Not Like it Used to Be
Upon arriving at MIT, the Class of 2002 was welcomed by upperclassmen with greetings such as, “Welcome to MIT. It’s a shame you couldn’t have seen this place just a couple years ago. This school used to be fun.” As we left campus last spring, we could see the classes behind us gearing up to issue this same refrain to next year’s freshmen.
MIT is a different type of school from just about any other college or university around. At the Institute, it’s more difficult to get a good seat at a robotics competition than at a varsity football game. Students entering MIT know that their college experience will differ from that of their high school peers. But there was something particularly peculiar about entering MIT in the fall of 1998 -- not just that MIT is a place unlike any other school, but that our experience at the Institute would be unlike that of previous MIT students -- and I am sure that there is a similar peculiarity for this year’s freshmen.
Entering in 1998, the class of 2002 was the first class to arrive at MIT after the death of Scott S. Krueger ‘01. In response to Krueger’s death, caused by overdrinking at a fraternity initiation event, the school administration, as well as the municipal governments of Boston and Cambridge, initiated policies that would change the way we live as MIT students. Thus, during our freshman year, we were repeatedly reminded that the parties now suck and that the school was no longer fun.
During my four years at MIT, the school was in a period of transition. The first issue of The Tech that my class saw during Orientation carried the lead story, “All Freshmen to Live in Dormitories Starting in 2001.” (Due to a delay in the construction of Simmons Hall, rush was kept on life support for one more year.) Another collapsed pillar of the MIT first-year experience was the elimination of Pass/No Record grading in the second semester of the freshman year. Because of these changes, this year's freshman will hear a chorus of “it sucks for you” from upperclassmen.
If you are reading this and you are a freshman, let me tell you this: it’s not as bad as you are being told. You will still get to enjoy (or despise) the MIT experience. Your experience will not be the same as mine, just as my MIT experience was not the same as a pre-Krueger MIT alum. But that doesn’t really matter. You’re going to have to take 8.01 and 18.02 and 8 HASS classes ... and you might not enjoy them all. You’ll learn the language that exists only at MIT so you can decode statements like “I have 14.01 at 10:30 in 6-120” and still not know where to find the Eastman Building. You’ll find that walking across the Mass Ave Bridge in the winter will be windy and cold.
Find one of the upperclassmen who is trying to tell you that MIT was infinitely better just a couple years ago. Ask him/her what IHTFP means (and be sure they give you multiple answers). There has been a time in everyone’s experience at MIT where the institute was not paradise. If you do not find every minute you spend on campus to be enjoyable, don’t worry. The Institute has not gone down the toilet; there is nothing wrong with you. These moments are to be expected. You might have to try harder than your high school classmates on your problem sets; you might have to try harder to find something you want to do between work on problem sets.
It is true that you won’t have Rush in the same way that past classes did. And you’re going to have to worry about grades in the spring. There’s not much that you can do to change these facts. But these changes do not ruin the MIT experience.
During my freshman year, the school was abuzz with alcohol paranoia. Even the lame parties were shut down early. There wasn’t much we could do to change this fact. Repeatedly hearing that we were so unlucky to have arrived at MIT in 1998 wasn’t much fun, but we ended up finding our way through MIT.
Working with the administration, the IFC and DormCon were able to craft an improved alcohol policy. We learned how to adapt our social gatherings so they would be neither lame nor shut down. Though you might not bring back rush or second term P/NR, you can find a way to have a good time. Your life at MIT is up to you. Four years from now, MIT might be a different place once again -- one that you helped to create.
Jordan Rubin is an alumnus from the Class of 2002, and served as Chairman of The Tech from February 2002 to April 2002.