Last Tuesday, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo announced that Bexley Hall would be closed for up to three years for renovations, displacing all residents at the end of this semester. On Friday, the Bexley community collectively voiced their concerns and wishes in a letter addressed to Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 and Dean Colombo, signed by over 70 students and GRTs. Grimson and Colombo responded to the letter yesterday afternoon. In the meantime, Bexley residents were given the option of entering a housing lottery, which closed yesterday at 5 p.m., if they wanted to remain in on-campus housing next year.
Bexley Hall Letter
In their letter, the Bexley residents emphasized their desire to remain together next year and to preserve Bexley culture. To this end, they requested that Grimson and Colombo look into various housing options large enough to accommodate 40 to 60 students. The residents mentioned the dorm block system, in which groups of Bexley students would live together at other MIT dorms, as their least popular choice.
“We not only believe that Bexley’s culture should be prized and saved, but similarly, that all the dorms have a unique personality, without which MIT would be a different place,” said the Bexley letter. “We do not feel that MIT should have to lose or displace any other communities.”
Instead, Bexley students indicated a strong preference for on-campus temporary housing or off-campus ILG-like (Independent Living Group) housing. The letter listed several possible locations for these, such as an already-residential portion of 100 Memorial Drive, or the Westgate Parking Lot at the west end of Briggs Field. The residents pointed out that other colleges have housed their students in temporary housing in similar situations in the past.
In addition, the residents asked for access to the engineering reports which first deemed Bexley uninhabitable. The letter asked MIT to form a council comprised of faculty, administrators, students, and engineers to oversee the new dormitory design. In order to keep their culture alive, Bexley students requested an on-campus space for resident use to maintain the visibility of Bexley to freshmen.
In their response to the Bexley letter, Grimson and Colombo stated that they were currently looking at the feasibility of a temporary housing option for a large group of Bexley residents, and that a Bexley Advisory Group comprised of Bexley residents, the housemasters, and campus leaders would be formed soon.
Grimson wrote that they have “tentatively identified the Pritchett Dining Room in Walker Memorial as a community space for displaced Bexley residents.” However, he was less clear about whether the Bexley students would eventually be given access to the engineering reports.
“We will give your request for access to the reports our careful consideration once the administration and other facilities stakeholders have reviewed and understand the report’s contents,” wrote Grimson.
“We hope we can continue to offer its unique culture to future students,” the residents wrote. “Many of us cannot imagine MIT without Bexley; the friendship, support, and acceptance we have found here has been integral to our MIT experience and we would be devastated to see this community torn apart.”
To facilitate communication in these deliberations, Bexley has — counter to its history and culture — elected seven representatives for the dorm.
Dorm housing accommodations
Since many MIT dorms had already selected rooms for residents next year, the announcement of Bexley’s closing forced dorms to have to re-evaluate what they had originally planned for in the fall. By Friday, each dorm had sent MIT Housing a list of rooms that Bexley residents could move into.
Several dorm housing chairs said that they tried to reserve as many blocks of rooms as possible for the incoming Bexley students, so that they would be more comfortable living together. According to Grimson’s followup letter yesterday, displaced Bexley residents would continue to pay the same amount for housing in other dorms as they would have in Bexley, although they would still have to purchase a dining plan should they move into a dining dorm.
“We offered Bexlians 16 spots on Burton 5, 10 on Burton 2, and 7 each on Conner 3 and Conner 4,” said Tom Roberts ’13, Burton-Conner’s rooming chair. “We are not sure if all of these spots will be needed, but we chose floors that had more openings than the others and, in some cases, had openings that were already geographically convenient. Some people on B2 and B5 were also kind enough to give their rooms up to make larger continuous blocs, which was really awesome.”
According to Tegan A. Hunter ’15, the housing chair for Next House, the dorm is offering Bexley students a block of rooms in the east wing of the second floor.
“We looked at the results of our housing lottery for the Fall, and determined that we had a grouping of 12 beds that we could offer to housing and didn’t need to move our residents around,” explained Hunter. “We also located other smaller groupings of rooms throughout Next House that could potentially be given to Bexley residents. I really wanted to try and find a group of rooms that we could offer, as it is important to try and keep as many groups of friends together as possible.”
Like several other MIT dorms, Next House had already been slated to increase its capacity next year by turning some doubles into triples. Hunter said that Next House could “easily” add 23 students, with another 13 possible if MIT Housing asked upperclassmen to move to generate more space.
While New House also offered a block for Bexley students, the housing chair explained that the unique admissions process of the cultural houses complicated the process.
“We offered 1 room for each house, accommodating 10 Bexley residents in total throughout the entire building,” said Melody G. Liu ’16, the New House housing chair. “We also offered up a block of 10 rooms in Desmond (House 5) and a few rooms in some of the cultural houses, but we emphasized that we would take 10 rooms total throughout all of New House. If Bexley students would like to move into a cultural house, they would need to agree to the conditions of living in a cultural house.”
Senior House co-housing chair Laura Y. Zhang ’15 said that she sent Housing a list of around 22 rooms, or half of the second floor, that were available for current Bexley residents. “A lot of seniors were moving out anyway; it was going to be pretty empty in the fall,” she said. “I just hope for a surprising and wonderful outcome out of this mess of a situation.”
Some residents from other dorms have expressed sympathy toward the plight of Bexley students and plan to welcome them into their dorm’s culture next year.
“I have absolutely no concerns about Bexley residents moving into Next House,” said Hunter. “In discussions I’ve had with fellow Next House residents, all sympathize with the Bexley residents, and would welcome any additions to the Next House community with open arms.”
Other residents are less sure about the effect that an influx of Bexley students could have on their dorm culture.
“Speaking personally and not in my capacity as RAC (Rooming Assignment Chair), I side with many of the residents in wishing that more effort was being put into finding a solution that would keep everyone together, rather than this process that’s disruptive for everyone,” said Roberts. “On the other hand, I think it will have a positive impact on BC’s culture. Some people are hesitant about what it means for floor cultures to have that large of a group moving in at once, as well as having fewer freshmen next year, but most people are really supportive and understanding about the fact that, you know, people are losing their home and their community.”
According to a timeline provided to the housemasters of each dorm, lottery results will come out May 15 for Bexley students.
“I have been incredibly impressed in the manner that the MIT dorm community has come together to support Bexley during this challenging time,” said Hunter.
See related content for this article at tech.mit.edu/V133/N26/bexley.html for the letters between Bexley residents and members of the administration.