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Courses Aim to Produce Charming MIT Students

By Rima Arnaout

After a one-year hiatus, the annual IAP Charm School will again grace Lobbies 7 and 10 today from noon until 4 p.m.

Students get the chance to earn degrees in charm: six classes earn a students a CB (bachelor of charm) while eight classes earn a CM (masters of charm). By passing twelve classes, a student is awarded a doctorate in charm.

Beginning just before noon, students will be able to pick up schedules detailing the afternoon's classes.

"Generally, you'll have a booth where the class is being taught," said Dean of Students and Director of the Experimental Studies Group Travis R. Merritt, who will preside as Charm School dean this year. The content and style of the different charm classes is left to the discretion of the instructors.

"All of the classes are run differently, but they're all interactive and all different," said Public Service Center Coordinator Monica A. Huggins, one of this year's Charm School coordinators.

Charm School is offering some new subjects this year, such as "How to Tell Somebody Something They'd Rather Not Hear."

Old favorites to be offered include Buttering Up Big Shots," taught by Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams. In addition, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow '72 will teach a subject entitled "Small Talk."

Besides presiding as the dean, Merritt will teach "Exemplary Locomotion," which tries to "teach [students] stylish ways of walking down the Infinite Corridor" and what to do in the elevator, Merritt said.

Other subjects include "Impressive Interviewing" from the Office of Career Services, "Flirting and Dating," and "It's Alimentary," a class teaching table manners.

Two dancers from the Ballroom Dance Team will preform a dance to kick off Charm School, and at the top of each hour, the ballroom dance team will perform and then teach a different dance.

Although ballroom dancing isn't a new feature of Charm School, the band accompanying the dance team consists of MIT faculty this year. The band is called "Ancient Mariners," headed by Justin E. Kerwin, professor of ocean engineering.

In addition, Charm School is sponsoring fashion awards this year to complement its "Fashion Police."

According to Ted E. Johnson, assistant director for programs at the Campus Activities Complex, "The police officers are going to be armed with ŒFashion Violations' that look like parking tickets."

Students will be cited for things like wearing a hat indoors, clashing, or "being a walking jewelry store," and penalties for fashion violations will range from immediate correction to a public apology on a public address system, to a five minute sentence at a charm school class.

Charm School Commencement will begin at 4:30 p.m. after refreshments are served in the Bush Room. In addition to a speech by "Charmcellor" Bacow, the Chorallaries will sing Charm School's alma mater.

Charm School is primarily sponsored by the Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs. In addition to Huggins, the other main coordinators are Associate Dean Katherine G. O'Dair and Administrative Assistant Heather A. Trickett of RLSLP. Rita A. Lin '00 is the Charm School student coordinator.

"One of the great things about this place is the capacity to poke fun at ourselvesŠ unlike some other institutions located in Cambridge," Bacow said.

"LarryŠ was such a natural choice" for commencement speaker, O'Dair said. "He fits right in with the mission of the program, he's so enthusiastic about it. He has a great rapport with the students."

Improved charm hoped for

The organizers of Charm School hope that students will not only enjoy the afternoon but also come away with a heightened awareness of some oft-neglected social skills.

"On a serious note about Charm School," Bacow said, "we have a tremendous amount of people who come from other cultures." According to Bacow, Charm School can provide a place for demystifying the conventions of American culture.

"If we succeed in raising consciousness and having a good time, that's about all we can ask. And when [Charm School] went away for a year, there were a lot of people who called up" asking what had happened, Merritt said.

When asked whether he's ever seen a change in the manners of MIT students after charm school, Merritt said that "the politic thing to say is that yes, it's revolutionized [student's behavior]Š I don't know. The point is to make it fun.

"If you kid around about it," Merrit said. "People actually pay attentionŠ if we did it seriously, people will take it as seriously as they took sex education by the gym teacher," Merritt added.

Trickett said that Charm School is "a way to learn some important skills in a way that isn't intimidating."

Truthfully, Merritt did notice that students "are a little more usefully self conscious about some things than they used to be.Š Maybe it's just my imagination, but people seem to walk down the infinite corridor with a little more style."

In 1993, Merritt had the inspiration to teach MIT students some manners. He recruited Dean Alberta G. Lipson with Roseanne J. Swire of the Office of Academic Services to coordinate the event.

"I've been at MIT for 35 years, and I just got a little weary hearing people in the faculty complain about how manners-challenged the students are," Merritt said.

"I remember sitting with colleagues at lunch who would say [of MIT students], ŒLook at them! They don't talk, they don't smile, they just sit there and gobble their food,'" Merritt added.

Charm School fell by the wayside when Lipson and Swire couldn't plan Charm School for last year's Independent Activities Period.

"It didn't happen last year, and several students came to me and my colleagues" wanting it back, Huggins said.

"Several students formed a Charm School this past fall; we said we would help in any way," O'Dair said. According to O'Dair, Charm School is "a recognized student activity with strong administrative support."

In past years, Charm School has received media attention from the likes of The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and CNN.