Freshmen: you have an important decision to make, whether you realize it or not. You can decide that MIT’s fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups are “bad” or that they are “good.” Through the process of this decision, you may learn a surprising amount about yourself and what you want out of your college experience. I encourage you to explore MIT’s FSILGs before you ultimately resolve to live four years of dormitory life.
The MIT student body is diverse, and the amount of choice you are afforded in choosing your living situation is one of MIT’s best and most unique aspects. The FSILG system is at the very center of your extraordinary right to choose. Among many benefits, the FSILGs promote the very leadership and social skills, and community awareness that students from other schools say we lack.
Nowhere else in the country are college students given more diverse options about where they can live, and nowhere else can thousands of college students live in million-dollar mansions while paying living costs comparable to those in dormitories. Furthermore, MIT’s living groups are more approachable and offer more intangible benefits than the social organizations and living structures at other schools (the “Finals Clubs” at Harvard, “Eating Clubs” at Princeton, and “Societies” at Yale).
Personally, I know I have matured more, learned more about life, and enjoyed better college memories than I ever would have had living in a dormitory. Along with sharing my college experience with forty good people, I meet so many other amazing and interesting people through my FSILG. I meet alums of my house who, after taking different but successful paths in life, return to share fond memories of their experiences. I meet interesting and amazing people at the various social events that my FSILG frequently holds. Most importantly, I share friendships and great memories with members of my FSILG that I know will last well after graduation.
While my FSILG acts as a great “home away from home,” it also provides many supplementary benefits. There are, of course, the advantages of a strong, built-in support structure (both academic and emotional), leadership experiences gained from living in a self-governed house, and great food prepared daily by a house chef. It may add other subtle, intangible benefits as well -- I can say that at least within my FSILG, I have seen individuals become more self-actualized, carve out their own identities, and achieve extraordinary levels of personal growth. These personal benefits are hard to quantify, but they are just as valuable as the academic learning achieved within our respective courses of study.
I distinctly remember coming to MIT thinking I would not want to join an FSILG. However, once I realized that MIT provided a unique experience offered no where else in the world, I actively sought out an FSILG and found one that was right for me. In retrospect, I believe it’s one of the best decisions I could have made here to help me grow and learn about myself. As an upperclassman, I have begun to appreciate the feeling of home I get whenever I walk into my FSILG and become more aware of my remaining time at MIT.
I do not live in an FSILG because I know that the majority of leaders in America are Greek, or because I know the average FSILG GPA is higher than the MIT campus average (although both are true). I also do not live in an FSILG because all of my friends are there, or because it’s the “cool” thing to do. I continually choose to live in my FSILG because my experience gives me great memories I cherish, and provides me with opportunities and experiences that I value. I can also say that by contributing my own values and skills to my self-governed FSILG, I have been rewarded with lessons and satisfaction beyond the typical college experience.
If you ultimately decide that the FSILG system is “good,” then take part in it! There are over thirty different living groups at MIT, and I’m sure there are a handful of which you will feel right at home. So join one. Or support one. Or work to address the faults of the system so it can be more perfect than it was before. At the very least, try to find out why so many individuals feel so strongly about preserving their living group at MIT.
Alvin Lin is a member of the Class of 2004.