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New guide reflects cultural richness

As its first project, MIT's newly formed Committee on Race Relations has issued a guide of some 75 subjects dealing with racial, ethnic and intercultural relations, or providing background information useful to these relations.

President Charles M. Vest, in his introduction to the 20-page booklet, wrote, "We at MIT need to renew our commitment to the shared values of academia, and to embrace the enrichment of those values brought about by our increasing heterogeneity. We must know each other, talk to each other and listen to each other."

The presidentially appointed Committee on Race Relations, which grew out of the work of the ad hoc Race Relations Working Group, was established last spring.

Its chairperson, Dr. Ellen T. Harris, professor of music and associate provost for the arts, in a statement incorporated in the guide, said, "Our goal, and the Institute's goal, is good human relations. To this end, the committee will focus its efforts on helping people at MIT bridge racial and cultural differences."

In putting together the Guide to Studies in Racial, Ethnic and Intercultural Relations, she said, "We were both surprised and impressed by the breadth and depth of MIT's offerings in these areas.

By shining a light on opportunities for the study of race relations and cultural studies at MIT, we have three aims: to publicize what is available, to encourage all students to strengthen their education by taking one or more of these subjects and to encourage faculty to add subjects to this listing."

The guide also announces the establishment and provides an application for a small grants program to assist members of the community in their efforts to enhance race relations at the Institute.

Workshops, dinners at residences, artistic events for the whole community, films, outside speakers for classes or for the community, or support for cultural materials are examples of areas appropriate for funding.

Two pages of the guide are devoted to statements from five students, some of them members of the Committee on Race Relations, "about their experiences of the MIT campus climate, some suggestions for ways to improve it, and how they hope the guide and the subjects in it can be a part of that improvement."

A statement by Dr. Linn W. Hobbs, John F. Elliott Professor of Materials and chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, noted that the idea for the guide arose from a 1993 discussion retreat of the committee with the theme of Education for Diversity.

"Because MIT is-first and foremost-an educational institution, the CUP reasoned that educational vehicles are central to understanding and benefiting from the diversity of this campus," he said.

Professor Hobbs said the committee's original list of some 200 subjects dealing with any aspect of cultural awareness, ethnic diversity or race relations was "surprisingly long," evidence that "for all its central focus on science and engineering, MIT offers a remarkable spectrum of curricular richness."

The final list published in the guide includes only those subjects being offered in the 1994-95 academic year.

They are divided into three categories: (1) subjects with a principal focus on racial, ethnic and intercultural relations or with direct and substantial content addressing race and ethnicity; (2) subjects providing useful background for an enhanced appreciation of different cultural, ethnic or racial experiences; and (3) foreign language subjects which serve to enhance appreciation of the cultures of prevalent minority groups.

Copies of the guide have been distributed to freshmen, will be mailed to returning students and can soon be seen in the academic departments. The guide also will be available on Techinfo, under Publications.

A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 3).

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