FHC takes criticism fo its proposals at forum
By Prabhat Mehta
At an open forum on Tuesday members of the Freshman Housing Committee met with a barrage of criticism from students opposed to the committee's recently issued report. The approximately 15 students who spoke out against the report were mostly members of independent living groups concerned about FHC's proposal to house all freshmen in dormitories and move rush to the spring.
Over 200 students, graduates, faculty and staff members packed into 6-120 for the forum. Provost John M. Deutch '61, who moderated the event, cut off the discussion after two hours, but said that similar events will be scheduled in the future to provide a continuing forum for the overwhelming response to the issue.
Students and alumni argued that the FHC plan would fail to promote diversity and interaction, as the committee hopes. Rather, many argued, the plan would simply take away the choice students currently enjoy in residence selection.
"One of the reasons why I selected MIT was because of the housing system," noted Jason B. Slibeck '91 of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He said that he was "treated like an adult."
Along similar lines, John J. Magee '92 of Alpha Delta Phi told the committee that his friends from home were all unhappy with the schools they were attending and that all but one of these friends' problems arose from housing policies similar to the one proposed by the FHC. "You shouldn't have to fight to like your school," he said.
Rebecca D. Kaplan '92 of Senior House felt that taking away choice in residence selection takes away part of that which is unique about MIT. Students are respected under the current housing system, she claimed. Many other students expressed similar sentiments, challenging the FHC's notion that, because other universities assign freshmen to dormitories, such a system should be considered at MIT as well.
Professor of Biology Frank Solomon, a member of the committee, responded to the criticism that MIT should not look at the housing policies of other schools. "It turns out to be a fact [that many people
also] find virtue in the other system," he said. Students should ask themselves, "Is the current system destructive to the educational institution?" and they should see whether there is any good in the "other system," he added.
FHC's analysis questioned
FHC members said that an important motivation behind the FHC's proposals was the notion that students under the current housing system are isolated and that their relationships do not reflect the diversity of the larger MIT community.
A "peculiar situation" arises at MIT in which a student after having been at MIT for three or four days, can join an ILG and be "in the company of eight or nine, 12 or 13 people" for the rest of that student's years at the Institute, said Travis R. Merritt, head of the Undergraduate Academic Support Office and member of the committee. An "extensive range of acquaintances" is important, he said.
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Many of the criticisms voiced at the forum challenged this premise that the current system fosters isolation and limits diversity. One student felt that the FHC plan would actually destroy diversity by protracting rush and allowing ILGs the time to find people who "fit in perfectly." He felt that "it's very open here."
Toby L. Sanders '90 of Bexley Hall said that the FHC plan would make the campus even more biased toward fraternity life. A system of continual rush would develop, she said, and there would be an even "stronger Greek system" on campus.
The FHC report argued that rush should be moved to the spring term because it creates unnecessary stress during a freshman's first week at MIT and forces students to choose where to live based on limited information.
An alumnus of a fraternity countered that "rush gets you settled" into a comfortable place before school begins and hence reduces stress.
One student viewed rush as "unfettered days to look for housing." She felt that moving rush to the spring would extend the burden of looking for a place to live.
Solomon, however, felt that students should look at the problems of rush a bit differently. Putting emphasis on such a social activity as rush tends to subordinate the meritocratic system by which students are admitted to MIT and instead place emphasis on such characteristics as gender and race. Orientation should focus on the intellectual side of MIT life, he said.
Another major concern cited by opponents of the proposal to house all freshmen in dormitories is its potential effect on ILGs, which already experience problems filling their houses. Committee chair Mary C. Potter acknowledged that the FHC plan would only exacerbate the ILG problem and possibly lead to the closing of several off-campus houses. "We don't deny this will make that problem more acute," she said.
One student said that if the proposal were implemented, about eight ILGs would be forced to close.
Baker House's Chaehoon Ko '89, a former member of the FHC and the only student to express support for the FHC plan, felt that "we're selling ourselves short." He claimed that under the current system, students are led to believe that they should look for people with whom they feel "comfortable." Such an atmosphere, Ko argued, leads one to believe that only those associated with one's immediate group are worthy of friendship and respect. But, in reality, students can "learn to like people who are really different."