Mar 18, 2006

"Reverse" Discrimination

I didn't get into MIT today. And not in the sense that I won't get in until I get my letter, but in the sense that I was rejected from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To the small percentage of you who aren't laughing at me: it's fine, it wasn't my first choice anyways. But I am somewhat concerned about getting into the University of Pennsylvania now, which is, in fact, my first choice. No matter. It comes when it comes.
What I'm really writing about today is gender discrimination; or rather, so-called "reverse" gender discrimination. I didn't get into MIT, but my sister did. When my cousin applied to MIT, she got in. So did three other girls from her school. But only two guys got in from her school. Coincidence? Not really. I looked up admission statistics for MIT online: for the fall of 2003, the Boston-based university had 10,549 applicants, out of which 2,898, or 27%, were female. (I'm assuming the rest were male or undecided.) That year, MIT accepted 29.3% of its female applicants but only 11.6% of the males. What does that mean? The admits were comprised of 849 females and 887 males. In other words, they were 49% female and 51% male; a near even split. Obviously, the admissions committee was aiming to create a gender-distributed student body, and with the reputation that MIT has of a predominantly male-dominated university, who can blame them? In conclusion, it's significantly easier to get into MIT if you're a girl. The question is: is this ethical?
This particular can of worms dovetails nicely with the debate we had in government class about affirmative action last Friday; in essence, race/gender is playing a large role in admission to many universities. The ethics of the gender issue are very controversial (I'm not going to address race right now; maybe in another column).
On one hand, how can the integrity of the admissions procedure be compromised for something out of any individual student's control? Maintaining a gender balance at MIT means, essentially, that [edit 2 begins] the percentage of males that get in is less than the percentage of females, and this could potentially mean that a small amount of the females who get in wouldn't have done so if admissions were gender-blind [edit 2 ends]. Basically, this undermines one of America's key tenets: hard work and dedication will reward you proportionally to your effort. Work harder, make more money, right? Not anymore.
On the other hand, who wants a student body comprised of 70%, or even 80% males? The completely different viewpoint offered by females cannot be made up for by an extra 200 points on the SAT, or admitting a few more valedictorians. No, in order to be a modern, diverse university, institutions such as MIT have to keep their student bodies gender-balanced. It's no different than as little as fifty years ago, when the University of Pennsylvania (an Ivy League school), was actually two separate colleges: one for men, and one for women. Some schools restrict themselves to women only. How is this any different? It's not like MIT denies that they discriminate based on gender; the statistics speak for themselves. Finally, putting men into a predominantly male society in college will either leave them ill-prepared for the real world, or instill in them a bad sense of equality that will allow them to discriminate against women in later life.
Or maybe not. Ideally, of course, the same amount of women and men would apply to technically-based universities like MIT (the problem is much less pronounced at less-technical schools), but that surely isn't happening. In my rejection letter, I learned that about [edit 1 begins] 13% of the total applicant pool was accepted. That means that the percentage of men accepted can't be much, if any more than in the fall of 2003. [edit 1 ends] The problem, at least for now, isn't going away.
Just something to get y'all thinking.
[EDIT 1: The admit rate for the class of 2010 is actually 13%, and has been changed accordingly in the post. Sorry. Also, I was sent a blog post by an MIT admissions officer, and after reading it, I can honestly say it makes me feel a lot better about my rejection and the entire admissions process in general. Read it here.]
[EDIT 2: Several people have complained to me that the women at MIT are no less qualified than the men to be there. They also say that my post states that the women who get in are not as good as some men who don't. I think I was misunderstood; the two middle paragraphs of this post are meant to provide constrasting viewpoints on a contradictory issue. I'm not taking sides, these aren't necessarily my personal opinions, I'm just setting forth two perspectives. In any case, I changed the post to hopefully prevent further misunderstanding.]