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Faces from the Crowd

Veena Thomas

I hate ruts.

IAP provides us a perfect opportunity to break free of the confines of real classes and of term and gives us the chance to try something new. So when a high school friend of mine e-mailed me asking if I wanted to come and visit her at school for the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. I had been growing a little weary of campus life and I wanted to spend a few days somewhere else, if at the very least, on a different college campus.

Though we’re good friends, the colleges we chose are polar opposites. She attends a small Christian liberal arts college in a suburb. It’s about as far removed as possible from a rather large engineering school in the city -- the creationism to MIT’s evolution. I was very curious.

I ended up spending the evening helping her out with a coffeehouse that her Habitat for Humanity team held to raise money for their trip. About 300 people attended the coffeehouse, fully twenty percent of the college. I asked Jenny if they had been expecting such attendance. “Actually, we’re really surprised,” she said. “There’s also a swing dance going on tonight and they try not to schedule more than one campus event at the same time, in order to increase attendance.”

Not being able to have more than one event at a time? I can’t even imagine life here with such a philosophy. “Don’t you get bored or feel confined by such a small population?” I asked her. Not really, she replied. “It’s really nice walking to class and knowing almost everyone you pass along the way.” Although she admitted that she didn’t know everyone at the coffeehouse, she said that she recognized most of the people there. Hmmm, I’ve been to MIT events where scarcely anyone looked even familiar.

“Well,” I thought to myself, slightly smugly, “I’d never get bored at school. There’s so many people I can meet, and so much variety. There’s much more diversity than I would find at a small liberal arts school. So what if I don’t know everyone I pass on my way to class in the morning? I wouldn’t want to feel constricted in a college only slightly larger than my high school. College is the time to meet people, and I want to have as many opportunities to meet people as possible.”

So why did I feel so depressed upon returning to MIT? I didn’t see anyone I knew on my walk back from Kendall to LaVerde’s. I had plenty of time to think, and the more I thought, the more depressed I became. I chose a fairly large college so I could meet people, but when was the last time I met anyone new? Obviously there are thousands of people at this school, and plenty of potential people to meet, but most people I know aren’t meeting new people either. Ours is a somewhat divided campus, separated by cliques, living groups, and clubs. We have the Greek scene, the non-Greek scene, West Campus dorms, East Campus dorms, and so many other fractures running below the surface. Who’s meeting everyone? It’s so easy to fall into a rut and hang out with only your friends and refuse to meet anyone new. We might attend a large college, but by remaining in our own little groups, we are no better off than a college one-quarter MIT’s size.

Luckily, only a few hours after my depressing walk home from the T station, I attended the Millennium Ball. I’ve never seen an MIT event bring together so many people before. So many events, like Domecoming, attempt to combine disparate elements of the population -- yet this one actually succeeded. While I didn’t meet anyone new at the ball, I was encouraged. Maybe people at MIT weren’t as cold and distant as sometimes I think.

Apparently I’m not the only one concerned about the lack of interaction between various groups on campus. The Millennium Ball aimed to bring together everyone, from undergraduates to grad students to faculty members. Someone was quoted in The Tech as being impressed that even fraternity members attended the Millennium Ball, as opposed to having their own parties. Hopefully other campus events, including Spring Weekend, can have the same success. As one example, two Burton-Conner GRTs have the task of proposing a “relations-building event” because “the administration wants to increase the amount of interactions people have on campus.” They are currently in the process of planning a mixer between Burton-Conner and another group on campus.

Any opportunity to meet new people should be utilized to your advantage. Luckily, the beginning of a new term brings many chances. We can avoid ruts. Don’t just hang out with your same group of friends all the time. Start up a conversation with that person sitting next to you in recitation, or actually talk to that guy to whom you’ve always just said hi. Stop and talk to people instead of always rushing off to do something else. We’re in an amazing, diverse, large school environment, surrounded by the best and brightest people we could ever hope to meet. There’s a reason you didn’t go to a small school. Make use of it.