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An Authentic Slice of MIT Life

Veena Thomas

I found it quite amusing that early on the morning the prefrosh were to arrive, workers busily repaired the ugly gash that had marred Kresge Oval for so long. Within hours, long strips of sod covered the formerly bare patch of dirt.

A symbolic “patching over” of relations with the student body? Hardly. A job which took such a short amount of time obviously could have been done before, for the benefit of the student body and not just the prefrosh. It seems that MIT tries desperately to seduce the best and brightest high school seniors -- but once the class of 2004 matriculates, they’ll be jilted for the class of 2005.

However, preferential treatment of prefrosh has been slipping recently. Instead, MIT has attempted to treat them more like regular students by imposing harsh and nonsensical rules on them. A letter from Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones was carefully slipped into the packets of information distributed to all prefrosh. The letter from Jones, “Your Mom Away from Mom,” as she signed the letter, didn’t read like the standard piece of admissions literature. Casually and personally worded, the letter tempted prefrosh with promises of “labs, classes, lectures, and yes, plenty of food.” Lulled by these words, it was easy to miss the ramifications of the next section of the letter. It asked prefrosh to please wear a purple wristband at all times to identify themselves as a member of the prospective class of 2004. Mentioning special events, such as parties, dinners, and special lectures for prefrosh, the letter made it seem only logical to have them wear some sort of identification in order to gain admittance to these events.

But think harder. Prefrosh are already easily identified throughout campus, with their bright-eyed optimism, happy smiles, and the large prefrosh packets in their arms. Did we really need a further form of separating prefrosh from the rest of the student body? The ideal goal of prefrosh weekend is to give prospective students as authentic of an MIT experience as possible. Granted, this never occurs, with the frats and dorms attempting to drown each other out with blasting music, the newly repaired grass, and the seven frat parties on Saturday night, but the said goal remains the same. The prospective students already look as though they have “PREFROSH” tattooed across their forehead; we don’t need to tag them also with a bright purple band.

And what about the safety issue? Two female prefrosh wandering around Boston late at night by themselves, with obvious purple wristbands identifying them as the same, is just an invitation for harassment, or worse. Let’s just label them as an easy target for the scum of Boston. Perhaps the administration thought of this too. Why else would they not allow the prefrosh into Boston? Reading the letter further, we come across instructions by Jones to “please stay on campus,” with the exception of FSILGs. Was this what the purple wristbands were really about -- identification so that secret MIT spies located throughout Boston could easily spot prefrosh in violation of the rules? Were hungry prefrosh living in FSILGs expected to eschew IHOP and walk back to campus to eat, avoiding Boston all the way?

While primarily citing safety reasons, Jones inadvertently revealed her paranoia about losing students to Harvard when she mentioned being unable to watch prefrosh at “our friendly rival up the street in Cambridge.” If a chance visit to Harvard could convince someone to enroll there over a very carefully planned Campus Preview Weekend, restricting students to MIT’s campus is a form of entrapment. Students should be allowed to choose MIT because they feel it is the best school from them, not because they were prohibited from visiting anywhere else.

What of the safety issues? Jones didn’t want 700 prefrosh wandering aimlessly throughout Boston. But what happens when in four months, those same prefrosh plus three hundred others arrive for Orientation? Now full-fledged members of the class of 2004, those same students are free to do as they please. No letter asking them not to go into Boston is going to stop them.

It was perhaps still possible for a prefrosh reading this letter to regard it as some guidelines for the upcoming few days, friendly advice from the Dean of Admissions upon arriving on a strange campus. But no friendly piece of advice required a signature at the bottom. Suddenly it became apparent that this “letter” was actually a carefully disguised contract of rules and regulations to be strictly followed.

When word of this contract reached the MIT student body, many student groups reacted angrily -- and swiftly. ILTFP wrote up their own letter to prefrosh, to be distributed and read before they received the packet with the contract. It explained to them what the contract was really about, and asked them to “cross out any clauses that [they were] uncomfortable with.” In addition, it provided advice on what prefrosh should really do over the course of their stay. Suggestions ranged from going to the Museum of Science to donating the infamous purple wristbands to the Big Screw, where people had pledged up to 55 cents per wristband. The letter ended with perhaps the most useful piece of advice to prefrosh: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

The student activism worked: after meeting with the leaders of residential groups, Jones rescinded her decision to include the contract in the prefrosh information packet. Admitting that she had made an “errant judgment,” Jones allowed prefrosh into Boston, but still asked them to stay away from other campuses.

Student action saved the prefrosh from an unnecessarily harsh and unpleasant stay at MIT. Perhaps the willingness of the student body to fight for what they believe in, and to protest changes they see as destroying the spirit of MIT, will be most authentic aspect of Campus Preview Weekend.