Refuting concerns that a decision on freshman housing is being reached in secret, which came along with concerns of general lack of transparency, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 unequivocally said that “any suggestions that decisions have been made are false.”
“Reports that we have been thinking exclusively about first-year housing are not true,” she said in an email to The Tech.
Possibly addressing the transparency concerns that had been expressed, UA President Matthew J. Davis ’16 wrote in an email to undergraduates that SHAC hopes to “broaden the conversation and invite all undergraduates to help [to] advance the future of residential life at MIT.”
Raising the concerns in a very public venue, an MIT Confessions post asserted that the Chancellor, with input from the Student Housing Advisory Committee commonly known as SHAC, had been “strongly considering, among other things, moving to a single freshman dorm.”
DormCon President and SHAC member Yonadav Shavit ’16 replied to the post. He said that SHAC had been discussing many ideas about the residential experience, not just freshman housing, and is seeking input.
“[T]he UA and DormCon have known about this for months,” the post continued; “and yet [they] have refused to tell the general undergraduate population about it. Can we please just talk about this?”
Another post echoed these concerns about transparency: “If it is true that the UA and DormCon have known about this for months then it is disgusting how much remains hidden from the general student population until the very last minute.”
DormCon Secretary Sabrina Madera ’19, who is not a member of SHAC, defended her fellow student leaders in a reply. “I don’t think you understand what it’s like to be told that you can’t spread information by administration, obviously it’s out of our power.”
Despite the lack of transparency that the students on MIT Confessions perceived, SHAC members said in a statement that they were permitted to share contents of their discussions with their constituencies. They explained that they had discussed their ideas by leading “a series of campus conversations to understand the role of residential life in the MIT experience and to discover what the campus’ overarching goals for the future of residential life are.”
Barnhart, explaining the committee at the heart of the confusion, said she “asked student leaders who represent a broad array of students to work with [her] closely.”
“The membership was decided by the Chancellor,” members of SHAC said. “[I]t has always consisted of the elected heads of the IFC, Panhel, DormCon, LGC and UA. Recently, additional members have been added to include additional perspectives and to help design and lead future conversations regarding SHAC.”
The committee’s charge, according to the Chancellor’s website, included “answering some key questions to help design the best residential system for MIT students.”
SHAC said it “had no direct role in planning campus housing.”
The Chancellor’s website included a few examples of the “key questions” that SHAC was helping her answer, including “How do we encourage more student-faculty interactions and opportunities for advising and mentoring?” and “What are the strengths and weaknesses of different housing assignment techniques?”
“SHAC raised student concerns to the Chancellor and allowed the Chancellor to ask questions about these concerns as well as share any thoughts of her own,” SHAC’s statement said. “SHAC has discussed a variety of topics including diversity and residential life, support networks, and how to best support communities.”
“Throughout the fall semester, SHAC conducted outreach to students in residence halls and FSILGs to learn more about what’s working well and what needs to work better in our current residential system,” Barnhart said in an email to The Tech. “That engagement work resulted in a better understanding of the ideals we should strive to achieve as we build new dormitories and, bigger picture, shape the future of student life at MIT.”
Davis’s email to undergraduates said that SHAC’s recent work has included “designing a strategy to gather information and engage the entire campus.”
Barnhart said that “[t]he campus planning activity that’s happening right now is historic, and provides us with an exciting opportunity to shape the future of student life at MIT. To do that, we need to keep open minds and have open dialogue like the true problem solvers we are.”
Barnhart invites anyone interested in joining this conversation to contact her. “I want to hear from as many students as possible!”
Davis told undergrads that he considers this “an exciting opportunity for students to collaborate directly with senior MIT leadership on a level that has never before been seen at MIT.”
Like Barnhart, Davis invites students to share ideas with SHAC, including through a “Chat with SHAC” thread on discussion.mit.edu.