A Call for Responsibility
Two disturbing incidents took place in the dormitory system over the weekend. In one incident at East Campus, a graduate resident tutor allegedly set fire to the carpet in the hall outside his room. In another at Baker House, an underage Simmons College student was hospitalized after allegedly consuming too much alcohol. Both incidents raise serious questions about the condition of our neglected on-campus housing system.
In the first incident, a fire alarm failed to activate properly in East Campus. Luckily, the fire was extinguished before the fire department arrived. This malfunction caused a delay in warning East Campus residents of the possible danger. Had the fire been more severe, this delay could have been disastrous. In East Campus and other dorms, MIT must implement a more rigorous policy of upgrading and upkeeping alarm and other safety systems. That policy must not be limited to a review in the coming weeks only to be forgotten by semester's end. A long-term plan for the increased oversight of safety systems in the dormitories must be implemented. In particular, MIT should make sure that there are periodic tests of fire and safety systems in all residences.
This fire also raises serious questions about the physical condition of both East Campus and other campus dormitories. Several undergraduate residences need to be repaired to be brought up to code. Funding can and must be found to move forward with these repairs. Efforts focused on the construction of a new undergraduate dormitory must not distract from much needed repairs to existing dormitories.
The incidents in both Baker and East Campus also raise questions about the responsibilities of GRTs in dormitories and where responsibility lies for supervising the dorms. In East Campus, a GRTcharged with helping students deal with the various problems they face as undergraduates in a stressful environment instead himself allegedly committed a crime by setting fire to carpet in the dormitory. In Baker, despite the fact that one of the two parties where alcohol was served was well publicized and that even conservative estimates put both parties near or over one hundred people, no one stepped in to say the event needed to be registered with the Office of Residence Life and Student Life Programs as it should have been according to current MIT policy.
At Baker, an e-mail so callously and indignantly advertising "all the Fiji punch you can drink" was widely distributed. Its wide distribution to several e-mail lists including the Baker House social list and the Leadership mailing list meant it was found in the mailbox of the Baker housemaster as well as those of several deans whose responsibilities revolve around student life issues. Where were these individuals?
The fire on the fourth west parallel of EC may have very well been a fluke. The occurrence may be isolated to the propensity of one individual on one night of the year to allegedly ignore what to most observers is common sense. However, the fact that it was a GRT as opposed to an undergraduate who allegedly started the fire raises questions about how well GRTs are trained to function within dorms. GRTs should be given more than a book that they can put on a shelf after being trained for a few days.
In the current system, GRTs provide a convenient legal buffer for the Institute with regard to liability issues in dorms. In effect, their presence is exploited as way to absolve the Institute from taking an active role in providing safe places for undergraduates to live. The Institute is acting as if seems to believe as if the mere presence of a GRT will supply a safe-haven for undergraduates. At the same time, the GRT, rightfully, assumes no responsibility for the actions of others. In the end, we are left with no clear lines of responsibility defining who should be preventing mistakes from happening. It is this situation that will be ultimately untenable. Whether it is underage drinking or other transgressions, the lack of clear policies or the blind-eye the administration turns toward the bending of the rules that doesn't result in disaster makes us all the more vulnerable to those situations that do.
The Tech has stated before that GRTs should not represent a police-force in dormitories; that they shouldn't regulate alcohol consumption and other resident activities. However, that does not excuse blatantly and publicly breaking existing laws nor should it encourage drinking excessively and dangerously. Contrary to the farce of responsibility that currently defines our system of housing support, true responsibility, and ultimately, accountability must lie somewhere. If anything, these two incidents illustrate the fact that, under the current system, the responsibility lies nowhere.