Last week Brandon Briscoe (MIT, class of 2014) published an incendiary article on the decline of MIT’s excellence in The Tech (MIT’s student newspaper).
In short, Mr. Briscoe argues that affirmative action policies are ruining MIT’s standards and ability to achieve excellence. His article (though he cites other articles) is founded on feelings, much like this one.
Full disclosure, I speak the language of the ghetto as one Newt Gingrich would put it.
However, I grew up far from the ghetto. In fact, I was raised in an affluent suburb. Mr. Briscoe’s article struck a very personal chord with me because it confirmed every fear that I’ve had: that I didn’t truly merit anything. I, like many other students, women or not, underrepresented minority or not, suffer from impostor syndrome (look it up, it’s real). I’m constantly questioning my successes and whether I merit or deserve my achievements.
This questioning started in high school when, after completing my freshman year with good grades in all the advanced courses, my classmates remarked that they were “surprised” I did so well. Thanks guys. At the end of high school when I was admitted to some elite universities my classmates made cracks that I was only admitted due to my last name. They didn’t know I never mentioned my ethnicity in my application, writing in “human” in the write-in for Other (in fact, I’ve spent most of my life pretending to be white), or that I had a perfect GPA and good SAT scores. It took me years to accept that I did deserve to be admitted to those schools. Before that realization I constantly questioned the admissions boards’ decisions.
When I went to college this complex persisted and I constantly doubted whether I deserved to be there on a full academic scholarship. It ultimately made me work harder than I had in high school. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, an honor that requires a certain GPA and recommendations from professors.
The same self-doubt arose when MIT admitted me for graduate school. I’m not using this article to brag about my achievements, I’m developing an argument for Mr. Briscoe and those who think like him. I “deserve” to be at MIT, something he has probably never questioned of himself. Frankly, the admissions process is so competitive that everyone who is admitted, affirmative action or not, deserves to be there. Admissions committees are selecting individuals who will not only provide diversity to the campus community, but also who will in one way or another contribute to the exceptional legacy of pioneering in research and technology of MIT. That’s really the crux of the matter, students admitted by affirmative action have to meet the same requirements that other students meet. In the end, it’s the same criteria for all students to graduate, regardless of how they were admitted, thus students who are admitted via affirmative action may work as hard or harder than their colleagues to achieve this goal.
When I think objectively, I know I ‘deserve’ to be at MIT, however Mr. Briscoe’s articles brought up a great number of my own insecurities of my merit. Luckily for me, some disagree with Mr. Briscoe:
“The naïve, Briscoe approach to admissions and hiring would entail an abrogation of MIT’s core values making it all but certain that MIT would miss out on the best and brightest unless they happen to look like him. That’s neither fairness, equality, nor meritocracy, but mere intellectual sloth, unworthy of the Institute.”