Housing committe made faulty assumptions
(Editor's note: The Tech received a copy of the following letter, addressed to Provost John M. Deutch '61.)
I recently received and reviewed the Report of the Freshman Housing Committee which was submitted to you in October. As a former rush chairman for the InterFraternity Council, member of the Residence/Orientation Study Committee chaired by Professor Thomas J. Allen, and current chapter advisor to an MIT independent living group, I took great interest in the goals and recommendations of the Freshman Housing Committee. While I was impressed with the breadth of investigation and depth of thought given to the
R/O process by this committee, there are several crucial issues that were raised during the proceedings of the R/O Study Committee that do not appear to be addressed in the current report.
First, the Freshman Housing Committee seems to have concluded that "R/O, by concentrating as it currently does on residence selection, makes a sense of membership in MIT secondary to a sense of membership in a specific living group," in the words of the committee's charge. As I recall, the R/O Study Committee began its deliberations holding a similar premise. However, we were given the opportunity to speak with an expert in the process of socialization, who pointed out that the MIT freshman curriculum is intentionally designed to strip first-year students of their initial confidence in their academic abilities. The initial self-perception is then replaced with another image more in keeping with the traditional standards of an MIT student. Although socialization processes vary widely in degree and method (from basic training in the Marine Corps to executive training programs at IBM, for example), they all share the common purpose of changing a person's self-image to conform with that of the organization. MIT's socialization process is pertinent to the R/O problem addressed by the Freshman Housing Committee because it is possible that the perceived absence of loyalty to the Institute may result from the socialization process employed during freshman year and not from the initial emphasis on residence selection. Residences and other campus groups (such as the Lecture Series Committee, sports teams, or even lab groups) provide the structure upon which freshmen rebuild their self-image, which in turn breeds loyalty to that group. If this theory is correct, deemphasizing residence selection will only change the eventual choice of support structure; it will not build loyalty to the Institute.
Second, the conclusions of the report assume that housing all freshmen together will increase the diversity of student population to which each freshman is exposed. It seems to me that this assumption ignores the possibility (indeed, probability) that freshmen will seek out like-minded members of their class to form interclass groups. It seems unreasonable to assume that the diversity created by selection within a class will be any different than the diversity created by selection between classes (such as results from the current residence selection process). Furthermore, it is possible that these groups will continue their association within residences throughout their four years at MIT. However, because they will be formed on the basis of information gathered over a term, rather than over four days, it is possible that there will be even less diversity within upperclass residences than currently exists.
Finally, I was disappointed to see how little the FHC report relied on actual data. The appendix cites only one systematic survey of the most important source of data, students. The one thorough survey that is cited was conducted in 1986, prior to the time considerable changes were implemented in the R/O system. (The appendix also states that a random survey of 19 students was conducted informally by members of the committee.) It seems to me that the questions raised in the charge to the committee could be addressed by a prospective study of a class from the time they are admitted to the time they graduate. The data gathered from such a study would allow the Institute to implement whatever changes are warranted on the basis of research that meets the same criteria by which its faculty's research is considered. Although such a study would be expensive, its results would be invaluable.
Timothy Lash '87->