A Small Step in the Right Direction
Today, President Charles M. Vest will present a proposal for changes to Residence and Orientation at MIT and the future of the housing system to the Academic Council. Although the statement remains vague as to the particulars of how R/O will change, it represents a small step in the right direction: a step toward a more positive Orientation Week, and a better planned residential community.
We continue to believe that incoming students and MIT as a whole would benefit from an orientation process that brings new students together with the community as a whole, rather than encouraging them to segregate themselves among the various living groups that compete with one another during rush. In particular, we feel that the current format of R/O gives too much attention to rush, and not enough to other aspects of life at MIT, including participation in student activities, research, and academics.
We are cautiously optimistic that the administration and faculty are beginning to move in the direction of a more integrated Orientation Week. However, in the absence of specific recommendations for changing R/O, we remain skeptical as to the commitment of the faculty and administration to real change. In the past, efforts to involve faculty in R/O and increase the profile of academic orientation have failed. The faculty remain essentially uninterested in the undergraduate community, and academic events regularly play second fiddle to the stressful experience of fraternity rush.
Although the jury is still out on orientation, the proposed changes in the housing system seem more promising. President Vest has correctly, if belatedly, begun to address the serious problem with the current housing system's inflexibility. The need to house a certain percentage of each incoming class in the independent living group system has constrained the design of orientation and housing-related policies for far too long. The sooner a new dormitory is constructed the better. Not only does a new dorm offer an opportunity to increase the amount of single-sex housing, but it presents MIT with the opportunity to finally rethink its divided housing system without worrying about increased crowding or other short-sighted concerns.
President Vest's statements represents a positive first step. Real change on housing, however, will require concrete action, and a serious commitment on the part of administrators and faculty.