a piece about a place

MIT won’t let you down if you don’t let each other down.

When Bexley was still a place, I would wander through the well-trodden, labyrinthian hall after a long day or week or month of working. The creaking below my feet—I could hear if someone was headed toward me or walking behind me. Swinging of kitchen doors. “Good evening, madam,” said a freshman I had not yet spoken to. When Bexley was still a place, sun rays and outside air always reached the circulation space, through the windows of rooms whose doors were always left open. Music from the courtyard travelled that way, too. A couple of 30 year-old alumni might have done it when they stopped by to visit and found out the building would be shut down indefinitely. I was one of the last to move out of Bexley Hall, and it was strange to see all of the doors shut and locked for the first time. I remember when Bexiles arrived in Senior House, as soon as they dropped their luggage in the room, would tinker with the door closer installed in almost every room there. It was a reflex.

When Bexley was still a place, sometimes I would wander to the other side of the building, to a friend’s room—if you were at MIT when I was, you could see this room from the student center or 77 Mass Ave in the dead of night; it was always lit in warm yellow, dressed in red and silhouettes of leaves. The room interfaced with the public in many ways: from teasing a group of MIT students with poor motor control at 4 AM on a Saturday to an EE side project used to anonymously “greet” the hustled pedestrians in daylight. Many rooms in Bexley took advantage of their windows to interact with the rest of MIT and passerbys. We were at the heart of campus. My first couple of years at MIT I often heard upperclassmen say that Bexley is a gateway to the East Side, conveniently situated on the West. Being at the center, and at the periphery/transition are indeed very special conditions, but sometimes it makes sense to me to see Bexley as being a dot on one side of Yin and Yang.

There, in the red room, I would make myself at home, watching people I recognized crossing Mass Ave. I would wait until another wanderer came through the hall and noticed me, or until the owner of the room came back from class or meditation. I could always find my friends there.

Around this time last year, I was not sure if it had been a day, week, or month of working and doing everything half-heartedly. I half-remembered anything said to me or by me.  I was battling with multiple things with minimal vitality and trying hard to be resourceful, but the best support I chose and helped create was no longer a place. My temporal, physical, and mental references were inaccessible. I found myself stranded somewhere I wanted to get out. My instinct scrambled for a thing that I could start making a connection with. The phone in my pocket gave me a point to start. Out of desperation, I drew a straight line to that red room, breaking months-long silence and kicking up a thick layer of dust. He would still be there, on the couch, meditating. I sent my friend a text message.

“Hello. Did you let go of Bexley? Did you leave it to be whatever it will be? Are you at peace? Because I am not… Not sure if the attachment is justified, but it exhausts me too much. Let me know. I miss you.”

“I found other ways to get at what Bexley is. Bexley was an idea, brought into special physical manifestation, but I am at peace bringing that idea to manifest in all the world.”
“You can’t demolish an idea.” He added a few minutes later.

People who have experienced the East Side have been fortunate to have a chance to grasp that idea.  Some of us are fortunate enough to have lived or to be living, breathing it. A few of us had already carried the idea with them when they arrived at MIT, and places on campus like Bexley Hall only encourage them to be more creative and adventurous about their own ideals. It may be that ideas are invincible, but one also can’t grow or observe an idea without an appropriate physical space for its manifestation. At MIT, an idea is valued by its tangibility, whether in its forms of expression, invention, or experience. Clearly, after the building was shut down, Bexley doesn’t manifest itself in name or spirit or press releases, assignment of an empty room, or in promises certain administrative players cannot keep, but it does manifest itself in all of us who care about and want the best for each other. For now, you all know where to find your East Side. (You can even find it on West Campus if you don’t discriminate.) And for this, I am incredibly grateful.

If that ever changes, if one day there is no such place, you will always find each other and stay together to make MIT the better place it has always been and will hopefully always be. The place you live in turns into a place in your heart, and then it will forever be with you.

In recent years, many insensitive changes were implemented without integrity or insight, and many situations mishandled by the Division of Student Life or its specific members. During my time at MIT, a great amount of students’ time and energy was spent on counteracting these bureaucratic and political frictions, in addition to coping with the consequences of interacting with a few of irresponsible and inconsiderate DSL employees. When the closing of Bexley Hall was announced, many students’ concerns on health and requests, research input, and initatives were outright neglected. In the meantime, new administrative requests were given to students. Many students fell ill, some of them in addition to having to handle finals week and this bureaucracy under heavy time constraints. However, East Side received help from each other and even from West Campus friends. We went to meetings. We formed ad-hoc committees. We wrote reports. We had to play a game we did not want to. As any true MIT community member knows, we would much rather frolic down the paths of board games and unsolvable, uncensored songs and murals, hazardous hallways of side projects than down the one full of emails and meetings only to stagnate and flounder. No sane person would give MIT students more work than what is truly required of us, not even our professors. For a surprisingly long time, there is a stranger in our home.

To all of you I have and have not met, whatever you are doing, feeling, and wherever you are, always find home. Speak up, listen, respect. Always make room for people who might be just passing by—you never know how that could forever change their lives like it changed mine.

I hope all of you find and hold on to the people that make the firehose something worth waking up for. Families that you choose won’t let you down. I knew I would fall in love with MIT when I got in, but I didn’t expect my love to be larger-than-life.

 

Chancellor Barnhart, I have only shaken your hand at graduation, but you are my rock star.

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