One of my favorite TV shows is a cartoon on the Disney Channel called Gravity Falls. It’s quirky and hilarious and manages to buck a lot of dumb TV tropes and clichés. Now, I’m not saying Gravity Falls is East Campus – all I’m saying is I’m not not saying it. After all, nobody has ever seen Gravity Falls and East Campus in the same room together.
There’s a scene from Gravity Falls that has always resonated strongly with me. Mabel, one the show’s main characters, is at a party when she meets two other girls, Candy and Grenda. Grenda has a pet iguana on her shoulder and Candy is using four forks taped to her fingers to eat from a bowl of popcorn. In a close-up shot, Mabel whispers, “I’ve found my people!”
I’m a junior now living in East Campus, and I think I’ve had this same moment two to three times a day, every day, for the past two years. The people that live in East Campus are fantastic, because the East Campus community draws fantastic people in. East Campus draws in people who don’t always fit, people who want a place to live that they can safely call home.
Communities that are strong the way that East Campus is strong aren’t common at other schools. My friends at back in my hometown don’t live in the same place for four years – they move off to apartments after freshman year, or move to fraternities or sororities, or move year to year between sterile, whitewashed dorm rooms in different buildings. Communities like East Campus are common at MIT, though, for some very important reasons:
- We choose where we live.
Dorms aren’t randomly assigned. Pre-frosh are given the opportunity to check dorms during CPW and rank them on their housing forms, and freshmen are given the opportunity to explore further and maybe rethink their decision during REX. This means that each dorm is full of people who want to live in that community. Let’s never forget how incredibly powerful that simple gift of agency is. Students who get involved in the community where they live are part of a support network full of other students who understand the struggles of academic life at MIT. For me, my East Campus family is what keeps me from going old-school crazy and like, torching a preschool or something. I love them deeply, and I legitimately do not believe I could do this without their stupid ugly faces (we have a complicated relationship).
That being said, I’ve noticed that over the past few years, REX seems to be getting shorter. Less of an emphasis is being placed on finding your community – the second housing lottery, FYRE, which takes place at the end of REX, is now opt-in instead of opt-out. We need to make sure incoming freshmen are encouraged find the community that speaks to them.
- We, as a living group, are trusted with self-governance.
East Campus has one of the largest and most functional student governments on campus. We handle our own in-house rush, and maintain our own finances and so on and so forth. When East Campus is trusted to solve its own problems, we solve them. Despite being largely dysfunctional, shoeless hippies, we care about the place where we live, and we put in the time to take care of it. As residents of East Campus, we have a better understanding of the diversity that exists within the dorm than any administrator – as is turns out, even though we all look like a hive mind, East Campus is actually home to approximately four hundred individuals with distinct personalities and feelings. In fact, within East Campus, each hall has its own distinct culture and history. I live on Tetazoo. We have cats and are clothing optional. It’s a weird place. I like it.
East Campus residents love East Campus because it belongs to them. We decide how the dorm is run, what projects to build, what dumb events to do at Bad Ideas. East Campus residents feel very strongly that we have, to some extent, a right to some level of ownership over the place where we live. That feeling of ownership is threatened when we have non-student workers at the front desk and security cameras in our halls. It’s our home, and the buildings we inhabit are a part of that, even though they are “falling down” and “full of asbestos.” Whatever. Asbestos never hurt anybody.
- We always come up with a good third thing when we’re listing things.
I think I’ve gotten my point across. MIT’s housing system is unique in so many good ways – there isn’t any reason to make it the same as everywhere else. To close, I would like to share my story of when I first found my people.
The year is 2012. A young, bright-eyed freshman is walking with a group of upperclassmen to buy snacks at the nearby 7-11, a venerable establishment where the student would later get free donuts and be on a first name basis with the staff.
One upperclassman stands out to the frosh: A man with a shocking mane of curly pink hair in an orange jumpsuit riding a unicycle.
“Where do you live?” asks the dashing young man.
“Tetazoo!” said the astonishingly beautiful stranger.
“What’s it like?!” gasped the freshman, with stars in his eyes.
“It’s like… a sunny place for shady people.”
And right then, I wanted to live there. And I still do.