You may have seen a recent initiative which I helped publicize to allow freshmen to live in fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups during their second semester. The initiative quotes a variety of reasons why it is time to give second-semester freshmen the freedom to choose their own residence, and I encourage you to visit http://fsilg-housing.org to sign on and support the effort. However, this piece is not written by “us.” This piece is written by me, because I want to explain why this proposal is so important, from my particular point of view.
I am from the undergraduate class of 2005, the last class allowed to live off campus as freshmen. I did, and I can say, without the slightest bit of hesitation that my choice to do so was absolutely the most important decision I have made in my adult life. My experience in the MIT residence system is the reason I am the person I am today; a student nearing completion of a PhD in Materials Science, the instructor of the Shotokan Karate club, and an incredibly lucky guy with an amazing group of friends ranging from current freshmen to alumni from the 60’s.
My fraternity offered me the opportunity to learn life skills that would have been impossible for me to gain in a dorm at a typical university. Even now, I find that the majority of my social network is made up of people I met through Tau Epsilon Phi (tEp) — and I don’t think that this experience is at all unique. That strong sense of residential community is exactly what makes MIT such a consistently amazing place.
But this experience is not unique to me, and it’s not even unique to FSILG members. French House, McCormick, Tetazoo, and every other living group has a unique culture, and I feel so happy for the undergraduates who have found a community where they can live and be successful. What really upsets me is that freshmen who have decided that they want their support group to be a FSILG are prevented from acting on that decision.
I personally think that there could be benefits to freshmen living in dorms their first semester; this gives them a stable default environment without a long-term commitment to any living group. However, after an entire semester at MIT, if a freshman wants to move off-campus to be with their support community, it seems obviously detrimental and even dangerous to force them to stay where they don’t want to be. I would hope that anyone who has found a residential community they love also has enough humility to realize that no community is right for everyone — I certainly wouldn’t recommend tEp to every student.
Beyond the effects that the current policy has on freshmen is the more subtly damaging effect that the policy has on dorm culture and leadership. Due to current crowding and the negative cultural effects of “ghosts” (freshmen who take space in a dorm without participating in the community), dorm culture is being weakened. By allowing freshmen to move into FSILGs during their second semester, there will be more space available for dorm halls to house residents who are committed to their dorm community, encouraging dorm residents to stand up and become strong leaders.
I think that with increased cooperation between FSILG alumni/students and MIT, we can not only improve campus life, but also encourage the incredible diversity, creativity, and dedication that comes out of the oldest form of “residence-based advising” there is at MIT. I feel that this conservative proposal offers a practical middle ground where freshmen are encouraged to spend the time needed to find a community where they can thrive and are given the freedom to live with that support group.