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After a Year's Hiatus, Charm School Will Again Grace Institute Corridors

By Gitrada Arjara

This year, students who don't know how to flirt properly, can't figure out which fork to use at a nice restaurant, or have no fashion sense whatsoever need fear no more.

Charm School, the afternoon crash course in manners and social graces, will return to the list of activities for Independent Activities Period after a one-year hiatus.

Last year, Charm School was cancelled because not enough students were willing to help planning the event.

Charm School will take place on Jan. 27. That afternoon, classes instructing students on everything from how to ask for a date to how to sneeze with no-one noticing will dot Lobby 7 and rooms along the Infinite Corridor.

Students even get the chance to earn Charm School diplomas for completing enough classes. Six classes earn a bachelor's degree, eight a master's, and 12 a doctorate in charm.

After an afternoon of festivities, Charm School finishes with a commencement speaker and graduation procession from the Bush Room to Lobby 10.

Past commencement speakers have included Judith Martin, author of the syndicated "Miss Manners" column, comedian Dan Zebin, and President Charles M. Vest. The Charm School steering committee is currently in the process of finding a commencement speaker for the next Charm School.

Charm School was founded in January 1993 by former Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Travis R. Merritt in response to complaints and generalizations about MITstudents and faculty being style-challenged and having few manners.

In the past, Charm School has received attention from the national and local press, including CNN, Good Morning America, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe.

Event features myriad activities

Charm School 1999 will still feature classes offered from previous years. One of these classes, called "Exemplary Locomotion," was created by Merritt. Merritt says he wanted to get rid of the "Institute scuttle" and teach students how to saunter, sashay, walk more smoothly, and even to power-walk.

Other classes gave lessons on buttering-up bigshots, body language, impressive interviewing, asking for a date, and dressing more fashionably.

A class called "It's Alimentary," teaches proper table manners and how to use the silverware at a formal dinner. This year, there will also be classes on ballroom dancing and how to tell jokes.

Students and other MIT community members may also join the Fashion Police and give citations to people wearing mismatched clothes.

According to Merritt, having fun and being silly is the idea behind Charm School. Those involved need to "take a light-hearted approach to it," he said.

Charm School took place during IAP because the relaxed atmosphere allowed students to enjoy the charm school classes without too much stress, Merritt said.

Any member of the MIT community, faculty, staff, students, can teach a Charm School class. "Anyone can learn; anyone can teach", Merritt said.

Interest in Charm School faded

Last IAP, Charm School went "on sabbatical for a year," Merritt said. This was because two MIT staff members, Alberta Lipson and Roseanne Swire, had become overburdened with the logistical work for previous Charm Schools, he said. They did not have the time that was needed to organize Charm School last IAP, and there was no student interest in helping to plan Charm School.

Fortunately this year, Charm school is being brought back.

Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Katherine A. O'Dair and Public Service Center Coordinator Monica Huggins have volunteered to bring back Charm School. They are co-organizing the Charm School Steering Committee that is composed of students and faculty.