Changes to Summer Program Worry Former Students

Threatened with a lawsuit challenging its racially-exclusive admission policies, an MIT program for high school students has had to open its ranks to non-minorities, angering many Harvard students who once attended the program.

Those who attended Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science (MITES) praised the program for encouraging them to apply to top colleges and for giving them confidence in their academic work.

Before the change, MIT-based MITES admitted only African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Native-Americans. Now, students worry that admitting applicants from other groups will hurt the program’s focus on minority acheivement.

Legal action prompted the change in policy.

The Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), a conservative advocacy group, filed a complaint against MITES with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The admissions policy of MITES was targeted for its exclusion of non-minorities.

“It barred absolutely students who were not the right skin color and that is not only objectional as a matter of policy, it’s also illegal,” said Roger Clegg, general counsel for the center.

More than 1,300 high school seniors have enrolled in the six-week program over the past 27 years.

“Without MITES I wouldn’t have even considered Harvard or any institution in the Cambridge area,” said Alliah D. Agostini ’04, who attended the program during the summer of 1999. “It just seemed unachievable, [a] mythical school, Disney material.”

Agostini said that by meeting MITES tutors—alums of the program who were enrolled in schools like Harvard—she realized that admission was a feasible goal.

“I did know that black people went to Harvard, but I didn’t know how many there were. It just kind of opened my eyes, actually seeing it for myself,” Agostini said. “The program was, in a word, empowering.”

CEO learned of the program from a parent whose child was not allowed to apply. After complaining directly to MIT without success two years ago, the group went to the government, which then initiated an investigation into MITES.

After seeking legal advice on the matter, MIT decided that they had to change the program.

“We didn’t change because we wanted to. We changed because we had no choice,” said MIT Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine.

Clegg said that his organization has alerted other colleges about similar programs and is now waiting for them to change their policies.

Last week, Princeton University changed its policy on admitting only minorities to its Junior Summer Institute, hosted by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

While MITES will no longer accept only African Americans, Hispanic Americans or Native Americans, race and ethnicity will still be factors in the admissions process.

“We hope that we can make the program as good as possible for every student who is in it,” said Redwine.

MITES Executive Director Karl W. Reid said he will use other factors in admission decisions such as the location of a student’s high school, socio-economic background and whether or not the students are the first generation to be college-bound.

“It can’t be the same program unfortunately,” Reid said. “We will continue to advance the opportunities for minorities to experience a college environment and an engineering college environment.”

But alums of the program say they are upset about the change.

“Honestly, I am angry,” said Agostini.

Tessa V. Gonzalez ’04, who attended the program in 1999 and was a tutor for the program in 2001, said she is saddened by the changes.

“I’m sad that the program is going to change because I feel that the heart and soul of MITES is not going to be the same anymore,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said that MITES provided her with the opportunity to meet talented peers and inspired her to apply to elite colleges.

Lisa E. J. Gordon ’06, who attended the program in 2001, said she was unsure about how the policy change would affect the program.

“I feel like the changes can be positive as long as its directed at underprivileged youth,” she said. “Whether it’s for the better or for the worse I don’t know yet because I haven’t seen any progress yet.”

Charles M. Moore ’04, the president of the Black Students Association, attended the program in 1999 and served as a tutor for two years.

He said that although he would have applied to Harvard whether or not he had participated in the program, MITES gave him confidence in his decision to apply.

“The program made me know that I could excel at Harvard,” he said.

MITES director Reid said that programs like MITES are needed to provide a more level playing field to promote under-represented minorities in higher education.

To maintain this goal of increased representation, he said that the program may expand from its normal 60-student class-size, depending on the current pool of applications.

“MITES is not about bringing people to MIT,” said Redwine. “It’s about bringing people to good universities across the country and we want to maintain that goal.”

Applications for this summer’s program need to be postmarked by this Friday.

—Staff writer Nalina Sombuntham can be reached at sombunth@fas.harvard.edu.