Two weeks ago, MIT Housing announced that six undergraduate dorms will be undergoing a temporary housing increase for the fall semester. MIT Housing sent an email to each student living in the affected dorms listing the specific rooms in their dorm that will have increased occupancy.
This increased capacity comes in response to the closing of Bexley last month and the subsequent loss of 116 beds, as well as a larger demand for on-campus housing. According to the Senior Associate Dean for Student Life, Henry J. Humphreys, a total of 134 additional beds are being added. Burton-Conner is adding 39, East Campus 31, Next 26, McCormick 21, Baker 9, and New House 9 beds.
The Housing Office worked with the housemasters and rooming assignment chairs (RACs) to determine which rooms would increase their occupancy, while the dorm representatives did not play a part in determining whether their dorm capacity would have to increase in the first place.
“Housing gave us the list of rooms that would be tripled,” explained Melody G. Liu ’16, the housing chair for New House. “Unfortunately, I did not get a say in which rooms or how many rooms were tripled. In the future, we hope Housing will allow students to have more of a voice in overcrowding.”
The level of involvement from dorm-level governments varied across the dorms. Professor Charles H. Stewart III, McCormick housemaster, seemed to have more input in the increased occupancy.
“The process is pretty automatic. We have a series of doubles that have in the past been crowded into triples,” described Stewart. “We worked with the housing office and our room assignment chairs to make sure that the rooms that will be crowded are the ones that make sense. However, I should also say that almost every crowdable room in the dormitory will be crowded, so there wasn’t a whole lot of flexibility for anyone.”
East Campus room assignment chair Leonid Grinberg ’14 also worked extensively with MIT Housing after controversy arose when Housing originally asked EC for 41 additional beds. “The immediate situation has been resolved to our satisfaction,” Grinberg stated.
According to Humphreys, Maseeh, Senior House, and Random Hall were exempt from the increased occupancy changes because they are already at maximum capacity. MacGregor was not considered because the only way to increase the number of residents would be to alter the lounges, which was seen as a last resort. Likewise, Simmons was spared because of “the unique configuration of the building and the rooms.”
“When Simmons was built, it used the same manufacturer for furniture that we use for our other buildings, which is not the same size or design as we use in other [dorm] buildings,” explained Humphreys. “It is a specific type, and we can’t just swap out furniture.” The furniture, said Humphreys, is not “bunkable.” In any case, Humphreys believed trying to increase occupancy in Simmons would require more time than they had when planning for dorm sizes next year.
In response to these changes, students have expressed criticism with the decision to increase the number of residents in their dorms. Baker resident Isaac F. Silberberg ’16 lived in a double his freshman year. Silberberg said he was frustrated that the addition of Baker’s RLAD (Residential Life Area Director) removed six beds, a quad, and two singles, while the GRT count stayed the same.
“It was very nice with two people, and while it probably could hold three, it would be very cramped,” Silberberg said. “However, it’s unconscionable that the administration would force residents to live in forced rooms while giving an RLAD over 600 desirable square feet of living space to perform a function that Baker already has an extra GRT for.”
Similarly, New House resident and former housing chair Lucas A. Orona ’14 did not take the news with enthusiasm, citing the harmful effects of overcrowding. Orona said he lived in a forced triple his freshman year, but moved out as soon as he could because of the lack of space and the annoyance of the top bunk.
“It hurts dorm cultures to have forced rooms because freshmen understandably don’t want to get stuffed like sardines into rooms and pick a living situation based on space rather than what culture best suits them,” said Orona. “Spreading forced rooms across dorms while taking into account room sizes is the fairest way to distribute forced rooms rather than placing the burden on a single dorm.”
Based on his freshman year experiences, Orona predicted a lower dorm retention rate for students in forced triples, and for dorms like MacGregor and Simmons to be especially popular.
On the other hand, New House resident Matthew J. Davis ’16 said his experience living in a triple was “not too bad” because he was able to bond with his roommates.
“That being said, our room was a natural triple and was therefore very large, with plenty of room — moreover, I was in the great living community of International Development House,” stated Davis. “This is very different from the increased triples our residents will face, and therefore I do not think it is fair to compare my experience to others. I imagine it to be much worse. I found private, quiet time in the libraries or in other places. Ultimately, it was a rewarding experience.”
While the majority of the changes resulted from the Bexley incident this year, MIT’s increased undergraduate enrollment has also played a role over the years, commented Stewart.
“The situation is going to go back to how it was in the mid-1990s, which the housemasters at the time were pretty clear about being intolerable,” Stewart reflected. “So, that’s unfortunate. However, given that we have to live with an unfortunate situation, I think the decisions made about distributing the burdens have been about as fair as they can be. We’re all trying to make the best of a bad situation.”
In this aspect, Humphreys noted that all occupancy increases were within state codes for sanitation, occupancy, and any fire hazards. Davis also added, “We will make the best of our situation and put forth our greatest efforts to ensure the highest quality residential experience for all of our residents.”
Humphreys praised the work done by everyone involved in the project. “The room assignment chairs and the housemasters have been great partners to work with throughout this whole Bexley situation,” Humphreys commented. “They really, really have been fantastic.”