Tragic Death Prompted Housing System Reform
Students Protest Freshman Housing Proposal
The 1997 drinking death of freshman pledge Scott S. Krueger ’01 plunged the MIT community into a period of debate and reflection on the future of the MIT housing system.
MIT administrators and students created a plan for a campus-wide community which included students, staff, and faculty and identified with the Institute in general rather than isolated individual living groups. From the decision to house all freshmen on campus by 2002 to discussions about the new undergraduate dormitory planned for Vassar Street, the phrase “community building” was often heard.
This new focus has not been without controversy, however. Members of a wide range of living groups have argued that campus-wide community amounts to homogenization and that MIT is destroying vibrant communities of individuals in order to bolster its public image.
Chronology of events
The catalyst for the changes to MIT residence was the death of Scott S. Krueger ’01, who died of alcohol poisoning on September 29, 1997, three days after he was found unconscious in his room at the now defunct Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Krueger, a pledge at the fraternity, had been drinking at a celebration after pledges met their “big brothers.”
Four days later, President Charles M. Vest held a press conference at which he promised to develop plans to reduce alcohol use and build more campus housing, including a new undergraduate dormitory to be built on Vassar Street with a scheduled opening in fall 2001.
The idea of housing freshmen on campus had been tossed around on campus before 1997, but had never developed much of a following. At the mid-October 1997 faculty meeting, however, Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Stephan L. Chorover proposed a motion reading, “It is the sense of the faculty that commencing the academic year 1998 all freshmen should live on campus.”
The motion was seconded, and although the motion that was actually passed two weeks later softened the message into one of seeking input from students, faculty and alumni on how to improve the residence system, the idea remained a potent one on campus.
On August 25, 1998, President Vest announced that all freshmen would be housed in dormitories by the fall of 2001.
“This decision represents a major step in our commitment to enhancing our educational community and better integrating student life and learning,” Vest wrote in a letter to students, faculty, and staff.
Attempts to enhance student community on campus have taken a variety of forms.
In November 1998, MIT hosted a feast and celebration in the Infinite Corridor. Called the Infinite Buffet, the event was sponsored by the President’s Office. Associate Dean and Director of the Public Service Center Emily B. Sandberg said the goal of the buffet was to “bring all members of the MIT community together to celebrate the good things about MIT.”
In March 1998, Provost Joel Moses PhD '67 announced an increase to the student activities budget to $300,000, tripling the amount of money available to student groups.
In 2000, community building has taken the form of large, campus-wide events. The Millennium Ball, which took place during IAP 2000, featured a transformed Student Center as the site of festivities.
More recently, the Johnson Games were revived for Spring Weekend 2000. The Games included a wide range of activities. In a tangible representation of the ideal of a campus-wide community the Games were supposed to promote, teams were made up of twenty to forty people: forty per cent students and thirty per cent faculty and staff.
MIT sought wide input in its reform of the residence system.
During IAP 1999, teams made up of students, faculty,and staff competed in a Residence Redesign contest. They created designs for residence systems that answered fundamental questions and put forth a workable plan for the future of the Institute’s housing policy.
Two winning designs were chosen by the Residence System Steering Committee (RSSC), which then wrote its own residential design proposal drawing ideas from all the submitted proposals. The RSSC submitted its proposal to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 in the fall of 1999.
Chancellor Bacow received another proposal, from the Strategic Advisory Committee to the Chancellor. The student-led group submitted the Unified Proposal, a counter-proposal to the Residence System Steering Committee’s Final Report.
At the end of fall semester 1999, Bacow released his own final residence report which combined ideas from the RSSC report and the Unified Proposal.
Bacow’s report moves FSILG rush to October and provides for financial assistance to FSILGs struggling with the loss of a freshmen class.
Dormitory selection will be moved to summer by 2001, with students able to select either permanent or temporary housing assignments. Students requesting temporary housing or who are unhappy with their permanent choice can take part in a dormitory rush during Orientation. Theme houses will no longer be able to exclude freshmen wishing to live in them.
Another ongoing process has been the planning of the proposed undergraduate dormitory on Vassar Street. Originally scheduled to be open by fall 2001, a lawsuit brought by an abutter has indefinitely delayed construction. The decision to house all freshmen on campus has been put off until 2002.
Designed by architect Steven Holl, principle architect of Steven Holl Architects in New York and professor of architecture at Columbia University, the dormitory plans are the result of months of forums and meetings of the Founder’s Group, a group comprising students and faculty.
The dormitory includes spaces for dining and socializing as well as accommodations for graduate resident tutors, visiting scholars, and faculty. Linked floors grouped around multi-level skylights embody the idea of connected community.
Protests by students alienated by the rhetoric of unified community and increased focus on the campus rather than living groups have become a regular feature of campus life.
An open microphone protest took place at the start of fall semester 1998 in which opposed to housing all freshmen on campus praised the emotional support FSILGs provide freshmen.
In November 1998, a group called “ILTFP”, an acronym for “I Love This Fucking Place,”staged a campaign to raise awareness of student concerns through the wearing of orange ribbons.
The group’s website said, “With the recent trend towards uniform, bland housing, and the clamp-down a few years ago on parties, MIT students are losing opportunities to make choices and take responsibility for their actions.”
The group said that over 800 ribbons were distributed in the space of one week.
The UA also sponsored a demonstration for housing choice in February 1999. Called a “Tool-In”, the event attracted seventy-five students.