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COLUMN

An Activism Model

Kris Schnee

Today marks the official release of the Unified Residential System Proposal -- a hopeful day for everyone who cares about the quality of life for present and future Institute students.

The new proposal contains several important improvements over the earlier proposal by the Residence System Steering Committee. While it remains to be seen whether the Unified Proposal is accepted and used, it has the advantage of being a good and reasonable idea -- and, better yet, a product of student democracy in action.

One of the main problems with the RSSC proposal was the plan for Orientation and residence selection. The plan would split the two, basically annihilating Rush. Instead of physically seeing the dormitories and meeting the residents -- getting to know each dorm’s culture firsthand -- future freshmen would choose their housing by mail over the summer. Where’s the fun in that? It’s not necessary or wise to remove residence selection from the Orientation process -- the campus exploration and social interaction of Rush is arguably the best way to get used to college life. It is strange and chaotic, but it does what it’s supposed to do -- and, therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for MIT. The new Unified Proposal fixes the problem, preserving dedicated time for housing exploration.

Another concern was the preservation of the “theme houses” within New House -- French, German, Russian, and Spanish Houses, and Chocolate City. The RSSC proposal made housing selection for these groups independent of upperclassman input, a scheme which would threaten the very existence of the theme houses. Like the independent living groups not physically attached to campus, the theme houses divide cooking, cleaning, and other chores among their members, and it’s therefore important that all of their members participate. Completely free entrance to the theme houses might allow in freshmen who want the benefits of such a group but who are unwilling to do the work -- and a few freeloaders could ruin the entire system.

Fortunately, the Unified Proposal acknowledges the needs of the theme houses -- their members will be able to hold freshmen to the house rules for joining and working there, and force them out if they refuse to work. (A word of caution, though -- there should be limits on these rules, and the final system will hopefully forbid, for instance, racial or ethnic discrimination in theme house entry requirements.)

Will the administration listen? Allegedly, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 said he was receptive to an alternative residence system proposal. It remains to be seen whether this was only a diplomatic response, or whether Bacow means to take the student body and its ideas seriously.

Whether or not the Unified Proposal succeeds, it is encouraging to see that students cared enough to write it. The various student groups, such the Undergraduate Association and ILTFP, were able to cooperate with the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Committee to actually get something coherent done, and they did it in a way that might make even the MIT administration pay attention to student opinion. Best of all, the Unified Proposal is freely accessible to the public (at <http://web.mit.edu/advise>) and has remained open to individuals’ comments and questions.

While not perfect, the Unified Proposal is a way for students to have some influence over the future of campus housing and student life. When the proposal is delivered to Bacow, it should be with the backing of the student body -- and should serve as a model for how student activism can work.