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.