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Graduate students - lobby for housing

To the Editor:

We are writing, on behalf of the residents of Ashdown House, to alert the MIT community to our concerns about the current state of on-campus housing for graduate students.

This year alone, 1450 graduate students were admitted to MIT. Only 18 percent (260) students were lucky enough to be assigned rooms in one of the five graduate residences. Of the remaining 1190, 928 placed their names on waiting lists for on-campus housing. This phenomenal demand is clearly an indication of the need for more graduate housing.

The issue of housing extends beyond just having a roof over one's head. It greatly influences the life of a graduate student which in turn affects his or her performance as a researcher.

Unlike first-year undergraduates who are guaranteed housing however crowded, first-year graduate students are left out in the cold. This is particularly disturbing in light of the number of students who come from far removed corners of the United States and the world; and who arrive in Boston in September, suitcases in hand, and nowhere to live. The situation has always been one of waiting lists and only enough room to house about 50 percent of those students who wish to live on-campus. The problem has been particularly acute this year due to sudden growth of the size of the graduate school, and the drastic rent increases for off-campus housing. This brutal introduction of a graduate student into MIT leaves a long lasting bitter impression. The student feels unwelcome and uncared for. He or she cannot comprehend how an institution such as MIT with its large proportion of graduate students and whose excellence as a research institute is so vitally dependent on its graduate students could be so insensitive to the students' needs.

The quality of life and quality of performance of a graduate student, like any human being, are undoubtedly related. To quote from the report of the Student Affairs Visiting Committee Meeting, Feb. 10-12, 1985:

"Some simple facts seem to be recognized by both the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs (ODSA) and faculty contacted on this matter. These include:

1) The quality of the graduate student body is of the first order of importance with respect to the quality of research performance at MIT and, thus, to the Institute's continued reputation as a premier research center.

2) The quality of life is important to graduate students and the availability of decent, safe, convenient and affordable housing is probably the major single factor in determining that quality.

3) The Institute already loses some top graduate student prospects because it cannot guarantee incoming graduate students Institute housing and this loss factor may grow as the pool of top-flight technically-oriented students seeking advanced degrees declines (At least one member of the Visiting Committee used the quality of graduate student housing for his family and himself as the final determinant among offers from competitive graduate programs).

4) Graduate students with safe and convenient on-campus housing are able to work longer hours and return safely and efficiently for late night research activities (This is of particular concern to students with families and to female students).

5) Graduate students housed on-campus are more likely to develop a sense of camaraderie with their fellow students and a heightened sense of belonging to the Institute community -- attitudes which are woefully lacking among many current graduate students.

6) Housing problems are often multiplied for graduate students with families and foreign students who may be poorly equipped to deal with vagaries of the Boston area housing market.

7) The competition between MIT graduate students and the poorer members of Boston area communities for affordable housing hurts both groups and creates community resentment against MIT and the rest of the academic community."

In light of the above, we, the "lucky ones," feel that the opportunity to live on-campus should be available to all members of the graduate school.

Short of controlling the number of students admitted, this is only possible by building more residences. A major fraction of the present rent increase of on-campus housing is being used to raise funds for construction of future graduate housing. In view of this, President Gray's statement that graduate housing will not be a priority in the upcoming capital campaign is contradictory and simply unaccceptable. The graduate student body should not be swept under the carpet and left to its own devices for survival. Much more attention and care must be directed towards this vital segment of the MIT community.

Living in a graduate house contributes enormously towards the elevation of the quality of life of its inhabitants. Its importance cannot be overemphasized, nor should it be underestimated. Living in Ashdown, for example, is not merely having a place to sleep in between visits to the lab. It is much more than that. It is a place to learn about, and to be educated in areas where working in a lab can in no way be a substitute. Living in Ashdown is living in an international community of American and foreign students, it is learning about diverse cultures, social habits, politics and views of the world. It is about being part of a community, learning how it operates and in turn influencing its operation. No amount of working on one's research topic can teach one about life as will active participation in a dynamic and multifaceted society such as Ashdown.

Now and absolutely now is the time for graduate students to make their voices heard. While it is important that we, the graduate students, speak up in unison about the deplorable lack of housing, it is also worth recognizing that our voices alone are not enough to convince President Gray, the administration, and the MIT Corporation, that more housing must be built. We also call on department heads, faculty members and other members of the staff who care about graduate students to lobby for new graduate housing. It will only be through this large scale corporation that the graduate student body will benefit.

The Ashdown House Executive Committee:->

Kathy Barnak G->

Alison Burgess G->

Jan Campbell G->

Dan Heinzen G->

Atul Salhotra G->