Ensuring Educational Access: Our Challenge, Our Opportunity

author: Jamira Cotton
author: Kenneth Kweku Bota
published: March 20, 2014,   recorded: February 2008,   views: 16
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Two MIT students honor their experience at MIT, but ask that the Institute acknowledge an unequal world and embrace a larger mission.

Jamira Cotton has long understood the privilege, and burden, of representing an entire community. She attended a middle school for gifted and talented children as only one of five black female students. Her parents early on instilled in her the “charge to be a leader.” In public high school she realized “not only did I need to be the smart enough black girl for my white peers, but I had to be the black enough smart girl for my black peers.” Cotton feels deeply W.E.B. DuBois’ call ‘to elevate the race and carry the community forward.’ At MIT, Cotton is engaged in research to figure out whether MIT is creating an environment that successfully nurtures leaders, that graduates students with a sense of responsibility. “Our challenge as a higher institution is to ensure that every student is receiving the best education they need for what they must do,” says Cotton.

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities frames Kenneth Kweku Bota’s talk. Cambridge and its two preeminent universities -- places of enlightenment and discovery -- represent the best of times. But just across the Charles, for Boston’s neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, it is the worst of times. Bota notes that “few students who attend MIT and Harvard…will ever leave their comfortable nests and… meet a child who attends schools that have become dilapidated and lack adequate books, computers and other critical learning materials.”

Bota has made this effort, as a Big Brother to a 12-year-old Dorchester boy. Last summer they toured MIT together, and the child noted with envy, and some displeasure, his lack of access to computers and books. While MIT provides abundant resources, says Bota, “no matter how smart and innovative we are in using them, we will not achieve and witness the full spirit of Dr. King unless we begin to commit ourselves to helping those who are less fortunate than we are.” As a great citadel of scientific achievement, MIT become even greater if it reaches out to the surrounding communities “in an effort to close the gap in educational attainment and access between black and white, women and men, and yes, Cambridge and Roxbury.”

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