Wednesday, April 18, 2007

No Irish need apply

America is a great country, with opportunities galore. However, it is also a country that periodically falls into the slough of discrimination. Here are two stories, one from the 1960's and one from the 1970's.

1 -- A Jewish boy from New York meets with the admissions director of a prestigious New England liberal arts college in 1967. The interview lasts about a minute, with the director saying, “The chance that someone like YOU would be admitted to a school like THIS is like a snowball in Hell.”

2 -- A Jewish summa cum laude college graduate from Natick, MA, applying for admission to a fine New England medical school in 1976 is told, "If we let all of you academic super stars from New York in here, you'll tear each other apart."

The first story is about Dr. Jerome Groopman, who has since become one of the most respected doctors in America for his clinical care, research, and publications. The second story is about Dr. Mark Zeidel, our chief of medicine, another national leader in the US, who is known in his own right for superb research, clinical care, and teaching.

What's my point? Well, the Beth Israel was established in 1916 because of discrimination against Jewish doctors. I bet it is hard for people to imagine that discrimination against Jews in college and medical school admission still persisted in the 1960's and 1970's. (In case you don't get the second story, "New York" is often the code word for Jewish.)

I don't mean to claim some special status for the Jews. Other people have faced their own types of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, weight, and so on. Many acts of discrimination are more insidious, hateful, and dangerous than these two examples. Unlike these two guys, some folks never recover from it.

If you are willing, I would like you to write back and comment on an instance of discrimination in your own academic or professional life. I don't see a purpose here in naming the institution or company, but please give the year, the type of institution, and the nature of the insult -- and how it affected your plans or life thereafter.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't mind naming the institution, because it has come far since then and I am happy to report this is no longer a problem. If you wish to delete the name, feel free.
In 1973, while interviewing at the University of Virginia as a prospective medical student, I was asked by one interviewing professor why I wanted to go to medical school instead of nursing school; that I would not continue my career and would take up a place a male student would have filled more effectively. The school was under pressure to admit more women at the time, and, in fact, my 1st year class had 20 women as opposed to 9 the previous year. I got in, but I never forgot the comment.
As I understand it, the number of female medical students now exceeds that of male ones nationally.

Anonymous said...

In a brand new California law school in the late 1970's, one new professor made the mistake of just assuming that many of the women in his second year class were there in order to become clerical staff or paraprofessionals. An offhand comment, while not disparaging, nevertheless made it clear that this was his clueless assumption. The women met quietly after the class, agreeing that he needed to be brought up to date: none of us were there for any purpose but to become lawyers. A couple of women then met with him and explained that all of us were there with the same goal in mind.
It wasn't, and didn't become, a problem, but it was a sign of the times.
In those days, if memory serves, there were a grand total of 3 women lawyers in all of Monterey County. I think that, in 2007, women now constitute the majority of lawyers in the county.

Anonymous said...

On Match Day, 1983, we were all gathered to receive our little envelopes with the results of where we would be training as interns and residents. The dean made a big speech about how well the class had done, with this many getting their first choice and that many their second, etc. He finished his speech by saying "You should all be very proud, and so should your wives." (Our class had 51 women out of 165 students.) I felt demeaned and marginalized on one level, but validated on another---here was confirmation of my four years of treatment that made me feel that I really was considered "less" than the male students in the school.

Anonymous said...

This is going to sound bizarre, perhaps...

On the topic of discrimination in higher education, it's almost a disadvantage nowadays to be a white caucasian American when it comes to admissions committees...

Just an observation, not a complaint.

margalit said...

In 1969, my brother (Jewish) applied at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Penn, and Brown. He had a 4.0 GPA, 5 AP classes all with 5's on the test, 1600 SAT, extra curriculars up the wazoo, and was the validictorian of his class of 5000 students from a large and excellent high school in Los Angeles.

He interviewed at Stanford where he was told that due to their quote, there was little chance of him getting into the freshman class. He got in to all the other schools, but not Stanford. Not ONE of the Jewish kids from our high school got in, but every non-Jewish kid that applied did.

The following year, I tried. I too was rejected by Stanford, but people with much lower SATs, GPAs and AP scores got in. I was told by the person that did my interview that they had a strict quota and only allowed 15% of the freshman class to be Jewish, and of those, they almost never admitted girls.

Oh, did I mention that my mother got her graduate degree from Stanford by *changing her name* to a completely non-Jewish name? And that even as legacies, we were not admitted because we used my father's more Jewish last name?

Yeah, and I don't things have changed that much to this day.

Kim said...

I have personally not faced overt, gross discrimination, but my child has. My son, age 3, has Down syndrome, and has the typical array of health problems and mental retardation (he is also a delight to all who encounter him, but I digress). We receive Medicaid waiver services for the mentally retarded (respite care only). However, my child requires medical care, as well. We were denied the Medicaid waiver (December of 2006) that would best meet his medical needs, solely because he is also mentally retarded. The state of Ohio, where we live, assesses persons applying for Medicaid waivers services first on mental abilities, then on medical needs. Person with mental retardation are assigned a category of services that does not include any medical or habilitation care. This is all clearly outlined in Ohio Administrative Code, and in line with Federal Medicaid policies. And yes, it is a violation of the ADA.

Discrimination of any kind is repugnant. However, I find denial of medical care services based on one’s level of mental abilities particularly disgusting.

Anonymous said...

What about reverse discrimination. Are jews now more likely to be hired by your hospital? If so hire me i'm jewish.

Paul Levy said...

They probably were more likely in the early days of the hospital, but it is not now a relevant criterion.

Anonymous said...

In 1998, I was a second-year law student applying for a job with a law firm in New Jersey. The hiring partner asked me whether as an Asian woman, I could be aggressive in a courtroom, obviously referring to the stereotype that Asian women are meek and passive. I ended up receiving a job offer from this partner, which I turned down on the spot much to his surprise. I also reported the firm to my law school's career office so that it would lose its recruiting privileges at my school going forward. I never became a litigator - my interest was in transactional work anyhow - but I often think back on this incident when making decisions that I think will affect the way people perceive me as an Asian-American woman.

Anonymous said...

I was attending Boston Public schools in the mid seventies when forced busing was in its beginning stages. I was called many racial names and had rocks thrown at my bus. I also had a good friend stabbed because of his race.

It affected me in many ways. I feel I was robbed by the federal government of a normal High School experience.

There was no learning going on in the school I went to and survival was my main concern. Needless to say NO colleges were knocking at MY door when I graduated from HS.

I have done ok for myself as I work in Health care and have a good job. It wasn't easy for me but I did it.


Thanks for letting me tell MY side of the story.

Just a white kid from Boston

Anonymous said...

About a year ago, I was asked an illegal question -- by a lawyer -- about my parental status in a job interview. Worse yet, it wasn't phrased as, "Do you have kids?" but rather, "You don't have kids, do you?" -- as if being a parent would somehow make me less able to do the job. Actually, in this case it might have, because what the employer was clearly getting at was, "I can exploit you for as many hours I want, right?" -- and I wasn't willing to go for that, kids or no kids.

I don't happen to have kids, but I certainly wasn't willing to work for an employer who viewed my being child-free as a prerequisite for employment. I called the next day and withdrew my name from the pool. I only wish I'd had the guts to call the guy on it in the interview itself.

Val Jones said...

I know a brilliant female physician in New York who wanted to do a residency in Neurosurgery. She was counseled not to apply because her chances as a woman were slim to none (late 80's). She applied and was rejected as predicted. She was forced into a residency in Neurology, and continued to apply to Neurosurgery. Finally, after completing a full Neurology residency, she got into a Neurosurgery residency because "even though she was a woman, she did seem to be genuinely interested in the field."

Anonymous said...

My story echoes those of many others. In 1965, when I was applying to colleges, I was told outright that at Jackson College (now part of Tufts University) my chances of admission were slimmer because as a Jewish girl from the Philadelphia suburbsm they had many candidates with "my profile". I'm sure that with Larry Bacow as the Prez, that is no longer the case.

Anonymous said...

I feel a little like Methodists are being discriminated against. Dr Groopman was at Deaconess for many years. There is a strong protestant heritage here as well and in Boston that is a minority.

Anonymous said...

My friend interviewed at Tufts undergraduate in late 60s and was told that "we don't take very many Jews." She went to Vassar.

Anonymous said...

How about reverse discrimination?

I had a friend who was applying to a variety of high-prestige programs in a competitive specialty this year. One of the programs had sent a nice glossy booklet with, among other things, pictures and CVs of all the residents. This was in a male-heavy field, and it was noticeable if you looked hard enough that the female acceptees, despite being generally accomplished (AOA, papers etc), were not quite as accomplished. They had fewer papers published (one had none at all) and went to less well-known medical schools.

I'm told the reverse is true in OB.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about positive discrimination?

Julio Mayol
jmayol@retemail.es

BC said...

Of the thousands of high school seniors applying to the most selective colleges these days, 90% or more could easily handle the work. Yet, part of the educational experience the schools are trying to create includes assembling a body of well qualified students from a diversity of backgrounds and geographies. Everyone knows that, other things equal, an upper middle class kid from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic will have a harder time winning admission than a slightly less qualified student from Wyoming or Montana. Is this discrimination or a quest for diversity?

In theory, I suppose we could design a test like, say, the College Boards and make that the sole criteria for admission. Then, the student who scored 1600 would best the one that scored 1590 or 1550. It would be objective at the micro level but would likely be inferior to the current system at the macro level. Sometimes I think the Ivy League schools might be just as well served if they offered admission to the relatively small number of world class superstars and offered the remaining 90% or so of well qualified students a lottery ticket that would determine whether they get in or not.

sfg said...

Positive discrimination in favor of one group is discrimination against everyone else. If I decide I'm going to give Jewish applicants to my college an extra 200 points on their SATs, that means everyone else's scores effectively go down by 200, since there are a finite number of spots.

What you really want to get into is rational discrimination, and how rational it really is. We all know patients who discriminate in favor of doctors with Harvard degrees...but you don't know if the MD was top of his class in college or the dean's son. Still, the odds are probably in your favor of getting a more studious doctor, though not so much as in the European system where personality plays less of a role. HMS's MCAT scores aren't that much higher than BU or Tufts', either. (Which leads me to assume people are smarter in New England or something.)

p a kenney said...

It has always gotten my Irish up: how often have we all heard disparaging words about nasty Jewish lawyers? Of course, when perhaps the most racist person I know was headed into an all-Irish divorce war he hired one...a nasty Jewish lawyer. Sorry, what he meant was that he had hired a gentlemen he had heard was the very best divorce lawyer in Boston. Apparently he was wrong...the other Jewish lawyer cleaned his clock.So much for "good Irish catholics".

p a kenney said...

A further thought, if permitted: in the late 1960's I worked during college in construction. One of my jobs was at the Brook House in Brookline Village where there were several hundred union construction workers from all trades. It still amazes me how utterly racist the unions were, even while their leadership (who banned blacks and others) gave piles of money to liberal democrat politicians...who pushed for civil rights & equality.
What am I missing in this picture?
It is always easier to support justice than to practice it.

SFG said...

Au contraire. Political parties, especially when you have a small number of parties (like two), are coalitions of disparate groups. It's perfectly possible for racist union members to be in the same party as upper-middle-class urban liberals and minorities (both of whom they despise) if they have a common enemy (in this case, Big Business). Same way with the Republicans, who have been serving God and Mammon pretty well since the 60s.

Anonymous said...

My university chancellor regularly makes sexist comments about how women are good soccer moms and how he expects women students in atheletics to be more boring than men. All the time.

One of our "diversity" committee members is part of an male university-based social club, the members of which have stated that they don't feel comfortable with the idea of having female members. And when a female tried to join, they sent her sexist emails about how they should have near naked women serving them drinks.

Things haven't really changed so much. alas.

p. a. kenney said...

It is easier to support justice than to practice it. Members of 'diversity' committees are every bit as able in the hypocresy department as anyone else, Republican or Democrat.

There once was wealthy city in Florida which required that all non-whites employed as domestic help in the city carry police-issued photo idnetification cards showing their personal information and fingerprints. 90% of all domestic help in town were non-white. In the same city blacks were banned from public streets after 9:00 pm and were allowed to fish from a popular bridge over the intracoastal waterway only up to a line painted at the span's mid point, not beyond it into our rich berg. Violation of any of these laws was a serious matter and they were strictly enforced.

The city was (is) Plam Beach, Fla.
Funny thing, for four decades the Clan Kennedy maintained an ocean front estate in Palm Beach and employed almost exclusively black domestic help. OOPS!