After the end of the first full week of classes, students have moved in and become comfortable in their assigned residence halls. Everyone has stepped into the flow of a new school year, and learned to navigate the halls of the Infinite Corridor as well as their suites. But do students know who else lives with them in their home away from home?
Perhaps they don’t. Over the summer, MIT created a new position in the residential halls: the residential life area director, or RLAD. Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 plans to have one RLAD in every residence hall on campus to work with their specific house team and support the residents — each one complete with their own apartment and office. Unfortunately, among the six permanent RLADs, only half of them have an office within the dorm.
All seven RLADs declined interviews with The Tech for this article and instead referred The Tech to Division of Student Life spokespeople.
According to Henry J. Humphreys, senior associate dean for student life, construction for these offices began a few months ago, but MIT lacked the necessary permits required by the City of Cambridge, slowing down construction. MIT secured the permits last Thursday evening, and construction resumed on Monday. Within the next two weeks, Humphreys plans to have a permanent office for every RLAD in need of one. The offices will be mostly near the lobby area on the first floor near the main desk close to the house manager so that the RLADs can build a working relationship with their house team, Humphreys said.
Only seven residence halls currently house an RLAD – Burton-Conner, Maseeh Hall, McCormick Hall, New House, Next House, and Simmons Hall. MacGregor’s RLAD suddenly left the position due to “personal reasons,” and Christina Davis, director of Residential Life Programs, is filling in as the temporary RLAD. The search for a permanent MacGregor RLAD is moving quickly — five candidates will be interviewed this week, one per day, for the position. Davis works to make certain that MacGregor House does not slip through the cracks, and she believes that the housing office is watching it even more closely due to the missing RLAD. The other residence halls that currently do not house an RLAD asked the chancellor over the summer for more time to engage and interact with their students when the school year began in September. For example, Baker’s housemasters are on sabbatical at the moment, so they wanted to wait until they returned to campus and talked with their students before establishing an RLAD. In the meantime, Baker has acting housemasters watching over the dorm, and the Residential Life and Dining office is supporting their efforts.
Davis was very clear on the role of the RLADs in the residence halls — “It’s an extra avenue of support for each building,” she explains. “They work collaboratively with residential life programs, but also with housemasters, house managers, graduate resident tutors (GRTs), and resident associate advisors (for those that have them).” The housemasters for several residence halls agree with Davis. Simmons Housemaster John M. Essigmann PhD ’76 praises the Simmons RLAD for “easing the burdens of the housemaster.” Similarly, Kathryn Hess ’95, McCormick’s housemaster, calls the RLAD “a huge asset for us, for McCormick, and for MIT.”
In McCormick Hall, over the summer, one of the extra rooms next to the dance studio was converted into an office for the RLAD, Lauren Piontkoski. Davis and Humphreys described this office as being in “a prime location” since it was on the first floor, next the very popular dance studio, but also “out of the beaten path,” making it both accessible and private when necessary, an important aspect in choosing the ideal location for an RLAD office. However, Davis also said that the offices will need more signs for easier access. New House, on the other hand, needs to build an office from the ground up, so the RLAD, James Reed, currently works in his apartment off-campus. Burton Conner’s RLAD currently works in W59, the Residential Life and Dining Office. The new BC housemaster, Professor Anne McCants, believes the RLAD “will be much more visible once the office is moved, and that visibility seems likely to contribute to her capacity to manage issues on a regular basis.”
The other RLADs have temporary offices that are meant to be as accessible to students as possible; but. Simmons Hall seems to be experiencing trouble, as the RLAD’s office is located directly behind the front desk, next to the mailroom. “While the RLAD’s office seems as though it is ‘out of the way,’ it actually isn’t,” Essigmann explains. “It was originally designed as the house manager’s office and was architecturally designed to allow easy access and confidentiality.” However, in previous years, this room was used largely as a storage room for carts and movies. The desk worker accessed the mailroom through this locked storage room. However, since the storage room has been converted into the RLAD office, desk workers are not allowed to walk through the office. Instead, they must use the outer door — previously locked at all times — to the mailroom rather than slipping through the storage room into the mailroom to pick up packages. Since the mailroom now remains unlocked, this could allow anyone to walk in and take packages. Essigmann plans to correct this lapse in security, and also explains that “the plan is to do renovations on the east wall of the mailbox lounge, [to] allow easier access to the RLAD’s office,” adding that “MIT did not have a lot of time to prepare for the RLAD offices, and I think they are doing a good job dealing with a tough situation.”
Apart from the ongoing work on the offices, Humphreys and Davis are continuing to work with the RLADs and helping them adjust. “I think the RLADs are going above and beyond in getting involved with the community,” Davis said when asked about the current RLAD efforts.
However, while RLADs might be putting on programs, organizing community events, and even eating with students in the dining hall, very few students seem to know about the new position. The majority of freshmen interviewed by The Tech — over 20 — either did not know who their RLAD was at all or only received an introductory e-mail at the beginning of the semester, which quickly got lost amid messages from student organizations and calls for clickers and textbooks. Fanqi Gao ’16, who lives in Simmons Hall, said, “The RLAD sent out an email during orientation introducing himself, but I never see him around and I don’t really know much about where he is and what he does.”
When asked about her knowledge of McCormick’s RLAD and office, resident Larisa L. Pachuta ’15 exclaimed, “I have no idea!” but also expressed an interest in finding out more about the RLAD’s role. Yuta Kato ’15, a resident of Next House, explained how he knew about the RLAD, but only through his work with the RLAD during REX events, adding, “I don’t think I would know who she was without the REX work.”