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A campus newspaper is a great way to find out what a college is like. When I was doing my campus tours, I always made sure to pick up a copy of the campus daily (or twice-weekly). Hidden among the pages are the collective values, fears, and triumphs of the student body. Plus, a newspaper’s objectivity simultaneously reveals the best and worst in a college. During your stay here at MIT, and wherever else you may be visiting, be sure to pick up a publication and read it not only for content, but for subtext. If you’re reading this, you’ve already completed step one. Let’s take a stroll through some recent issues of The Tech and the newspapers of some other colleges you may be considering to see what we can find out.

Here’s a great example: If you happened to be here Tuesday, you would have picked up The Tech and seen the following headline emblazoned on the front page: “Students Abduct Tim The Beaver, Demand Sports Teams Spared.” What does this tell you about MIT? First, something is happening to our sports. Due to budget cuts, some of our 41 varsity sports may no longer exist come fall of 2010. But what else does this tell you? At MIT, we care enough to fight for our sports and send an unequivocal message of support for these programs — by kidnapping our own school mascot. You can go to any school and find students willing to kidnap somebody else’s mascot (or cannon). But it takes the kind of chutzpah and brilliant ingenuity you can only find in MIT students to kidnap their own.

But how are other students coping with the adversity of the recession? Our colleagues down the road have a very different conception of protest. In response to recently announced layoffs at Harvard University, “A small contingent of students … unfurled a protest banner and politely requested that the University avoid layoffs during an intimate lunch event with University President Drew G. Faust …” writes The Crimson. “They then presented her with an open letter and an oversized cotton T-shirt.” Politely requested? Oversized T-shirt? Intimate lunches? If this is how Harvard kids think of protest, they need to cross-register for classes at MIT a little more. In a sharp contrast to sitting down for a tea party with administrators, this Tech carries a running total of the Institute Big Screw fundraiser contributions, in which students nominate professors or administrators who they feel “screwed them over the most.” Now that’s sticking it to the man and supporting a good cause at the same time.

Our colleagues on the West Coast have also had to deal with their fare share of economic uncertainty. As reported by the creatively named California Tech, Caltech students are also facing the possibility of losing some of their sports. “We made some changes, for budgetary reason, for athletics,” said Anneila Sargent, Vice President for Student affairs. Apparently, nobody really seemed to mind. Much more pressing was another matter: “New Alcohol Policy Prohibits Drinking Games, Causes Overhaul of Page’s Beer Room,” to be shortly followed up by “Alcohol banned indefinitely in Page House” in the April 13 issue of the California Tech. The article was supplemented by a pixilated photograph of liquor bottles in a garbage can and the caption, “First the beer room, now the entire House, is purged of alcohol.” Now, Caltech students will be forced to brave the frigid California spring and trudge from Page House to just about anywhere else to enjoy a Friday night. Indeed, these are truly trying times.

What else can campus newspapers tell you? Student interests. Generally, what newspapers choose to print reflects what students want to read about. For example, our news shorts have featured such gems as “Saving a Squirrel By Eating One,” and “Mysterious Sweet Smell from 2005 Returns to Manhattan” (in the same issue, no less). Our counterparts at Yale University have decidedly less delicious interests: “Dining Hall Alfalfa Sprouts Safe Amid Outbreak,” reported the Yale Daily News on Wednesday. Alfalfa sprouts? I’ll think of Yale while I’m cooking up a tasty Sweet Squirrel Stew on the Upper East Side.

So while you’re here, take a look at The Tech. And wherever else your college journeys may bring you, grab a newspaper before you hit the road. Not only can articles enlighten you to the controversies du jour on college campuses, they can tell you something about the people who live there. But remember, it’s unlikely any one college is perfect for you. No matter where you go, there’s going to be somebody or something you don’t like. This is normal. Keep an open mind and be flexible. Any college experience can be a great one; it’s simply what you make of it.