Social interaction must extend beyond living groups
The charge given to the Freshman Housing Committee limited the scope of their inquiry to "the impact that [Residence/Orientation] has on the quality of life and character of the MIT community, with special reference to the freshman class." The committee concluded that R/O adversely affects freshmen, and proposed that it be changed. Thus the quality of life debate has been reduced to residence and specifically residence selection in the first year. But problems with the MIT undergraduate experience are not confined to the freshman year or to the choice of housing. Fixing one problem may, in fact, exacerbate many others.
The FHC proposals should not be implemented because they serve no purpose. The question should not be how a living group is composed, but rather how people interact and how that interaction can be improved. If the housing proposals are implemented, they will cause upheaval for some time. But the most important aspect of MIT -- academics -- will remain unchanged.
The housing committee claims that independent living groups stifle diversity, value isolation and attract solely like-minded people. It claims that dormitories also attract only like-minded people, and encourage a loyalty at odds with loyalty to the Institute. It claimed that only through a change in residence selection will students enjoy (as the clich'e goes) diverse social experiences, increased knowledge of other types of people and a more fulfilling experience.
These claims may be based on wisps of truths, but reality indicates otherwise. It is difficult to imagine that with the great breadth of diversity supplied by the Admissions Office there are so many people who are so similar who all reside in the same location and refuse to interact with anyone else. Certainly people want to live with similar people -- not exactly the same, but rather having something in common, such as educational interests, sports, co-curricular activities and hometowns.
Diversity of experience does not come just from one's residence, as the FHC appears to believe. Over 200 student activities, as well as intercollegiate and intramural sports, provide ample opportunities for people to interact in a non-academic context. The Tech staff, for example, includes members of several ILGs, most dormitories, all undergraduate classes, several graduate students, a few graduates and even some people who never attended MIT. Most activities boast a membership with an eclectic background, but with a common, binding interest.
The Institute can more directly affect the nature of social interaction through educational changes. Already, freshman pass/no-credit encourages the pooling of students' efforts to solve difficult tasks. Cooperation replaces competition, as people realize that the talents and accomplishments of a group surpass those of an individual. Increased student involvement in aspects of Institute affairs would foster a greater sense of community. Rather that merely attending MIT, a student may gain greater appreciation of the school by participating directly in activities involving the faculty and administration. The Institute can further this sense of community by sponsoring more colloquia dealing not only with campus-wide issues, but also those of national and international import.
The FHC has touched upon some of the issues affecting the MIT community, but the inquiry has been too narrow and the proposals too misguided to provide beneficial changes. Instead of continuing the peripheral debate on housing, the Institute should redouble its efforts to encourage cooperation and a spirit of community through existing channels.
Michael Franklin, a member of the Class of 1988, will be The Tech's opinion editor for volume 110. He co-coordinated the 1987 Residence/Orientation week.
Diversity of experience does not come just from one's residence, as the Freshman Housing Committee appears to believe. The Institute can more directly affect the nature of social interaction through educational changes.