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The Freshman Quarantine

Kris Schnee

I came to MIT with little more background on college life than “Animal House” and maybe “Real Genius.” Fraternities were just drinking clubs, right? When Rush week came around, I didn’t take the fraternities seriously at first, but I included them since they were throwing parties like the dorms. To my surprise, I actually liked one of the frats across the river; people there were friendly, there was no hazing, and John Belushi was nowhere to be seen. I ended up in a dorm, but I liked having the freedom to live anywhere, even in my freshman year.

Now that happy situation is changing. That sponge-like building under construction across from the West Campus dorms is a sign of the times, a multi-million dollar effort to control freshmen. Richard Simmons, the dorm’s sponsor, said that when he moved into East Campus in 1949, “There was nothing Institute-driven to help incoming students adjust to the rigors of MIT -- no house proctors, no mentors, nothing of that kind.” Having a new house with more advising resources available to freshmen sounds good, but what will it cost future MIT students?

One cost to the student community may come at lunchtime. MIT is considering a mandatory meal plan for Simmons residents, who would pay for meals at Simmons’ cafeteria. Such a plan would limit Simmons residents’ choice of dining options, and reduce student interaction. But mandatory in-house dining is not the most serious consequence of the new residence system.

President Charles Vest announced in 1998 that starting in 2001, all freshmen will be required to live on-campus. Even when it became obvious that Simmons Hall would not be finished in time for the Class of 2005, it took time for the Institute to push the deadline to 2002.

Why does the Institute care so much about keeping newcomers close at hand? The most likely reason is liability. MIT fraternities have been giving Vest headaches on a regular basis because fraternity members, occasionally do stupid things. MIT gets sued because of the in loco parentis legal principle, which forces colleges to act as students’ parents. The Institute lost millions of dollars for the drinking death of Scott Krueger, even though the real blame lay with with Krueger himself and his fraternity.

The Institute’s solution to having fraternities, sonorities, and independent living groups it is held responsible for, but cannot control, is to start policies which will phase them out of existence. By shoehorning all freshmen onto campus, MIT ensures that the youngest, most impressionable students will be more closely watched than ever before. FSILGs will have only three years of funding from each of their members, not four. The FSILGs will also face a dry period after this year’s rush; being unable to recruit freshmen in the fall of 2002, they will have to beg the Institute for funding to help them through the transition. Will any strings be attached to this funding?

I would have given up nothing joining a frat in my freshmen year, but next fall’s crop of freshmen will have spent their freshman year living in dorms, making friends there, and getting addicted to meals at Courses. Every freshman will have to ask during Rush if he wants to give up a year’s worth of experience and friendships and start over at a fraternity. The freshmen-on-campus policy will stack the deck against our FSILGs with financial problems and predispose every new freshman class to dormitory life.

It’s quite possible that a weakened, shrinking FSILG system is an ultimate goal of the Institute’s current policies. Getting rid of FSILGs would help the Institute escape lawsuits. But what will be the cost to our living group community and our freedom to live where we want?