before being allowed to matriculate. This way we shall eliminate all thoughtcrime on campus.

Christine over 11 years ago

I won't post anonymously since the writer of this article did not. But the assumptions are wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to start.

First: President Hockfield did not say RESERVE slots for URM's and women, she said INCREASE their numbers. That often can entail recruiting in areas that have been overlooked. To assume that because someone is female or a minority that they are somehow under qualified shows the author's bias. If anything, the qualifications might be enhance (all things being equal) because of unique life experiences and perspectives the candidate brings to the table.

I've been interviewing and recruiting as part of the Educational Council for more than 3 decades so let me give you an observations about prospective candidates - Today's pool is filled with students who "appear" to be qualified but are the products of expensive test prep classes, or have come from families where academics are emphasized to the exclusion of everything else. I've interviewed candidates with perfect scores who can't find their way out of a paper bag with a map and flashlight, and candidates who admit they don't like many of their extracurriculars but did them to make sure they had a full resume. I've interviewed students who had lower scores and were from poor rural white areas who had to fight for every A and B,and although activities are few and far between still managed to do amazing things demonstrating their passion. Those students far exceeded the rich white candidates from well heeled private schools that are fed a plate of activities so ubiquitous that they blend with the other 13,000 in the pile. Students who have never held a job, never volunteered (unless a school requirement) and never took a risk. Guess which students get admitted? And yet no one says we gave some unfair advantage to the rural students. So how does looking at the whole person merit negative attention only if they are a URM or female?


Christine over 11 years ago

....I should also note that as part of my "day job" I travel around the country talking with school children. In one interesting case a teacher returned to my workshop the next day to say I'd caught the imagination of a student when I talked about MIT and the space program. I had revealed I was also an MIT grad. She was fascinated. One -because I am African American, Two, because MIT allowed me to attend. It never occurred to her people of color could aspire to a school like that. It wasn't part of the language in her school, her family or her neighborhood. She subsequently asked if she could tag along with the teacher to a local college campus. So in the 21st Century, we still have gifted students being blocked from even considering themselves potential candidates. Especially in urban areas. And certainly, I applied to MIT against the advice of my private school counselor only to hear my daughter getting the same push back 30 years later.

I can tell you from personal experience "INCREASE" the numbers comes because those individuals are often actively blocked. They face unbelievable barriers. And although I don't know Brandon's race, I can tell you I also know many URM's who - desperate to make it seem as if they are unique among their race (special as it were) - also take the attitude that helping others achieve the same goal is undesirable. So there is a lot of blame to go around.

I think, with all due respect, Brandon has a chip on his shoulder making me wonder if he learned anything at all from his time on campus. I've met several students and graduates who project their own bias on issues not warranting the attention. Certainly, an attitude that suggests we go to a meritocracy is - on its face - a thinly veiled suggestion that we count only those attributes that favor a specific demographic: for instance high test scores (which don't guarantee the student will be successful and are easily manipulated). And in the end, he's disproved his own hypothesis.

I've seen Admissions change over the years to include a more holistic approach to building a class, but there will always be someone like Brandon who will see something insidious in a process that is transparent. Doors open and close for subsets of the population.

I'm glad MIT is opening it wider to be more inclusive of the many gifted students and faculty who don't fit neatly within some "check the box" profile.

BRB over 11 years ago

Isn't this the same guy who in one of the MISTI videos claims to be coming out with an 'influential' paper in economics out of his 3 months at Hebrew University? Perhaps one word he should have learnt in Israel is 'chutzpah'.

I have a piece of advice for people like Brandon. If you want to see homogeneous population of white males around you, join the Jesuit Order/Catholic church leadership, or for your field, any conservative 'think tank' will do.

Lastly, is it okay if students in the hard sciences/math look down upon you for taking course 15 and 17 since, we suspect, less smart students at MIT take them?

Anonymous over 11 years ago

"Dont get me wrong, every student and faculty member that I have ever met at MIT have the intelligence and ambition to deserve to be here."

Even Brandon, in all his self-importance and firm belief in white male competence, hasn't come across a single person who he thinks doesn't belong here, after 3,5 years at MIT. In the absence of any negative experience or observation, Brandon is simply intimidated by the recruiting stats which suggest that there might be an equal number of women and minorities on campus as white males sometime in the future. This simple. I don't think racism and sexism get more blatant than this. Relax, Brandon: nobody's judging whether you belong here anyway (or they weren't until you wrote this article) as you are judging your peers. Ever asked yourself where that feeling of entitlement comes from?

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Nobody pointed out yet that although in 2010 more women faculty were hired in the School of Engineering, in 2009 the number of women hired was zero:


Based on this relevant "statistic" I can conclude that as recent as 2009 there was a widespread discrimination against women. This is the trouble with cherry-picking facts.

Brian - PhD Course 16 over 11 years ago

I'm stunned that an MIT student could be so short-sighted, naive, and intellectually dishonest. What happened to systems thinking? What happened to thinking about the big picture and being socially aware? What happend to -thinking-?

Today I feel ashamed to be associated in some way with a person with such a misguided view of the world. I thought MIT was better than this. It's fine to have a different political opinion, but Mr. Briscoe completely fails on every level of critical thinking and analysis. Maybe we should be reconsidering our admissions criteria after all: it appears one of us has slipped through the cracks.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Why can't we poke fun at his course 15/17 major? Both majors are known at MIT to be much less mathematical, scientific, and engineering-related than most of the other majors (not to mention a good deal easier). It is odd, therefore, that the person complaining about the quality of MIT students probably hasn't had much exposure to many in the context of challenging math/science/engineering courses. I'm not at my intellectual-best when I'm taking a silly course either.

Chewbacca over 11 years ago

I wish they had URM when I was an MIT undergrad back in the late 70's. We could have used a bunch more women on campus--the place was a damn sausage factory.

afklj over 11 years ago

There are places that admit almost purely on merit (Caltech, for example). MIT in a common data set writes what matters for admissions and SAT scores and GPA are not the most important factor. look it up.

There are always people who will abuse the system. There will be rich kids who received excellent tutoring and looked great on paper, but lacked motivation of their own. Their racial background might help them get in to MIT, even though they had the same opportunities as majority. However, this is something that adcoms actively fight, so it's probably a minor problem.

I don't think you defined merit, which is crucial for making your point...