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.]

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful

Summer said...

I was going to say "Insightful"...but um.... a compliment for the aestethics of a blog template could be in order too!

zoogies said...

Of course, for the males that did get in - me not among them - the existence of women around campus isn't at all a bad thing.

;)

Marlene (MIT class of 2001) said...

Hello,

I'm an MIT alumna (yes, that means I'm female). I came over here after reading your comment on Ben's admissions blog, and I feel like I need to respond.

Your argument is clearly well-thought out and well written. The part I have to take exception to is this:

"Maintaining a gender balance at MIT means, essentially, that certain males that are more qualified than certain girls for admission are getting letters much like the one I received today instead of a large envelope with housing and financial aid information."

This is simply untrue. As you know, MIT get many, many more qualified applicants than they are able to admit. You simply cannot distinguish the top third or so by statistics like SAT score or high school grades or even community service or science fairs or anything else. The final decisions are based on hugely subjective criteria - who the committee feels will "fit" best in the MIT community. I'd be willing to bet that the SAT scores of admitted females are not different on average than those of admitted men.

I had the privilege of knowing many outstanding students and outstanding people of both genders during my time at MIT. I knew students of both genders who excelled at MIT, and others who seriously struggled.

The only consistent gender-based difference I saw was that more of the women felt that they had something to prove. This need to show that they deserved their place at the institute caused many of them to work their butts off. Don't get me wrong - there were hard workers of both genders. But the prevalence of people who, like you, believed that the women on campus were probably less qualified than the men, lit a fire under us. I lived in an all-female housing group, and we had the highest GPA of all living groups during my last two years.

I'm really sorry that you didn't get into MIT, because i think your opinions on who does and doesn't deserve to be there would change once you met the people behind those statistics.

Best of luck to you, wherever you end up.

Nirav said...

Believe me, Marlene, I'd be the last person to assert that the women at MIT are worse, somehwo, than the men. That's why I posted this in two parts, making an argument for each side. Also, what I mean to say, is that *technically*, males that are qualified for admission don't get in. We all know that the difference between those who get in and those who *just* don't is slim to none, but we all have to also believe that there *is* some way of ranking students; that's the concept behind admissions in general. On this ranking system, men who would have gotten in if the percentage admitted was the same for both genders did not get in. I'm still not taking a side; I just want to lay out both perspectives. I do wish that I had gotten in to MIT, but even if the admissions process were changed to not reflect this percentage difference, I still may not have gotten in. Please note, everyone, that I'm not complaining (even though it seems like that), and this isn't sour grapes (even though it seems like that too). I just wanted to show two viewpoints on an interesting fact.

Anonymous said...

face facts.you ARE not fit for mit

Summer said...

Ahem. I think, Mr. Anonymous (I dare not call you a woman because I think you might be closer to "Fairyman," if anything), that the lack of respect you have for others as well as your pitiful insult makes you "not fit" for HCC.

People these days.

another alumna said...

I am also a female MIT grad and I'm sorry to say that I have lived with this attitude of "it's easier to get in if you're a girl" for ages. It makes me sick, frankly.

Sorry, but you are contradicting yourself.

In your comment:
" Believe me, Marlene, I'd be the last person to assert that the women at MIT are worse, somehwo, than the men."

In your post:
"Maintaining a gender balance at MIT means, essentially, that certain males that are more qualified than certain girls for admission are getting letters much like the one I received today instead of a large envelope with housing and financial aid information."

This is the same quote that was highlighted by the other MIT alumna.

There's no real other way of interpreting the above, no matter how you try to disguise it. What you've said above is that you think that lesser-qualified women are admitted over more-qualified men.

Yes, I *have* read the rest of your post, and your reply to the other comment, and it doesn't change the fact that you've still said what you said above.

Nirav said...

Another Alumna,

If you *had* indeed read the entire post (even before the second edit, which was placed there just for you), you would have noticed that I set forth the perspectives on both sides of this debate equally, and don't actually take a side.
It makes *me* sick that I can't post an even-minded and fair column on the percentage difference between men and women at MIT without being attacked.
With all due respect, Another Alumna, even though I'd probably fall on the side of keeping MIT gender-balanced, you don't give any actual arguments besides that I've contradicted myself (which you would have seen that I hadn't if you *had* actually read the post).
Again, I take no sides (before someone else attacks me too).

The same other alumna said...

As I said, I did read it.

You may think you have set forth both perspectives, but in your original post, you said that you think women who are admitted are less qualified. You've changed it now, but you still say:

"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."

That is taking a side.

You're entitled to believe that, and as an MIT alumna I am entitled to challenge that, so I am doing so.

If you want to take a side, do so. Just don't claim not to be doing so, and consequently, don't be indignant if you get challenged on it.

I am not attacking you; there will be no abusive posts from me. There is a difference between having your views challenged and being attacked for them.

Nirav said...

Another Alumna,
You posted this in your comment:

"

You may think you have set forth both perspectives, but in your original post, you said that you think women who are admitted are less qualified. You've changed it now, but you still say:
"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."
That is taking a side.

"

First, I appreciate that your comments have been reserved and in general, nice.
But secondly, I'm not sure you understand what "setting forth both perspectives" means. For me, at least, it means talking about *both* perspectives, and displaying the arguments for *both* perspectives. Notice that the quote that you say proves that I take a side is in the paragraph about that side. In the other paragraph, you will find no such affronts to your intelligence. I distinguish the two by saying "On one hand" and "On the other hand".
I changed the post to reflect the fact that admissions are very subjective, but I'm not going to change an equal, balanced view of *both* sides of a debate.

the same other alumna said...

Furthermore- if you want other arguments, here is mine.

MIT gets far more qualified applicants than there are places. This means that they get to choose in whatever way they want, who gets to enter. Which you say, and which I do not disagree with.

Now, the reason why I didn't mention anything about your other arguments is that I don't disagree with them.

What I *do* take issue with is what you said about it "undermining one of America's key tenets: hard work and dedication will reward you proportionally to your effort". This is implying that the women who got in are being rewarded more than they should be for the amount of work they put in.

That's just another way of saying "they don't deserve it".

Even if that's not what you mean, that is how it comes across. Clearly I'm not the only person who has interpreted it in this way.

By the way, I think it's great that you are bothering to stand up for your opinions. These aren't attacks; this is a debate, and it's a good one.

Nirav said...

yep, good debate. my final point is that i'm talking about both sides of the issue; please don't confuse a balanced presentation of an issue with my personal opinion.

marlene said...

" my final point is that i'm talking about both sides of the issue; please don't confuse a balanced presentation of an issue with my personal opinion."

I'm sorry - I was all set to let this go, but you keep harping on this point.

A "balanced presentation" is all well and good in theory, but in some cases, it can really be harmful. By presenting both arguments, you imply that they (at least potentially) have equal merit. And giving weight to the argument that "certain males that are more qualified than certain girls for admission are getting letters much like the one I received today " is harmful.

Until you show me any evidence that the men that are admitted are more qualified than the women, you are doing a disservice to the MIT community and the science/engineering community in general with your words.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with Marlene (MIT Class of 2001) here. I'm not an MIT student, so I don't have the ooportunity to meet "the people behind the statistics", however, considering that Matt@MITBlogs once mentioned that applications are first screened to oust all those who are definitely numerically unqualified for MIT, I will assume that all those who remain in the pool are all qualified for the level of MIT's work. By "qualified", I do not mean "qualified" as in absolute figures of a 800 vs. a 740 in Math, but "qualified" as in the student is capable of academically succeeding at MIT.

Now considering that every year MIT receives about 20-30% applications by females and 70-80% applications by males, I find it hard to believe that the admission committee can come up with a 50-50 gender distribution as to who is best fit with MIT without having some predisposed gender bias. I honestly cannot think of any reason to support MIT's admission committee's view that only 10% of the boys who apply are good fit to MIT (and mind you, I'm talking about fit, not qualification), while also claiming that 30% of the girls who apply are any better fit than some of the boys who are denied admission. But again, I don't have access to admission files, so I can never prove that some rejected boys are better fit to MIT than some admitted girls, can I? But one thing we know for sure, big numbers don't lie.

Anonymous said...

The female supremacy is going out of control at MIT. Just face the fact that the president is a women, the majorities of admission officers and staffs, and even the majority of students in the near future.

I knew many girls without good talent (I mean academic) who got in, but I could not deny that they have another type of "talent" --- the one that attracts admission staffs' ...

Anonymous said...

The message that the "modern" MIT admissions statistics sends is that, IN GENERAL, boys are less qualified than girls, which however is still not being perceived as a gender bias against boys by MIT.

Wish I could apply to MIT back to 1890's...