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Housing committee writes report

By Niraj S. Desai

The Undergraduate Association Council will soon consider a report on student housing that, among other things, says: all undergraduates should be guaranteed four years of housing; housing options for women should be increased; and the ability of freshmen to choose their own living groups should be preserved.

A draft copy of the report, which was written by the Undergraduate Student Housing Committee, was distributed at last week's UAC meeting. The report will be discussed, amended, and voted on at the March 9 council meeting, and will then be submitted to the Institute Housing Committee.

The IHC, which is chaired by Professor Mary C. Potter, is presently evaluating student housing, especially for freshmen, at MIT. The UA group was formed to present student views to the Institute committee.

The USHC draft report was based on a November open forum attended by about 40 students, and on discussions committee members had with students, according to the committee's chairman, Stacy A. Segal '90. The USHC also sent letters to all house presidents asking for input, Segal added.

While the committee did not conduct any rigorous surveys of the student body in making its report of student views, Segal defended its methodology. The draft report is not meant to be a final evaluation of MIT housing. Rather, the report should only be one factor in the ongoing debate, Segal said. She noted that the UA Council will likely amend the report when it considers it next week.

The document calls on MIT to guarantee four years of housing to all of its undergraduates. Presently, all freshmen are guaranteed housing regardless of when during the freshman year they moved into an Institute house. Upperclassmen already in the dormitory system are allowed to remain, but upperclassmen wishing to move on campus from an apartment or an independent living group are not guaranteed spaces. Transfer students are also not guaranteed Institute housing.

Not having on-campus housing can deny a student an opportunity to become part of the MIT community, as well as impose an additional financial burden on him, the report argues. The only other option for transfers and upperclassmen is to pledge an independent living group, which "can result in alienation from other students of the same age or maturity level, as fraternities tend to group pledge classes together."

"The ability to choose one's living group at the start of the freshman year must be preserved; this includes the option to live in the [ILG] system," the report declares. There have been some suggestions that all freshmen be housed in a common dormitory, or that the current three-day freshman rush be otherwise modified.

The USHC categorically defended having students select their own living group during Residence/Orientation Week, and having students from different classes live in the same houses. "Upperclassmen provide academic support and information when choosing a major, choosing classes, searching for an activity, and exploring Boston, as well as provide basic support through the difficult adjustment to MIT," the committee concluded. Moreover, "we should not underestimate the ability of freshmen to make good choices but should provide accurate information and support for those choices."

Giving women more choices

Housing choices for women need to be expanded, according to the UA committee. Male students may choose from any 41 places in which to live -- 32 ILGs and nine dormitories -- while female students are given only fourteen places -- ten dormitories and four ILGs, the report noted.

To address this inequality of options, the USHC called for the establishment of more single-sex housing within the dormitory system. In particular, it called for increasing the number of single-sex wings, hallways, suites, and bathrooms. The report also says the Institute should do more to support the establishment of sorority houses.

Many women, while uncomfortable with sharing bathrooms and hallways with men, are fearful of being ridiculed if they ask for single-sex areas, Segal said. Women in coed environments also feel pressure not to form social circles outside their dormitory, according to the report. No men voiced similar complaints, Segal said.

McCormick Hall was undersubscribed in this fall's rush, but Segal rebutted the idea that this indicates a lack of demand for single-sex situations. Some women do not want to live in a completely segregated house, she said. Moreover, there may have been other reasons behind McCormick's poor rush, she said.

The report says that MIT, in order to solve the perceived problem of "de facto segregation," should promote inter-cultural awareness. Currently, minority and international students may be made to feel uncomfortable among other students, and may therefore congregate together in groups like New House's "Chocolate City," she explained.

Segal admitted that such students may prefer living within their own group, but believed even this was not necessarily healthy. She did not know if any resident of "Chocolate City" had been involved in the making of the report.

Among the committee's other recommendations were: using living groups as a base on which to build a stronger MIT community; providing more housing selection information to incoming freshmen; changing the dormitory selection lottery system to maximize the number of students getting one of their top three choices -- rather than trying to maximize the number getting their first choice; making it easier to move between living groups; increasing the self-reliance of students to mediate living group disputes; and building a new multi-purpose dormitory with a layout similar to that of New House.