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MIT tackles its stubborn racial problems. Study provides picture of black students' negative experiences

A report showing there is racism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has ignited a campus movement to remedy the situation. MIT's president, Paul E. Gray, calls the report a ``clear and disturbing message.'' He says: ``Each of us who lives, studies, works, and teaches here must acknowledge that serious problems exist and accept personal responsibility to do everything within his or her power to help in solving them.''

The report by the Minority Student Issues Group (MSIG) recommends that school officials express support for good race relations, that equal opportunity be promoted, that more minority faculty be hired, and that pluralism be promoted within the student body.

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Black students attending MIT say they are concerned that the problems mentioned in the report, which covers blacks who attended MIT between 1969 and 1985, still exist on campus.

``We believe that the situation at MIT is similar to that faced in most predominantly white institutions,'' says Shirley M. McBay, MIT's dean of student affairs, who chairs the MSIG. ``We feel that MIT should show leadership in racial matters as well as in education and research.''

Dr. Gray adds: ``We must spare no effort to improve the experience here for minority students. The issue of racism on this campus must continue to be addressed openly and directly by all members of the faculty and by every member of the MIT community as we strive to identify and eliminate inadvertent or deliberate behavior that is inappropriate for our community and for this university.''

MIT acted even before the publication of the study when the mathematics department employed its first black faculty member. Iris M. Mack of New Orleans is a professor of applied mathematics with a PhD from Harvard.

The probe of racism began two years ago with a four-member committee assigned to study recruitment, admissions, financial aid, retention, graduation, and postgraduate experiences of minority students enrolled as undergraduates, says Dean McBay. This group has now expanded to the 27-member MSIG that is conducting the surveys.

The first study report included interviews with 42 women and 95 men of the 671 blacks enrolled in MIT between 1969 and 1985. Among the findings reported: Fifty-three percent of the 137 people interviewed said they felt they were not as well prepared as their classmates at MIT; 42 percent said they had suffered diminished self-confidence; 75 percent reported negative living-group experiences in the predominately white setting, and 55 percent had negative feelings about academic support. (Twenty-six percent said they had good relations with one or more faculty members. Black faculty members were said to account for 60 percent of the positive relationships.)

``Since the study has come out, I've been flooded with calls from parents on whether their offspring should attend MIT,'' says Helene Craig of New York, a senior majoring in computer science. ``I think the survey is good for MIT.'' She said she hoped the report would increase ``campus awareness of racism'' among students because of insensitivity, ignorance, and inexperience in dealing with blacks, and among faculty members who may have preconceived notions of what blacks can or can't do.

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The report is a fair portrait of the racial climate on campus, says Carol Morris, a senior biology major from Washington, D.C., who cochairs the Black Student Union. ``I see it as no different from other predominantly white campuses,'' she says, adding that official policy at MIT in handling racism has improved.

The MSIG will issue three more reports during the school year, Dean McBray says. The next, covering recruitment of minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and native Americans) is scheduled for December, she says. The others, covering support services to minority students and minority faculty recruiting, are scheduled for February and May.

Other Boston-area campuses have taken up this issue. At Harvard University's recent 350th anniversary celebration, president Derek Bok said the school's goal is to improve the multicultural, multiracial, and multiethnic atmosphere on the campus.

Two years ago Northeastern University began a program to improve its racial atmosphere after a self-study indicated that the school graduated only 5 percent of its black freshmen with their class.

MIT is also the newest member of the Society Organized Against Racism in New England Higher Education Inc. (SOAR), a consortium of 17 colleges and universities in New England, founded in 1982 by Daryl Smaw, chaplain at Brown University.

As of Sept. 30, according to a Sept. 30 news release, MIT employed 7,985 people, including faculty. Of the total, 403 (5 percent) were black. The 15 black faculty members comprised 1.4 percent of the 1,053-member MIT faculty. Of the 4,443 undergraduates, 194 (4.4 percent) were black. There were 5,313 MIT graduate students, 94 (1.8 percent) of them black.

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