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Students Voice Concerns At MIT Choice Protest

By Matthew Palmer

About 150 students staged a sit-in outside the offices of key administrators Friday to protest President Charles M. Vest’s decision to house all freshmen on campus beginning in 2001.

The student group MIT Choice organized the protest along the second floor hallway of Building 3, but students weren’t the only attendees -- Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Steve R. Lerman ’72, Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Paul E. Gray ’54, and other members of the faculty and administration were also present to speak with students.

Nicholas E. Matsakis ’99, a co-organizer of the event, said the sit-in accomplished several goals, including “letting students know that other students care passionately and by getting out what they had to say.”

The protest was organized in an open forum format. Anybody who wanted to speak could sign up when they arrived and voice their opinions. Those opinions ranged widely.

“We don’t have any peers -- we’re MIT,” said Jacob S. Beal ’00, who said he disliked comments that MIT should behave similarly to peer institutions.

Another MIT student was angered by “the lack of respect that MIT has for our thoughts and feelings.”

Bacow, Gray respond to students

Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 attended the sit-in briefly and answered students’ questions.

Gray, a former Institute president, also responded to students’ concerns. He told students to disregard a 1997 faculty vote against a freshmen on campus proposal made by Professor of Brain and Cognitive Science Stephan L. Chorover. “There was much faculty sentiment at that meeting and since then that freshmen should live on campus,” Gray said.

Gabe Weinberg ’01, president of Swass Distribution, another student group which assisted MIT Choice, said he thought the protest was an effective way to voice student concerns.

“I think it had an impact,” Weinberg said. The administration “showed up and talked to us. They are listening, though I don’t know to what extent.”

Matsakis said the sit-in would be a success if it leads to more student and administrative communication about the housing issue. “A community wide dialogue would be a success,” he said. “Students should understand [the housing decision] and the reasons they’re changing. We haven’t been provided with that yet.”

MIT Choice seeks involvement

MIT Choice is a student organization formed last September to try and reverse the 2001 decision. Along with the protest, Weinberg said MIT Choice has many ongoing projects, including a letter writing campaign, an open letter to administrators, and discussions with living groups.

Matsakis said that the next step is to continue these initiatives, “not just to hold protest after protest.”

Weinburg said another goal of the sit-in was to publicize MIT Choice as an organization.