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Students Take Over New Dorm Planning

By Dana Levine


Planning for Simmons Hall entered a new phase this week, with the official dissolution of the Founder’s Group on Friday and yesterday’s first meeting of a student-led Simmons Steering Committee.

Founder’s Group member Jeffrey C. Roberts ’02 said that although “the Founder’s Group has done a pretty good job in laying down the philosophy for the community (Simmons),” the steering committee will be a “government that’s more representative of the people who are going to live there.”

The steering committee, formed by student members of the Founder’s Group, will allow future residents of Simmons Hall to set up a house government, select graduate resident tutors, and to advertise the dormitory to incoming freshmen and current undergraduates. The steering committee will exist until the dormitory opens next fall and the official house government takes over.

Founder’s Group members Ross E. Benson ’03 and Vikash Gilja ’03 will co-chair the new group, providing a bridge between the founder’s group and the undergraduates who will move into the dormitory. Roberts, who will begin graduate studies in the fall and may apply to be a Graduate Resident Tutor, will not participate in the steering committee’s activities.

Professor of History and future Simmons Hall housemaster Anne E. McCants said that the steering committee was created in order to “transfer student leadership to students who will actually live there.” Several of the student members of the founder’s group will graduate this year, and will never have a chance to live in Simmons.

McCants likened the students moving into Simmons to “people who buy a house that isn’t finished yet ... Decisions about how they want to set up their governing body, interact with [the Dormitory Council], the house fellows program ... all those decisions are going to be made by students.”

The Founder’s Group was a committee of faculty members, students, and administrators who provided input into the design of the dorm and helped to formulate initial house policy.

Committee has many tasks

Membership in the steering committee will be open to all students, but will require a commitment to actively attend meetings and to move into Simmons when it opens next fall. The committee will consist of five subgroups: GRTs and Visiting Scholars, House Governance, Facilities Oversight, Publicity, and Dining.

The most immediate task will fall to the publicity subgroup, which will advertise Simmons Hall to upperclassmen as well as next year’s freshmen. Simmons Hall will attempt to attract 125 freshmen and 75 members of each other class, the same proportion that other dormitories will have.

Gilja, a member of the publicity subgroup and head of MIT’s Interactive Introduction to the Institute (I3) CD-ROM project, said that the subgroup will be able to advertise the committee’s work and ideas. “We plan to make a lot of what’s going on in these groups public,” he said.

Daniel R. Ramage ’04 said that the I3 CD will not be available to upperclassmen, so the publicity subgroup will poster campus for committee events. Current students who choose to move into Simmons will need to enter the housing lottery for next year, which takes place in April.

“One of the most important roles of publicity is establishing Simmons Hall as having a personality. We are not an arm of the administration; we are student-controlled,” Ramage said.

Committee to plan GRT selection

The GRT and Visiting Scholar committee will set up guidelines for GRT selection and oversee the selection of the ten GRTs for Simmons Hall. Roberts said that some of the Simmons Hall GRTs may be experienced tutors who come from other dormitories.

Although Simmons has five apartments that were created for visiting scholars, the Founder’s Group did not come up with a comprehensive plan for how these visitors will interact with the community. Visiting scholars will be appointed by the Dean’s office, but the students on the committee may elect to have the visiting scholars play an active role in students’ lives.

The governance subgroup will help to set policy for Simmons Hall’s house government, including rooming policy and use of house funds. Although several parameters, such as the pet policy and the artwork policy, have already been set, the committee will have leeway in things such as room selection and deciding how to raise dorm funds.

According to Roberts, the dining group will have fewer choices than the other subgroups, as many dining decisions were either decided by the Founder’s Group or will be left to Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin III. In addition, the dining hall will not be completed by the time the dormitory opens.

The steering committee aims to create a community that will be ready for new students this coming fall. However, many aspects of that community have yet to be determined.

“I think that key people in the administration want to promote Simmons Hall as a model for residential life at MIT. To be honest, no one knows quite what that means,” Roberts said.