Moving Beyond the Housing Decision
Guest Column Pavan K. Auluck
Having read recently in The Tech the MIT administration's decision to house all freshmen on campus, as well as the student response to that announcement, I was irritated by both the administration's actions as well as by the lack of understanding on the part of the undergraduate population. I think it is counterproductive for undergrads to gripe about matters they cannot change. MIT will not turn back its decision to house all freshmen on campus.
The question now is: How will MIT turn its hasty commitment into a feasible and worthwhile reform? First of all, it needs to be acknowledged that the decision to house all freshmen on campus was made for the wrong reasons. MIT does not have an alcohol problem. A few students at MIT may personally have an alcohol problem, but not the MIT community as a whole, and certainly not any more so than any other American university. Therefore, this move will obviously solve no problem existing in the MIT community, other than creating some good public relations for MIT to counter all the bad press of the past year.
Now we are left to wonder: What can be done to alleviate the damage to student life that will be caused by this change? MIT cannot afford to turn back time. Rescinding President Charles M. Vest's decision will result only in lawsuits and bad press claiming that MIT is not correcting the perceived alcohol problem. Perceptions are impossible to argue against. No matter how much data to the contrary, false presumptions will always prevail, especially when they make a great institution look bad in public. MIT was forced to make a quick move before matters got any worse. And so, it was decided to house all freshmen on campus. This decision will not be rescinded.
This now brings me to the new dorm. MIT cannot house all freshmen on campus, unless this new housing is provided. Taking that and all the above for granted, the question then becomes an issue of what is the best way for MIT to implement new housing policies - to add in a new dorm and define its culture, to preserve the existing fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, and to preserve the identities of the existing dormitories. Obviously, asking incoming freshmen to decide which dorm to live in by mail is going to kill the diversity that exists among the dorms today. This diversity was unique to MIT. It was replicated at the California Institute of Technology long ago. And, as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I see that UPenn is changing its own housing system to make it more like MIT's. Obviously, MIT has something good that should be preserved. And the only way to preserve dormitory diversity is to keep dorm and hall rush!
What about the new dorm? I believe that the Interfraternity Council has hit it on the nose: The new dorm should be substance-free. Such housing currently does not exist at MIT. It will add to the diversity of MIT's housing system without disrupting the ethos of the rest of the dormitories.
I have left the preservation of the FSILGs for last. (I don't think I can adequately address the implementation problem.) The FSILGs undoubtedly have the most to lose. Without rush, the threat exists that fewer students will ever consider living off campus. Also, since freshmen will be forced to live on campus, many will feel sedentary and will not wish to move off campus. It is in MIT's best interest to maintain the existence of the FSILGs. They provide much community and social diversity that does not and cannot survive in a dormitory setting.
There are many options that exist for FSILG rush. The Tech has proposed that FSILG rush take place during Independent Activities Period. And, indeed, IAP is a time when many students have the time to explore alternate housing possibilities. Most likely, by the time January rolls around, freshmen will not already be sedentary and unwilling to move.
But the problem of January itself exists. It is very likely that the inclement temperatures and weather common to that particular month will dissuade freshmen from venturing across the river to visit FSILGs. This is not a good picture. A better suggestion, perhaps, would be to hold rush in the same fashion it currently exists - at the same time as orientation. However, pledges would be required to live on campus during their freshman year. This solution could allow for pledges to develop relationships with their elder brothers or sisters while they are still living in an on-campus community.
In sum, I think that complaints and cries about the administration's injustice towards students will result in nothing good. On the contrary, the more the administration hears complaints about the new system, the more likely it will not listen or care about student input. It is time for the student body to accept certain changes as written in stone, and to try to help the administration to preserve what is important to MIT's student community. Please put down the protest signs and bury the hatchets and use some of that creativity that brought you to MIT in the first place to devise a residence system that preserves the values you cherish.
Pavan K. Auluck is a member of the Class of 1997.