I owe a “thank you” to the MIT administration. My social and intellectual experiences at the Institute have been immeasurably heightened by the tight community and support networks that are available to me. This kind of community is unique to MIT, and is a result of administration policies which formerly allowed freshmen an entire week to make a fully informed decision about the where they would live. Unfortunately, the administration is destroying that policy for future MIT students.
Since I chose my living group, I have spent more time at home than in class, had more contact with my best friends on my hall than with any professor, and learned more about how to succeed at MIT and in life from the people with whom I live than from MIT faculty. The living group is the basic unit of an MIT student’s educational experience. The friends made in this environment are the people to whom students turn for help with academics, personal advice, and guidance. They will make the MIT intellectual and social experience a better one.
The MIT administration may believe that if freshmen didn’t have as much time to choose their specific living group, students like me would make more friendships with people from other living groups, creating a campus-wide community. I disagree. Most MIT students are too busy and focused on academics to build that kind of large-scale community. Additionally, the current living group-based community is so strong that it is hard to imagine a campus-wide community that could provide the same kind of social resources for students.
Allowing freshmen the time to consider their options and make an informed decision about where to live is the only way to achieve such community. The administration’s attitude that, in the words of J. Kim Vandiver, “rush is not a significant part at all of Orientation,” will only prevent students from finding a living group that will provide the kind of support that I have found, and will degrade the educational experience of MIT.
Vandiver, the dean for undergraduate research, says a goal for orientation is to “make it possible for students to connect with ... people who can show them what the intellectual experience is all about.” His goal is to welcome students to “the academy” by increasing faculty interaction at the expense of time for residence selection. What he fails to realize is that students’ relationships with their living groups and upperclassmen will in many ways be more important to the quality of their MIT experience than their relationships with faculty. Thus freshmen must connect with upperclassmen and living groups in order to be truly welcomed.
In light of these arguments, I have a few suggestions for rush. While allotting more time to dorm rush would be ideal, and would be consistent with the exposure to upperclassmen that is essential to “welcoming freshmen to the academy,” I understand that there is other valuable orientation programming and that freshmen shouldn’t be asked to come to campus earlier than necessary. Thus my suggestions shouldn’t necessitate increased time for rush.
Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine says that the low percentage of freshmen entering the housing adjustment lottery “is an indication that they were somewhat satisfied where they ended up.” I disagree; after days of asking every freshmen I met during rush if they would enter the housing lottery and why or why not, the most common answer I got was not “I am somewhat satisfied” but rather, “I don’t want to move all of my stuff.” Selection should be based on where freshmen are happy, not on where they happen to have their things.
Moving parent orientation back to after the dorm lottery would solve this problem because freshmen would come for orientation with only a suitcase and their parents would bring the rest of their stuff after they got their permanent housing assignment. This past year, many parents stayed past their expected check-out time, meaning that freshmen spent time buying dorm supplies rather than participating in orientation events and meeting faculty and upperclassmen. It makes sense that the current schedule may satisfy parents, who might have to drive to campus twice, or who might find the whole schedule a little confusing if parent orientation were moved. However, I believe that the advantages described above warrant moving it.
The importance of the living group to the MIT experience should bring the administration to encourage rush events more than it did last year. A clear explanation of the process both from orientation leaders and in the written materials freshmen are given over the summer and when they arrive if necessary. After the changes, confusion about the process made it difficult for upperclassmen to advise freshmen on this process. Also, making it clear that residence selection is important by scheduling larger blocks of time exclusively for rush will make freshmen aware that they should at least be considering all of their living options.
If the administration is truly committed to welcoming freshmen in a way that prepares them to have the best educational experience possible, it should recognize the importance of interaction with upperclassmen and comfort in a living group to that experience. Redwine may be right: most freshmen may be “somewhat satisfied.” But there is a big difference between being “somewhat satisfied” and feeling like you’ve found a living group where you really belong. Only the latter will give students the social resources they need to thrive at MIT.
Maria Schriver is a member of the class of 2005.