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Students Give Input on New Dorm, Protest Against Housing Decision

By Rima A. Arnaout
Staff Reporter

Students and administrators discussed architectural, cultural and dining features of the planned new Vassar Street dormitory at a community meeting Wednesday.

At a concurrent meeting sponsored by the Undergraduate Association, students discussed the recent decision to house all freshman on campus in Fall 2001 and its effects on the housing system.

The Dean's Office and the Planning Office held a small-scale meeting at Baker House at 7 p.m. The UA held an open forum in Lobdell Court, starting at 8 p.m.

The meeting at Baker was designed as a chance for undergraduates to suggest features for the new building, within the constraints of its location.

"We need to know about specific design issues, and about what sort of programs are helpful to bring people together," said Margaret R. Bates, dean for student life, at the meeting.

The Dean's Office and the Planning Office hope to submit student input to the architect and the design team, whom they plan to hire by Jan. 1.

Bates spoke about using the new dormitory's proximity to Cambridgeport, where many faculty live, to extend student-faculty interaction.

"Living in close proximity is a nice way of bringing together people with common interests but at different stages in their lives," Bates said. Accordingly, the new dormitory will also have spaces that can accommodate graduate students, faculty, or visitors to MIT, she said.

Bates also announced that several decisions had already been made about the physical design of the building. It will house between 300 and 350 residents in total, Bates said.

Its location at the end of Vassar Street, across from Next House, means that it must be a long, thin building, she said.

The dormitory will also include a large dining hall, rather than local kitchens, she said. The administration hopes to draw community activities to the new dorm with the communal facility and by beautifying Vassar Street.

Students at the Baker meeting discussed layouts of rooms and facilities that might help counteract the isolating effect of a long and thin dorm building.

Some students made specific suggestions for the building. People asked for bathrooms with more privacy and better lighting throughout the building.

Students discuss housing decision

While plans for the new dorm proceed, many students still are protesting MIT's decision to house all freshmen on campus. Discussion at the UA's open forum focused on housing policy rather than the new dormitory.

"One of the best things about this school is being able to live where you want," said Anthony Paris '02 at the open forum. Freshmen resent losing that freedom, and students also worry that the benefits of rush and of fully incorporating freshmen into student life will be lost, he said.

Still, attendance at the forum was low. In order to reach more of the student body, the UA has organized an online plebiscite where students can register their opinions about the new dorm and housing policy. The polling ends on Monday.

"We hope to form a UA opinion from the results" and submit a report to the administration, said UA President Paul T. Oppold '99.

"Hopefully, a super-majority [sic.] of students will demand that their opinions be heard." Oppold said.

Debates about the new dorm and housing policy will continue as the administration synthesizes student input and as the planning office finds an architect for the new residence, Bates said.