The Tech recently met with Jagruti S. Patel ’97, Antony N. Donovan ’94, and their cat Tyler, interim housemasters of Senior House. Last week, they took over the office left by Henry and Cynthia Jenkins in May 2009, and will serve for the next one to two years.
The housemaster position at Senior House had been vacant since the May departure of Prof. Henry Jenkins for a position at the University of Southern California. In July, Dean for Student Life Chris Colomobo rejected the choice of Senior House’s housemaster selection committee, Walter R. Bender ’80 and Wanda Bender.
Patel and Donovan applied to be interim housemasters because Senior House’s community “meant a lot to us as undergraduates,” they feel that the culture of the House is “open and accepting” and want to support it. Besides, they say that their “closest friends are alums of Senior House” and that they themselves met here during their time as undergraduates.
During the selection process, Patel and Donovan met with the housemaster selection committee as well as Colombo and “talked through the challenges of being housemasters.” They also met informally with the Graduate Resident Tutors, the House Manager, and the residents of Senior House.
Patel and Donovan said that the meetings were a “fun part of the process” as they had already met many current residents during Steer Roast, Senior House’s annual weekend-long party, this past May. Since Patel works at the Office of the Provost, they live in the area and have regularly attended Steer Roasts.
After their appointment, Patel and Donovan went through two days of GRT training. Last Tuesday, they moved into the Housemaster’s suite from their home in nearby Medford, Mass. After this, they were added to various e-mail lists and introduced to the house team of Senior House. They have been talking to Senior House residents at desk, as well as incoming freshmen and their parents; they also organized a freshman brunch last Sunday.
Henry and Cynthia Jenkins, the former housemasters, “extended a helping hand” when Patel and Donovan were appointed. The Jenkinses “offered to answer any questions we had,” said Donovan.
“I’m delighted that they’re taking that position,” Henry Jenkins said. “They’re a perfect match for Senior House.”
Patel and Donovan were residents of Senior House when the Jenkinses were appointed housemasters in 1995; specifically, Patel was Desk Captain when the Jenkinses arrived, and played a large role in accliminating Jenkins to Senior House.
“To me, it has a poetic quality,” Jenkins said. “Your students grow up and take over your position. It’s like handing it off to a member of your family.”
Patel and Donovan were also a part of the Senior House residents’ panel that interviewed the Jenkinses at the time. Even after graduating from MIT, Patel and Donovan met and “chatted with the Jenkinses regularly over Steer Roast,” they said.
Patel and Donovan have met with Dean Colombo a few times. They said that he “was a pleasant person” who dealt with them “in a straightforward manner.” Colombo “talked about his experiences as a Housemaster,” Donovan said.
He “seemed genuinely concerned about Senior House’s culture,” said Patel.
Colombo mostly wanted to know if they “could support the diversity of the students at Senior House,” they said.
Steer Roast, Senior House’s annual event where alumni come back to visit the house, has often had problems with the administration.
Patel and Donovan say that it is natural for “such a large party where such a large number of alumni come back” to have some complications. Even though there have been conflicts in the past, Patel and Donovan, as alumni “have always had a great time” at Steer Roast, they said.
“You have to have someone in the job that appreciates the creativity, the wilder side of Senior House, while still being safe,” Jenkins said.
At the last Steer Roast, Patel and Donovan met members of the administration who were “very impressed” with how it was run, “they weren’t there to keep an eye, they were there to support Steer Roast,” Donovan said.
For the next Steer Roast, Patel and Donovan hope that the residents of Senior House will talk to them freely about how they want to organize the event. They want to keep “communication channels between the students and the administration clear.” But most of all they want to help make the event safe and successful. “Student safety is paramount,” they said.
The first week for Patel and Donovan as housemasters has been busy because of Freshman Orientation, but they expect things to cool down once Residence Exploration is over. They are not yet sure how many hours of work they will have to put in over the term or the details of what their job will entail. They say that they “still have a lot to learn.”
For Patel and Donovan, returning to Senior House after being residents during their time as undergraduates “is like coming back home, except that now we have private bathrooms,” Patel said.
Patel gave The Tech a tour of her huge kitchen, equipped with a giant and “quite intimidating” refrigerator; she said they loved cooking and were excited to cook meals for the residents of Senior House. Patel, Donovan and black-and-white striped Tyler are looking forward to “the adventure that lies ahead” and are “confident that there are a lot of benefits in interacting with such a diverse community of students.”
Patel and Donovan “have a lot of fond memories of Senior House” and want to “celebrate its traditions.” They also want to “help the students with their plans for Senior House.” “Senior House is what the students make of it,” they said.