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GSC Mounts Email Campaign Protesting Dormitory Delays

By Jane Yoo and Karen E. Robinson
Staff reporters

In response to fears that the proposed construction of a new graduate dormitory on the corner of Sydney and Pacific Streets may not be funded in the near future, the Graduate Student Council recently initiated an email campaign to "let the administration know that [graduate students] were concerned that the project was slipping in the administration's priorities," according to Carsten D. Hohnke, GSC treasurer and past co-chair of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee.

Off-campus housing a problem

Graduate students want the administration to "help develop a sense of community among graduate students by providing affordable housing alternatives close to campus," said GSC president Brian J. Schneider.

MIT graduate students regularly spend up to 50 percent of their income on housing, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends 30 percent. Students living off campus have to pay for Internet access, laundry, and extra storage, Davenport said.

"Finding off-campus housing is a nightmare," said GSC Housing and Community Affairs Committee Chair Kelly Davenport.

According to Hohnke, the city of Cambridge would also like to see MIT build more graduate student housing. "MIT, by not providing adequate housing, is putting undue pressure on the low-income market in Cambridge and Boston," he said. Additionally, recent increases in Cambridge housing prices hurt MIT's ability to attract students, said Schneider.

Grad dorm construction delayed

The original date for completion of the new graduate student dorm was fall of 1999, Hohnke said. Over the course of planning and discussions with the administration, "it became obvious it would not be opened in 1999," Hohnke said. Last summer at a meeting of the GSC Housing and Community Affairs committee, Chancellor Larry S. Bacow cited 2002 as a likely date of opening.

"We will not be able to announce a starting date for construction until a financing plan is complete," Bacow said.

"As with all major construction projects that are at a similar stage of development, we are exploring options for financing this project," he added. He cited the Stata Center, the remaining renovations to Baker, and the new undergraduate residence when asked what projects take precedence to graduate housing.

"Obviously MIT has lots of priorities," Hohnke said. "I think with continued vigilance of the GSC keeping this a high priority 2002 is realistic, but I am disappointed it slipped from 1999." The Institute currently has a goal of eventually housing 50 percent of graduate students the percentage which currently applies for housing.

Kitchens, common space crucial

The current plan locates the new housing complex on Sidney and Pacific Streets at University Park, although Davenport said there have also been suggestions to locate the dorm along Vassar Street. "Graduate Students aren't so concerned about where the housing goes, just that it has comfortable apartments and offers a cafeteria, common space, and programming which enhance community-building," Davenport said.

According to GSC officials, the residence will consist of small apartments. "Graduate students want to be able to cook, prepare their own meals, and when the kitchen is dirty, they want to be able to yell at the person who did it. That can't happen in a hall or floor kitchen," Davenport said.

Students need a communal space for entertaining family, friends, or professors, Davenport continued. "A single dorm room isn't enough, but a shared living room is."

"The thoughtful programs that exist at Ashdown House are an example of how to bring about a strong sense of community among graduate students. Such housing is closely aligned to MIT's educational mission," Schneider said.