MIT Sued Over Exclusion of White Students in Women of Color Scheme

By: Georgia | Published: May 23, 2024

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is currently facing a lawsuit over a student program designed specifically for female students of color. 

The Legal Insurrection Foundation has filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, claiming that the program discriminates against other student groups based on race and gender.

Details of the Contested Program

According to MIT’s official website, the program in question is “designed for undergraduate women of color which includes Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islanders, and other minoritized ethnicities.”

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Front view of MIT's main entrance showing the neoclassical facade with columns, with students and bicycles passing by

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

The initiative aims to offer professional development and mentoring to women in these groups starting from their sophomore year.

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Accusations of Discrimination Based on Race and Gender

The president of the Legal Insurrection Foundation, William Jacobson, has strongly criticized the program, stating it “engages in invidious discrimination on the basis of race, color and sex.”

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Portrait of William Jacobson, a middle-aged white male with gray hair and glasses, wearing a dark blazer and a patterned tie

Source: wajacobson/X

He highlighted that eligibility for the program is restricted exclusively to undergraduate “women of color.”

Criteria for Program Eligibility Detailed

Jacobson explained further that “Only undergraduate ‘women of color’ can participate in the program.

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A crowd of graduates wearing traditional black caps and gowns at MIT's graduation ceremony, with red and blue academic robes visible in the audience

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

Applicants who fall outside of those race- and sex-based categories are ineligible for it,” thereby enforcing a selective inclusion policy that he believes many would find controversial.

Foundation's Argument Against the Program

Jacobson argues that “any reasonable person would understand that all students are not welcome to participate,” which contravenes guidance from the Office for Civil Rights. 

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Students engaging in various activities on a grassy lawn at the MIT campus, some playing games, others walking or sitting, with the large dome building in the background

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

His foundation’s complaint is seeking to challenge these criteria, advocating for a more inclusive approach.

Benefits Offered by the Program

The program provides a range of benefits, including networking opportunities, mentorship, access to social outings, retreats, dinners, and other fun events.

Rows of empty chairs set up for a graduation ceremony at MIT, with the main building and its dome in the background surrounded by trees

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

It also offers financial support of up to $400 for expenses related to graduate school applications, travel, and professional attire among other purposes.

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Application Requirements Raise Concerns

The application form for the program requests applicants to specify their race, gender identity, and if they identify as transgender, with eligibility extended to trans and non-binary women.

Nighttime view of MIT's main building, illuminated against a dark sky, showcasing its neoclassical architecture and prominent dome

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This criteria for application has been a significant part of the foundation’s complaint.

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Legal Relief Sought Through Complaint

The complaint formally requests the Office for Civil Rights to “impose remedial relief as the law permits for the benefit of those who have been illegally excluded” from the program. 

Diverse group of MIT graduates sitting during a graduation ceremony, wearing red and gray academic robes

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

The foundation is pushing for actions that would rectify what they perceive as unlawful exclusion.

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Foundation's Stance on Discrimination

Jacobson has emphasized, “Regardless of the purpose of the discrimination, it is wrong and unlawful.” 

Aerial view of MIT campus along the Charles River, showing surrounding urban areas of Boston with modern and historical buildings in autumn

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

He criticizes the program for potentially injecting “more racism and sexism into the educational system through discriminatory university programs.”

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Critique of Institutional Practices at MIT

“It is sad and disheartening to see that institutions like MIT that receive federal funding are re-segregating the student body through exclusionary programs,” Jacobson noted.

Exterior view of MIT's Kresge Auditorium with its distinctive curved roof and glass facade

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

He expressed his disappointment over the current state of affairs in such a prestigious educational institution.

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Background of the Legal Insurrection Foundation

Jacobson emailed the complaint as part of the foundation’s Equal Protection Project, which claims it “opposes racial discrimination in any form.”

Graduates and guests walking near MIT's main building, lined with trees on a sunny day

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Facebook

Notably, the foundation typically challenges university programs or scholarships that are specifically aimed at minorities or female students.

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About William Jacobson

Jacobson, a clinical professor of law and director of the Securities Law Clinic at Cornell Law School, has been a vocal critic of race-based policies in educational settings.

Stone facade of Cornell Law School with gothic architecture, surrounded by trees with autumn leaves,

Source: Wikimedia Commons

He has previously faced backlash from students who disagreed with his criticism of movements such as Black Lives Matter.

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