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FHC calls for housing changes

@ByName:By Niraj S. Desai

At the heart of the debate was the question of whether the present method of residence selection contributes to a sense of community at the Institute and to the university's intellectual objectives.

The Freshman Housing Committee answered that it does not, and the FHC's November report called for the most substantial change in MIT's housing system since 1966.

The committee urged that incoming freshmen be dispersed throughout the dormitory system by being preassigned to specific dormitories and rooms. Students would be able, under the FHC plan, to pledge independent living groups and sororities or make a choice among dormitories only towards the end of the first year. They would move into their new living groups with the start of the sophomore year.

Critics immediately jumped on the FHC's analyses and recommendations, saying that choice in residence selection is a unique and valuable part of MIT's undergraduate education. Many also questioned whether the plan would be worth the damage that would likely be done to ILGs, especially all-male fraternities.

Though its report prompted a reexamination of MIT's residential policy, the FHC plan seemed to lose momentum by year's end, with the chances for implementation of most of its recommendations appearing dim.

Indictment of residential system

While MIT prides itself on the diversity of its student body, the housing system encourages undergraduates to segregate themselves to an extent, the FHC found. Freshmen, asked to select a living group within their first few days at MIT, do so on the basis of "preexisting tastes and values rather than a direct experience of MIT life and exposure to its ideals and values." The result is <>

that students choose to live among and build friendships with people like themselves rather than seeking out other elements in the community, according to the FHC report.

At the same time, the FHC questioned whether Residence/Orientation Week constitutes an appropriate introduction to the Institute. The week is dominated by residence selection and little time is left for an introduction to academic life and traditional orientation matters, the FHC said.

Moreover, having residence selection, especially fraternity and sorority rush, during R/O Week means that students "begin MIT with an inherently inegalitarian experience." Rush forces freshmen to compete with one another for the approval of upperclass students, and subjects those who do not receive bids to feelings of failure, according to the FHC report. "At a university, the relevant basis of evaluation and achievement is intellectual, not social; the ideals are democratic, not exclusionary.... Having been admitted to MIT, freshmen should begin college as equals."

Its proposed changes in the residence system would, the FHC argued, broaden undergraduates' experiences by providing a first year in which they would be exposed in their living groups to a diverse selection of the student body. At the same time, by removing residence selection from orientation week, the FHC plan sought to eliminate problems the committee had identified in R/O Week.

The committee also recommended studying possible changes in programs, faculty involvement, and in student governance in the dormitory system in order "to enhance quality of life and to increase support, especially for freshmen."

For its recommendations to be fully implemented, the FHC said the Institute would need to acquire additional undergraduate dormitory space -- between 350 and 500 beds.

A barrage of criticism

Soon after its November release, the FHC proposal ran into strenuous opposition which seemed to make implementation of its main recommendation on freshman housing unlikely.

Faculty members generally reacted negatively to the plan when it was discussed at the November faculty meeting. Associate Professor James L. Kirtley '67 said he was "caught by surprise" by the housing report, and called it a "lousy idea."

At a late November open forum attended by more than 200 people, many students attacked the housing report's findings and recommendations. Rather than increasing diversity and interaction, the proposal would simply take away the choice students currently enjoy in residence selection, the students charged.

"One of the reasons why I selected MIT was because of the housing system," Jason B. Slibeck '91 told the forum audience. He said that he was "treated like an adult."

Others challenged the FHC's premise that the current system fosters isolation and limits diversity. "It's very open here," one student said.

Many students claimed that R/O Week reduces stress by giving freshmen "unfettered days to look for housing." One person felt that moving rush to the spring would extend the burden of looking for a place to live.

The Undergraduate Association added its voice to the clamor against the proposal by issuing a statement labeling the FHC's main recommendation that all freshmen be housed on campus as "untenable to MIT undergraduates."

Members of the ILG residential system -- 27 fraternities, five coed houses, and one all-female house -- especially reacted with concern to the FHC report. ILG members feared that many fraternities would not be able to bear the financial strain of losing their freshman membership.

The FHC acknowledged that its proposal would have serious detrimental effects on ILGs. Committee chair Mary C. Potter speculated that the percentage of undergraduates housed by ILGs would go down from 30 percent to 25 percent.

But the FHC argued that a decline in the size of the ILG system would not be inconsistent with the lower number of male students in the MIT student body in recent years.

Working groups formed

The other is examining in detail the practical problems of transition and implementation should a final decision be made to move to a system where freshmen live on campus.

A group of students, wanting more input in the process, formed the Student Housing Working Group towards the end of the year. The SHWG plans to examine problems in the present residential system and recommend independent solutions.

Copyright 1990 by The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was originally published on Tuesday, February 6, 1990.
Volume 110, Year in Review
The story began on page 3 and jumped to page 9.

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