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Students Protest Move to House All Freshmen on Campus in 2001


Wan Yusof Wan Morshidi -- The Tech
Students sit on the steps of Building 7 Tuesday afternoon in protest of the recent announcement to house all freshmen in dormitories starting in the fall of 2001.

By Zareena Hussain
News Editor

Gathered on the steps leading toward 77 Massachusetts Avenue, students voiced opposition to the decision to house all freshmen on campus in the year 2001, in an open microphone protest last Tuesday.

Protestors criticized the administration for not listening to student concerns, while lauding fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups for the emotional support they provide to incoming students.

"I cherish every moment that I've spent at my fraternity and I would feel robbed if MIT took a year of that away from me, or anyone else," said Andrew P. Oury '99, a member of Phi Sigma Kappa.

"This cutting-edge research institution you run can be a pretty hard, cold, soulless place sometimes, and since it receives federal funding as a university, an educational institution, your primary responsibility is not to the Department of Defense, not to industry, but to the student body, to provide them with living options suited closely enough to their individual needs that they feel at home," said Matthew R. Norwood '99, a member of Alpha Delta Phi.

Others said that the decision to house freshmen on campus was the wrong way to address issues related to underage drinking.

"Getting rid of frats is not going to solve the alcohol problem," said Gregoire Laude G. Laude attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and said campus drinking was still a serious problem, despite housing students on campus. However, he added that dorms sometimes act positively to "force unlike people to live together."

Whitney Boesel '02 urged students to act now in opposition to the mandate to house all freshmen on campus before it is too late.

"No one on campus is going to remember what this is all about. If there is going to be something done about this, it's got to be done now," Boesel said.

Others said that the move to house freshmen on campus would ruin the fraternity system.

"What President Vest has decided to do is, from an anthropological perspective, essentially genocide. Ethnic cleansing," Norwood said.

"You can't improve community by homogenization," said Ted Peck '82, an alumnus of Tau Epsilon Phi. He cited the decision to house freshmen on campus "as part of the global trend to eradicate indigenous peoples."

Many students also sat in on the protest in a show of support. In the three hours that the protest took place, the number of gathered students ranged from a low of thirty to upwards of 100.

Ara N. Knaian '99, a brother at Zeta Beta Tau, noted the positive aspects of living in a fraternity as a freshman, including help on problem sets and moral support.

"I want to make sure that future students can have the same experience," Knaian said.

Media attention discussed

Many students asserted that the media attention focused on MIT led to this decision.

Erica Selin '01 said she was there "because it seems like the administration isn't listening to students, it's only listening to the media."

Laughton Stanley '98, an alumnus of ADP, said that it was failed disciplinary procedures at the Institute and not freshmen in fraternities that has caused some of the problems MIT faces with respect to its FSILGs.

"I think the administration made a mistake," Stanely said. "Basically, [Vest] has taken what is probably one of the best systems in the country and he's said there are some problems so I'm just going to make them go away'."

"The administration has failed to provide leadership on this campus," Stanely said. "They've helped to just brush things under the rug as long as they could," Stanley said.

"All it is is sugar coating the situation and making MITlook proactive," said Robert Maupin '00.

Citation of task force criticized

President Charles M. Vest cited the report of the Task Force of Student Life and Learning when announcing the decision to house all freshmen on campus. In this report, the task force supported housing freshmen on campus while also stating that FSILGs should receive financial help from MIT to ease the transition.

"In my view, the publication of this report makes this the appropriate moment to begin to think about how' rather than whether'," Vest said.

At the protest, a student member of the task force, Jeremy D. Sher '99, said that, in fact, the task force had not deliberated seriously on the proposal to house all freshmen on campus.

"I am here today at this demonstration, without permission from the Task Force or from anybody else, to spill a few of the beans about how the Task Force came to recommend the change to freshmen on campus, which I opposed," Sher said.

In mid-July, Sher said he was approached by one of the co-chairs of the task force who told Sher that the decision to house freshmen on campus was "inevitable."

"We had a choice: either not recommend freshmen on campus, or recommend it and use that as an opportunity to get a word in edgewise about how to do it right," Sher said.

"When you read it, you'll see that freshmen on campus was just tacked onto it at the end," Sher said.

An initial draft of the task force report contained a recommendation that if freshmen were housed on campus, "it should be done in a way that preserves the strengths of the existing system," according to Luis A. Ortiz G, a member of the task force. This initial report was circulated among department heads and members of the upper administration for feedback, Ortiz said.

"The chairs of the committee brought this feedback to the committee's attention, and the task force ultimately decided to back a more direct recommendation," Ortiz said.

"The exact wording of the text was closely scrutinized: the task force clearly wishes to see the FSILG system continue, and the members also wished to fully acknowledge the benefits of the current system and the dangers inherent in the transition to housing all freshmen in dorms," Ortiz said.

UA supports protest

The open-mike protest was endorsed by the Undergraduate Association after it had been organized.

"It's not that the UAis for or against" housing freshmen on campus, said UApresident Paul T. Oppold. Oppold said that the protest was endorsed in order to foster free speech.

Oppold said that one of the stated goals of the UAis "to represent student opinion to the administration." The protest served that purpose in both allowing the UA to gather student input and also by inviting various figures in the administration to witness hear speeches by students.

The protest was organized by Christopher R. Rezek '00 from Alpha Delta Phi. The purpose was to "collect people and show people's solidarity opposing freshman housing on campus," Rezek said.