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Ashdown Housemasters Express Concern about Proposed Move

Ashdown Housemasters Express Concern About Proposed Move

The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to President Charles M. Vest.

We are very concerned about the potentially serious situation that is threatening to affect the living and learning environment of a large group of graduate students, those at Ashdown House. We are concerned that in the present endeavor to restructure student housing, too much attention is focused on bricks and mortar and rental income and not nearly enough on the very important educational component of residential graduate student life.

Ashdown is home to some 160 international students and some 80 women, among a total of 419 residents. Some 20 years ago Professor Emeritus Robert I. Hulsizer Jr. PhD '48 and Carol Hulsizer, then housemasters at Ashdown, responded to a perceived need - the need for graduate students to communicate with each other. They started the weekly Coffee Hours which still occur every Thursday evening in what is known, appropriately, as the Hulsizer Room.

Conversations during Coffee Hour deal with events and attitudes in foreign countries, in the United States, and in different laboratories. The value of the cultural, ethnic, religious and political education that occurs is enormous.

Out of Coffee Hour, over many years, a real community has evolved. Community is hard to define, but one would find little disagreement in today's fractious world that community is far more important than previously realized. It is not easy to establish and where it exists, it must not be destroyed.

As one very successful student volunteered to us, "Graduate study at MIT is a wonderful opportunity, but it is also an incredibly isolating experience. I don't know how well I would have done without the Ashdown community."

Another student, here only a few months, stated, "I came here from a country where family is very important. These people are not just my friends, they are my family."

MIT is an educational institution, very devoted to research. How much of MIT's well-deserved research reputation rests on the work of our graduate students? Where would we be without their ideas and their work, more freely given when living in interesting and supportive surroundings?

We owe them this support. We also owe them the best education possible, both in terms of lectures and seminars and also in terms of the best possible living environment. For many, though not all, this is currently Ashdown with its social and interpersonal learning opportunities. For these students the constant interaction with peers in a non-threatening environment is an important boost to their developing creativity and confidence.

Let us put our educational goals first and let those graduate students who chose to do so enrich their lives in a vibrant society like Ashdown, where they can feel at home.

If MIT truly wishes to lead the United States into the era of a global economy, why is it willing to destroy a successful microcosm of shared living and of problem solving by many of the future international leaders?

If MIT is serious about the catchword of the '90s - diversity - why is it willing to abandon a working multi-national, multi-racial community of young men and women who daily learn about others' cultures, who learn to merge their "strange" ways not in the sterile or false atmosphere of a seminar, lecture, or even a social event, but in the kitchens, TV rooms, and study lounges?

The Ashdown community cannot be dispersed to various available apartments about Cambridge for a few years - the idea of community put in a memory bank sometime and then expected to emerge again at some future date. A valuable asset to MIT and probably to the global community of the 21st century would be lost.

Vernon M. and Beth Ingram

Housemasters at Ashdown House