This coming fall, due to the closure of Bexley Hall, on-campus housing will be particularly tight. Dormitories have already been told that they will likely be subject to overcrowding, with doubles turned into triples and quads.
So long as we insist on accommodating all returning dormitory residents and freshmen in existing facilities, some significant belt-tightening is inevitable. But much of this problem is self-inflicted. For over a decade, MIT has required freshmen to live on campus. Doing so has put a significant strain on on-campus housing, leading to chronic overcrowding before Maseeh Hall was opened. Before resurrecting that arrangement, the administration ought to consider allowing freshmen to move to fraternities and sororities during the upcoming academic year.
The very phrasing of this proposal, though, belies its simplicity. Freshmen already move to fraternities, and do so very early in their tenure at MIT. Anecdotal evidence suggests that freshmen in forced triples tend to move to fraternities at higher rates than those in singles or doubles. They simply do so without formally informing MIT and without officially vacating their dormitory digs.
So what difference, then, does it make to allow freshmen to actually move out? It allows the housing situation on campus to slowly adjust, through the year, to reflect the smaller population of freshmen actually residing in dormitories. Instead of all three males in a forced triple unofficially deserting the dormitory for their fraternities while students in adjoining rooms continue to experience overcrowding, residents would be allowed to move into such empty rooms. The number of overcrowded rooms on campus would thus fall as freshmen moved into their fraternities.
On the surface, this is a win-win arrangement. Dormitory residents experience less overcrowding. Freshmen can choose to live where they want. And the physical dormitories experience less of the wear-and-tear associated with overcrowding.
But then what of the underlying purpose for the policy? It was implemented in the wake of a freshman’s death from excess alcohol intake at a fraternity party in 1997. It is clear that freshmen continue to attend fraternity parties, and that freshmen who want to drink continue to do so. We are on a college campus in America.
The justification for the freshmen-on-campus policy then comes down to the hope that being able to return to a dormitory bed at any time will encourage freshmen to lead a tamer lifestyle. It is well beyond the scope of this piece to investigate the policy’s success in this regard. But in a reality where the Administration must choose between cramming extra freshmen into already small rooms or allowing them the choice to formally move somewhere they may already be living, the decision should be simple. At least for next year, when dormitories seem doomed to significant overcrowding, the administration should prioritize giving students the peace of mind that comes with adequate physical space.
Saul Wilson is a member of the Class of 2014.