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‘Passive Squatting’ A Major Problem

Mike Childress

This past Tuesday an article appeared on the front page of The Tech describing the membership struggle of the cultural houses, and in that article I was quoted primarily as a student advocate of the administration. I feel that the article inaccurately portrayed me as a complete tool of the administration, and I would like to clarify my position on a few points.

Firstly, I expressed gratitude for the help specifically given by Denise Vallay and Rick Gresh, who expressed sincere willingness to help improve the cultural houses’ recruiting practices. They were working within the fixed rush framework to do the best they could for the cultural houses, but they made it clear to all of us at the meeting that the rush framework for next year was essentially set in stone and that the cultural houses would still be subject to the general freshman housing assignment process.

The general framework of the new rush system, or Residence Exploration, is something I do not advocate. The New House government has in fact produced a statement (signed by all members and individual house presidents) that declares our official position to be in favor of two specific alterations to REX. These are: (i) inclusion of a period of at least 48 hours of uninterrupted dormitory rush activities, and (ii) requirement of freshmen to actively reaffirm their housing choice. This would especially aid the cultural houses in finding freshmen who would like to be a part of their community.

The particular detriment of the new system involved freshmen “passively squatting,” as mentioned by French House president Miriam Sorell. Incoming freshmen were placed in the cultural houses after expressing mild interest, and could keep their places in those cultural house without having to agree to adhere to all of the house’s responsibilities. The mentality of “oh, I guess I’ll stay here” proved to be very harmful to the unity of these unique communities.

I believe the current predicament of the cultural houses is a direct result of the altered dorm selection process. Dean Larry Benedict has called for a committee to convene to consider the future of the cultural houses, and as a member of this committee I intend to push this point with the administration. While improved recruitment strategies may help the problem to some extent, I feel the better solution would be an alteration of the residence selection process for the cultural houses.

This issue is still in its infancy, as it is difficult to gauge all of the effects of the new housing system. I hope that the administration can keep an open mind about new policies to help preserve the cultural house system, as these living groups contribute a great deal to the diversity and richness of the MIT campus.

Mike Childress ’05 is president of New House.