The residents of Green Hall were recently informed that Green Hall, opened in 1983 in honor of Ida Flansburgh Green, a major MIT benefactor and advocate of graduate studies for women, would no longer function as a graduate women’s dormitory. As a resident and transition coordinator of Green Hall, I would like to share the perspectives from Green Hall residents on how the MIT administration has handled this matter.
The transition plan
On Jan. 15, with half of our residents out of town, three housing officers came to our dorm dinner to announce the decision to convert Green Hall from a graduate women’s dorm to an undergraduate sorority house. It is true that we are a small community with only 30 residents remaining here this fall, but that does not mean we should not be afforded at least a baseline level of consideration. The decision had been made without any input from Green Hall residents, the house master, nor the GSC (it was raised for about 30 seconds at a Housing Strategy Group meeting as the question ‘What happens to Green when NW35 opens?’ — with no discussion). The housing contracts we signed and the continuing status we currently possess have not provided us any protection nor any guarantee during this transition process. (Detailed transition plans were reported in the Feb. 12 issue of The Tech.)
The true reasons
The official reasons we were given for this decision was the absence of a graduate community as Ashdown moves over to NW35. However, Green Hall residents were not given the opportunity to be involved in the planning for New Ashdown nor the option to transition with the Ashdown community. The true reasons for swapping the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority with Green Hall residents with only five months notice is to provide the KAT sorority with the house they need, to end senior segue, and to preserve a female-only graduate housing option. Everyone in this decision was taken into consideration, except the graduate residents in Green Hall.
Disappointing responses from MIT housing
After the dorm dinner, we contacted the GSC and our officers tried to negotiate with housing, but all proposed alternatives were rejected: no mid-August move-out, no seniority in housing lotteries, no NW35 tours, and no Green Hall option for those with continuing status who are graduating soon. On Jan. 24, an official survey of resident’s housing preferences was distributed by the Housing Office at our officers’ request, but there was no option to remain in Green Hall and no option to move out later than June 30th. “If you feel that moving in June is a problem for you, please let us know that you’d prefer to move now, and we will facilitate that,” said one of the e-mails from housing. As Henry Ford once quipped of the Model T, “You can paint it any color, so long as it’s black.”
Meeting with the deans
We conducted an internal survey of residents’ preferences and showed that more than 20 residents wanted to continue graduate lives in the close and friendly female community that they had formed. “This community could not be replaced or reformed in the S&P female wing due to the stark contrast between isolated apartment designs and Green Hall’s dormitory design,” said one of the residents who moved from Sidney-Pacific.
On Jan. 28 we wrote to Steven R. Lerman ’72 and Larry G. Benedict (the Dean for Graduate Students and Student Life, respectively) with the signature of 24 supporting residents. We proposed:
* preserving 1-2 floors as graduate women housing for 11-23 residents
* current residents be allowed to remain in Green until our contract ends in August
On Feb. 6, resident representatives from Green Hall were finally able to meet with Benedict, who had been on vacation the entire January. The proposal to preserve Green Hall in any graduate form was rejected and was not discussed at all because the decision was already “made.” On Feb. 14, after the sorority decided that renovations will only take place in the basement, it was agreed that residents could remain in Green Hall until August. At this point, about 20 Green Hall residents are planning to move to NW35, 3 to Sidney-Pacific, 1 to Edgerton House, 1 to Tang Hall, and 4 off campus.
As a former co-president of Graduate Women of Course 6 (GW6), I cannot fully express my disappointment. MIT makes such an effort to be an inclusive place for women, but cannot ensure the rights of 30 women to continue living in a community that they have worked hard to create. Some residents have stated that if our relatively low rent is the problem, then they would prefer a rent increase rather than being forced to leave Green Hall. At least three residents (20% of the continuing PhD candidates in Green Hall) have seriously considered leaving MIT without a PhD, and many complained about the additional stress imposed on their graduate studies.
Our graduate student community is being destroyed, but no official apology has ever been made; this decision making pattern with no student input and last minute notice continues repeating itself. We sincerely hope that the administrative authorities can seriously address this reoccurring pattern and work with the GSC to effectively ensure student input in future decision processes.
Hsin-Yu Tsai, a Green Hall resident, is a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a transition coordinator for Green Hall.