Fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups affiliated with MIT are spread over a much larger region of Boston and Cambridge than the campus alone, but a proposal to move multiple FSILGs onto campus may shrink their range considerably.
The proposal describes an MIT-owned plot, potentially located in northeast or west campus, on which MIT would lease buildings to FSILGs to form an “FSILG village.” The idea was originally presented by an MIT alumnus to the Association of Independent Living Groups (AILG).
Steve DeFalco ’83, one of the alumni leaders of the initiative, identified the requirement for freshmen to live in dorms, the introduction of meal plans, and a “demographic shift toward women” as changes within MIT that put pressure on fraternities. He added that students today lack the “handiness skills” needed to maintain their own houses.
DeFalco also said that students increasingly prefer to be closer to campus, and that parents want to see more supervision. He cited the litany of risks “in areas of safety, alcohol, and sexual assault” that have always existed without full control of the properties as reasons for a shift in living arrangements.
Because DeFalco also believes that fraternities are a benefit to campus, providing connections and communities, encouraging prefrosh to matriculate, and creating new cultures, he presented the FSILG village as a compromise between control over and preservation of fraternity culture.
The AILG applied a similar analysis to all FSILGs, and found that the sorority system is healthy and growing. Though fraternities and ILGs are stable in size, the AILG felt that their funding stores, even with alumni donations, are insufficient to maintain the “19th century buildings” they live in.
Options put forward for the design of an FSILG village include a cluster of small, free-standing structures; a townhouse-style building that would have some shared spaces and infrastructure; a loft-style structure somewhat like Burton Conner or Random Hall, with each floor unique but connected; and a re-purposed building, likely with shared infrastructure and space.
Because of the implications for student life, the AILG and Division of Student Life (DSL) surveyed alumni and students from all six sororities, 29 fraternities, and five independent living groups about the proposal in the fall of 2014. One response, generally the president’s, was taken from each of these alumni or student organizations.
Of 80 total alumni and student representatives, only five alumni “expressed high interest in the project,” and only five students thought it was at all likely that their living group would be willing to move into an FSILG village.
Alumni cited “tradition, assumed MIT ownership of the building, and Institute oversight” as reasons to reject the proposal, advocating strongly for continued independent ownership. Students were even more compelled by the latter two reasons. Most oppose MIT’s plan to lease buildings to the FSILGs’ individual housing corporations.
Interest was lower than expected because proximity and supervision were less important than the AILG predicted. For instance, survey responses showed that students generally considered proximity to campus to be a benefit, but did not consider it important enough to be a deciding factor.
Nearly all alumni and students responded favorably to questions regarding organization, maintenance, and “various metrics on chapter health” such as house conditions and finances. Most said their living groups were “excellent or good” — they all “perceive[d] themselves as above average,” and were “somewhat or very satisfied with their FSILG’s present status.”
This view was held despite the DSL’s finding that 57% of FSILGs have “reserves that are inadequate to cover even an optimistic estimate of current maintenance needs,” and the AILG’s belief that buildings are out of date and improperly kept. The DSL acknowledges that the contrast between their findings and the student responses “may reflect some concern about how the survey data will be used.” Ultimately, FSILG members are highly averse to a potential change.
Members of the AILG believe that if the FSILG village plan appears to progress, and if off-campus restrictions like the Boston ban continue to pose difficulties, the idea may become more popular among students. The AILG has also cited research indicating that many alumni do not consider their living groups’ relationships with surrounding communities to be positive and have concerns about long-term sustainability.
The DSL calculates that all MIT alumni-owned housing can be valued at $83 million — if FSILGs whose buildings MIT does not own were to move into an FSILG village, “this equity presumably would be available to invest in the project.”
Far more alumni and student organizations were interested in further discussion and planning than in actually moving, which the DSL believes is because “many groups may be sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see if there is a serious proposal put forth.”