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Advisers on Hand

Jyoti Tibrewala

Baker House is considering implementing a residence-based advising system (RBA) next fall. The program is part of a plan by the Office of Residential and Student Life Programs (RLSLP) to expand the advising programs of McCormick and Random Halls into at least one new dormitory. As a McCormick freshman, I can offer some of my experience as a student coming to MIT under the residence-based advising program.

Application and acceptance to the program took place over the summer, as they would in the proposed expansion. This was by far one of the best things about it. It gave freshman an opportunity to get to know each other, even if only a little, before arriving for orientation. Every evening I would come home to find my mailbox full of condensed biographies of fellow freshmen residents. Being guaranteed a permanent residence upon arrival during orientation was another perquisite. It saved me the hassle of having to move during orientation.

Yet another strong selling point of RBA is that it fosters community-building. A primary reason it is able to do this is the early start it provides to the residential experience. Freshmen have the opportunity to start networking with their future dormmates prior to their arrival at MIT, and trivial as it may seem, that’s actually one of the most significant contributors to the strong sense of community that would result from RBA. That isn’t to say that freshman would only have contact with their classmates. As upperclassmen would return during orientation, there would be more interaction in an environment where freshman are permanently assigned to the rooms they are in for orientation; knowing that that is your permanent dorm, you might make more of an effort to get to know the upperclassmen living there as well, whereas non-RBA dorms would have frosh living there only temporarily, worrying about selecting a permanent residence for the upcoming term. Freshman in RBA dorms might also find orientation more relaxing than their classmates outside of the RBA program, since residence selection would be one thing the former group wouldn’t have to worry about.

You may notice that I’ve said nothing about the actual advising part of residence-based advising. That’s because I don’t honestly think that residence-based advising would be vastly different from traditional MIT advising. Now, I don’t have first-hand experience in non-residence-based advising, but it can’t be that different. Sure, I know other students in my advising group better than I might if I didn’t live in McCormick. But if there were a situation I needed to discuss with my adviser, I wouldn’t be more or less inclined to contact him for advice if my advising weren’t residence-based. The only disparity lies with the associate adviser; in RBA, students would potentially see their resident associate adviser (RAA) more often simply because that individual would be a fellow resident. But the actual student-adviser relationship couldn’t differ much.

All is not lost, though. We’ve seen through the RBA program and in general that students tend to develop close relationships with those they live with. And last week, we saw that the administration has plans to phase in residential coordinators in the dorms. So why not incorporate the residential coordinators into residence-based advising? They’re not students, so they wouldn’t replicate RAAs; they’re administrators. And as it is, the roles of these administrators aren’t crystal clear. Thus the assimilation of residential coordinators into RBA would have the promise of creating a better student-adviser relationship. Of course, to be most effective, every dorm with RBA would need at least one coordinator. The presence of the middleman might also be a bit awkward. As you might have guessed, the implementation of residential coordinators would have to go hand-in-hand with the phasing out of non-residential advisers. This would accomplish both goals: eliminating the middleman and creating a closer student-adviser relationship.

Residence-based advising is an excellent idea, but it must be done for the right reasons. Its primary effect is building a tighter community within individual advising groups and in the dorm as a whole; accordingly, best results are attained when the goal is just that. But if RLSLP is going in with the goal of improving the advising system, this might not be the best solution. In order to do that, residence-based advising needs to be coupled with the residential coordinators. In addition to improving academic advising, this would also clarify to students the role of residential coordinators, and the administration just might find us more accepting of their plan.