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A Skeptical View Of the Macrocommunity

Ali S. Wyne

Undergraduate Association (UA) elections having recently concluded, and now is an appropriate time to outline the UA’s priorities for the upcoming year. There are several issues that I could reasonably discuss, but a treatment of the term “macrocommunity” seems the most appropriate.

First, what is its definition? Does the achievement of a macrocommunity entail the intermingling of groups from different residences? Of different religious faiths? Of different ethnicities? Of different majors? Of different extracurricular activities? Without any consensus on what macrocommunity means, it would be imprudent to attempt to construct one. That being said, however, proponents of a macrocommunity generally define it as a union of students from different dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

It is likely that any endeavor to achieve such a group would either (1) compromise the diversity of its members, or (2) perhaps even further polarize students on campus, if they objected to such an artificial arrangement. In addition to being undesirable, then, constructing a macrocommunity is unnecessary, for while there is a tendency to associate one personality or culture with a given residence, each living community in actuality comprises myriad vibrant cultures. In any given living group, some floors are far more social than others, or house more ethnic or exchange students. There are also floors on which certain elements of social experience (for example, religious faith, cooking, and intramural sports) play a central role in bringing students together. Why, then, should we argue for a macrocommunity when micro communities afford their residents such richness of experience?

Although there are some individuals who enjoy venturing out of their “comfort zones” and socializing with individuals whom they perceive to be different from themselves, human instinct compels most of us to associate with those whom we regard as similar to ourselves. We should certainly commend individuals who take the initiative to explore social groups other than their own, but we would be remiss to look down upon those who follow their natural tendencies.

Having disavowed the notion of a macrocommunity, however, I must confess my belief that some of the supposed barriers between different residential groups are contrived. During orientation, my tour guides gave me the impression that there was quite literally a Berlin Wall of sorts that divided East Campus and West Campus, and that it was unheard of for a member of one to mingle with those from the other. Whatever experiences I have accrued in my two years here at MIT suggest that East and West Campus residents socialize all the time, not just at large-scale events such as Beast Roast or Steer Roast. I know many dormitory row people in Courses 6 and 18 who routinely visit Bexley, Random, East Campus, and Senior House, and vice versa, to work on projects. The Student Center, furthermore, serves as a focal point of interaction, as it houses most of MIT’s extracurricular organizations. These two examples (among others) illuminate a broader point: “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” Natural interaction between different social groups on campus is already robust. Forcing further socialization would accordingly be counterproductive.

I admit, however, that when I came here as a freshman, I readily (and naively, I should add) endorsed all proposals to “unite” the two sides of campus. Although an East – West mixer might sound like a simple way to achieve this objective, it would simply reinforce the perceived gap between them and, accordingly, further their separation. As a member of various committees, I went to East Campus and Senior House and asked the residents to suggest ideas for bridging campus divides. Their recommendations could reasonably be distilled to: (1) host more events that appeal to particular residences or constituencies and (2) implement policies that benefit a broad segment of the student body.

Rather than guess or presume to know what various constituencies’ needs and preferred events are, as the UA sometimes has in the past, this year we intend to proactively learn about them. To this end, we will host some regular meetings, as well as several “town hall” sessions, at various living groups throughout the year.

With this thought in mind, the UA’s central priority for the upcoming year should be to improve its communication with members of the student body. This sort of statement has become clich d by now, and invariably arouses cynicism in many quarters, but it should not be regarded as a secondary priority. As a member of the UA, while I have addressed a number of campus issues, I acknowledge that there are instances in which I could have better communicated with my constituents. I take full responsibility for those mistakes, and will work to rectify them, especially when issues of wide concern (in recent memory, the decision to modify the space in Lobby 10 of the Infinite Corridor) are involved. More continuous and substantive communication is the clearest way to make all students feel comfortable in their micro communities, which we should value above all else.

Ali S. Wyne is the UA Senate Vice Chair.