The most valuable part of my MIT education

I had a typically degrading rush experience in the autumn of ’96.   Witnessing the male students aggressively recruited by fraternities, looking at the co-ed living options, immediately dismissing the boring sorority options, I felt let down. I was temporarily housed in MacGregor, and when I returned to my temporary room at night, the neighboring rooms were already doors closed lights out.   I remember the residents there giving me strange looks when I told them I was going to check out Bexley, East Campus and Senior House. It reminded me of the disgusted looks that the kids in high school shot at me for coming first in a math competition, or for wearing a ‘My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult’ t-shirt.

I got over to the east side later that day, and then I saw him: a guy dressed in leather, wearing a ‘Siouxsie and the Banshees’ tee. I actually followed him from a distance to see where he was headed – straight into the Senior House courtyard.

Senior House had been renovated that year, and the residents were on a crusade to retain their weirdness. Desperately trying to dissuade the freshman attracted to the elevator and air conditioning, they blasted punk rock from speakers in the courtyard. A group of kids sat relaxed on the cement bench, smoking a cigarette, watching another guy with long hair, pulled back into a ponytail, doing radial tire swinging.   The decision to put the dorm as my first choice was a no-brainer. The dorm had more first choices that year than ever before. I told my parents that I decided to live there so I could be close to the med center in case I had a bad asthma attack. I didn’t want them to worry.

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I am not an “un”

An administrator once commented that having dorm cultures that diverge was counterproductive – people should be comfortable in any hall, after all.

That’s a noble thought, but it’s nearsighted and overly cautious. I didn’t come to MIT to be cautious.

I want: Three dorms where I can express myself in any way I can or want or need. A dorm where I can walk down the halls and say “I can’t join the group hug, I’ll get hair dye all over you” – then dive in anyway.   Or I want a dorm where I can spin a glowing staff around my neck by starlight, while my friends – family, at this point – dance to the beat. Or a dorm where nobody would even think to be afraid to live their own unique sexuality, where at the end of the day, you will always be accepted for who you strive to be. Three dorms (and maybe Bexley one day again) where the fringe, the nerds, the bookworms, the LARPers, the burners, the dancers, the hackers and climbers and painters and gamers can look around and say, “These are my people.” I want a dorm where I can spend four amazing years among people as weird and unique as me, a place where I can live without fear, without judgment.

I don’t want: Eleven dorms where I can be vaguely content. I’m not spending my tuition on contentment.

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Generic Title

I’m one of those people who spends almost all of my time here on my hall (Floor Pi). Am I missing out on meeting a lot of fascinating people throughout East Campus? Almost definitely. If, one day I find myself with little work and lots of spare time, I may make more of an effort to meet people on other halls. For now, I have no qualms on spending my pset breaks doing nonsensical things with other Pizens. Things we do: gather in the lounge to play a Japanese bird dating simulator game, eat “feces” at a hall feed, marathon Avatar: the Last Airbender, constantly refer to sports that no one actually follows (read: luge), and so on. I’ve been very happy living here.

One thing that has always bothered me has been the implication that Floor Pi residents are somehow inferior because they are “less hardcore” and don’t embody the values of East Campus as much as certain other halls. The defining value of East Campus shouldn’t be “hardcore”. As a community of ~400 people, we are so much more complex than that. I think the most amazing characteristic of East Campus is the fact that it is composed of ten completely different communities that coexist, each with the autonomy to emphasize different values and to change over time. At East Campus, we have the freedom to be ourselves and find communities that we are happy to be a part of. I choose to exercise this freedom by living on Floor Pi.

East Campus is my bigger box

If people who knew me in high school had to guess which dorm I would live in here, I don’t think many of them would have guessed East Campus. I was, and still am to a significant extent, the goody-two-shoes, straight-A’s, straight-edge girl next door. Luckily, I found a few friends in high school who were not about that life, who tore down the walls of that box I lived in with power tools and punk rock and endless adventures in a pick up truck. They cared deeply about me, and dammit they were going to show it by dragging me away from my homework as if their lives depended on it.

East Campus reminded me of those friends.

Don’t get me wrong: I had AMAZING friends before, girls I’d grown up with from elementary school who made me feel loved, special, accepted, and important, who still keep all my secrets and would still drop everything to support me in a time of need.

But sometimes, amazing isn’t enough.

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i call this place home

In high school I was always the weird kid–I mitigated my strangeness so people would find me mildly funny and entertaining instead of too strange to associate with. So be it. When I got to EC and moved into my hall, I gradually learned how to shed that facade and (this is so damn corny but what the hell) be my actual self. We’re close here because we’re open–people aren’t afraid to hide ourselves from each other, because we trust each other to keep us safe and accept who we are and what we do.  Last semester, I struggled a lot with depression that made it difficult to act like a human being, never mind do my coursework.  My friends sat with me when I cried and made sure I got the help I needed.  What’s more, they reminded me that I was still a person they cared about, for good reasons, and that this wasn’t my fault, no matter how much I wanted to believe it was.  When you live surrounded by people who know you for who you truly are, and who care about you because you are you, not because you’re the smart kid or you’re pretty or funny, even when things get really terrible, they’ll be there for you and you for them.

Where I found my confidence

I never doubted where I belonged on campus.  As a freshman, I gravitated toward the East Side.  I grew up in a quiet suburb, and East Campus offered me so much of what I had never experienced.  What I realize now is that I was looking for a place that I felt comfortable to really express myself in ways that weren’t obvious to me before.  Looking back at the past 3+ years, EC has been so much more than a residence for me.  I feel truly safe to be myself here, and because of that I have gained so much confidence in myself and in who I am.  I could have never found that without the nurturing community our culture fosters and the everlasting friendships I’ve made along the way.  EC, and the East Side as a whole, is a unique place in this world.  I don’t want to say that I don’t want it to ever change – the beautiful thing about the East Side is how much it can and does change in response to those living in it – but I do hope that it can always continue to exist as a place for students to truly live their lives and be comfortable in their own skin.

I found home the minute I though I lost home

As a freshman, I had no idea what to expect from college. I had spent the last few months home fearing that once I leave, I would have no home. You see, after I leave, I would reason, my desk would be full of my sister’s things (or worse — it would be empty and clean, as if no one uses it anymore), my bed would be used so that she could invite friends over; and even when I do get back to see my family, it would not feel as home anymore. On the other hand, how could I be sure that I would find a place on campus where I would feel loved and secure, which would be my new HOME? Inevitably, I thought, there would be some time at which I was going to be Home-less.

East Campus was my third choice between the 16 dorms. It was not that bad of a position, but I was slightly disappointed when I got my temporary room there. Everyone was going to think I was a weirdo just because I lived there. Even worse, I feared the people would be too intense for me to understand, and that I could never participate their strange (at first) ways to have fun.

When I got here, though, it turned out to be quite the opposite. Yes, people were so different from what I had used to, and different in so many ways, that everyone gets accepted and learns to accept the others.

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Senior Haus will always be my home

I haven’t been back in years, but the Haus will always feel like home to me.  I haven’t been following all the changes at MIT, but it doesn’t sound good.  I don’t really understand why the Institute would focus any energy on dismantling the one thing that was always good there for me – the culture on the East side of campus. It’s not just about hair dye and strange parties and murals, but those things are important. Learning that you can truly do anything you can think of is the whole point of MIT, and many of the things the East side holds so dear are just expressions of this belief.

Just two nights ago, I was talking to my husband (also a Haus alum) about how we were so fortunate to have lived in a dorm that was so safe. I think we had just seen yet another terrible story of rape or abuse on a college campus. And it struck me that I NEVER EVER had to fear that kind of thing when I was living in Senior Haus. Because it was my family, and family looks out for each other. And I don’t believe it would have been a family if the whole culture of the place hadn’t existed. The feeling of family was a result of about 150 people from all over the country choosing to live together, not despite but because of all of our different experiences and expressions of ourselves. We got to choose that place (do they get to choose anymore?) and be whatever and whoever and do whatever we wanted, and I can’t imagine my life without that experience. I can’t imagine college, especially MIT where every day in class and lab just beats you down, without the support I had from my Haus family. I feel really sad to think that I might have been one of the last generations to feel that.

Erin, Senior House, Class of ’99

Queer Affirmation

As a freshman and sophomore at Senior House, it meant a world to me to live in a dorm that was friendly to queer people. From the minute I got there with my parents for orientation, I felt no impulse to hide or closet myself. In fact, I felt that the upperclassmen and especially the Housemaster and all the GRTs appreciated me for who I was. Although I’ve since moved off-campus, I care that Senior House remains a gay-positive space. I feel that so many wonderful conversations I was able to have with housemates about sexuality and identity could only have taken place on the east side, where we have a love for individual quirks but also try to treat each other as part of the same family.

I’m Not A Good Enough Writer To Do EC Justice

I’m a freshman; I’ve been on campus for just over a month and I feel completely at home. People accept me for who I am and let me make my own choices and figure out for myself the best way to build a loft/ fun thing. Most importantly though, people are always willing to help: building crazy things is a way of life, and everybody is interested in seeing your thing succeed (or at least hold your weight).

The summer before I came to MIT I was terrified—I wasn’t going to have any friends, or fit in anywhere. I wasn’t going to be able to build cool things because I had no experience; I wouldn’t have anyone to pset with. Now that I’ve been here a month, absolutely none of those things are true. I was assigned to East Campus (my first choice; I saw some of the rush builds from previous years online and was sold) and I feel like I’ve finally found a home.

I love the fact that I can to bed to the sound of hammers beating in time to the music and wake up to chop saw blades whirring. I feel like I can attempt to make whatever I want—people with more experience are more than willing to show me the ropes. People are always dragging you on adventures, making sure you feel welcome and nobody cares if you are a little offbeat, or like to walk around barefoot. Everyone is incredibly open and accepting and willing to try new things, and in my entire month here, I’ve never once felt unwelcome or unwanted. East Campus is an awesome, magical place, and the wacky things people come up with and build are incredible. I love this place, and I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else.

Why I chose to live on the east side of town

Greetings.

 

I thought I would take a few moments to register a possibly dated view of my decision-making process (in 1984) regarding choice of living space and why I to this day regard that choice as a good one.

I arrived during Rush Week of 1984 and stayed at Random Hall for Rush week.  I avoided the “Greek System” and toured East Campus, Bexley, Senior House, Baker House, Next House, and Burton/Conner.

 

I chose Senior House, and the decision was a good one. There is no question that adverse events happen on the East Side as well as the West Side and off campus- the Runkle fire happened on my third or fourth night there; I knew the young man who fell or jumped to his death a few years later.  These sorts of events are scattered across the campus and are not in any way unique to  Senior House or any other residence hall.

I found Senior House (and the east side of campus) a uniquely tolerant environment.  Gay, straight, republican, democrat, libertarian, christian, jewish, muslim, black. white: there was and I hope still is an environment of open tolerance. I can think offhand of six or so people just in my first two years who transferred to Senior House from fraternities, sororities, or other dorms because they found themselves living in openly hostile environments due to race and sexual orientation and had to move. For two years I managed room assignments in Senior House and thus was briefed on all transfers into the dorm.  The desire to form a community of tolerance manifests in many ways.   The grey walls and yellow lights I remember from visiting Burton-Connor contrast with colorful murals.  Cafeteria eating at Baker contrasted with kitchens where students could cook vegan or gluten-free meals.   Izod shirts and Sperry topsiders on the west side contrasted with purple hair and tie-dye on the East side.

I hope that an oasis of individual liberty and freedom exists still on campus, even if it looks like The Island of Misfit Toys to visitors.  Murals and tie-dye and green hair are the lighthouses that signal the entrance to a safe harbor for victims of prejudice on campus.

 

thank you for your attention.

The Tour Guide with the Bright Green Hair

When I was in tenth grade, I traveled to Boston with one of my best friends to take a look at Harvard, Tufts, Boston College and MIT.  We had two tours each day of the weekend, two on Saturday and two on Sunday, so it was an exhausting weekend.

I remember that our last tour was of MIT. We had the Harvard tour in the morning, and I hated it. I didn’t like the area, I did not feel like I fit in well with the people, and everything seemed too official. I had dyed hair and I wanted a place where I could express myself and not be judged, because the Harvard folk totally judged me for my grungy appearance (I can’t match. Sometimes people think I dress this way on purpose. I don’t.)

Then I went on a campus tour with an MIT student who had green hair and was a senior living in East Campus. She was so cool! I remember her being super quirky and awesome, and she really made me fall in love with MIT. Her personality, the things she did, and her passion for science and MIT were so inspiring.

My friend I was traveling with was so astonished – she kept saying “our tour guide had green hair” in a disapproving tone. I kept saying “OUR TOUR GUIDE HAD GREEN HAIR!” very excitedly. It was that day that I knew that my dream school was MIT.

My friend still applied to MIT, and she got in with me, but spent all of CPW with her parents and chose to go to another school. I knew the second that I stepped back on MIT’s campus for CPW that MIT was where I wanted to live, and I filled out my intent for enrollment at MIT form during my CPW. I kept remembering my tour guide, and got even more excited about MIT when I saw all the cool things going on in the East Campus courtyard, like hair dyeing! I still remember Annie dyeing my hair blue or red, and my teachers getting really pissed off at me when I got back to school because I had really important science and business competitions the two weeks after CPW.  (It ended up working out and I got gold medals in those competitions, even with bright blue hair. Moral of that comment: Dye your hair a bright color for all professional things and you will definitely succeed. probably)

I don’t know if I would have applied if it wasn’t for that tour guide. She made me feel special, and mentioned the imposter syndrome, and she seemed like a real, genuine person. I felt judged and unfit at Harvard and Boston College and most other colleges I visited, but not at MIT. Not with that tour guide and her description of where she lived, and how excited she was about living there. If she could fit in and have a bunch of friends with brightly colored hair and strange clothing, then I could too. MIT seemed like it could be the perfect home for me, and that idea would have never crossed my mind if it hadn’t been for that East Side resident with the bright green hair and super quirky personality.

To the person that showed me the stripper pole during orientation

When I first came to MIT for orientation, I was terrified. From the get-go I knew I’d at least be somewhat nervous – you see, I’m not exactly what you’d call a social butterfly, so getting thrust into an environment of totally new people was daunting. However, I did not expect be as scared as I actually was. When I said goodbye to my parents at their hotel, I remember crying on my entire walk back to East Campus. Thankfully, I managed to pull myself together by the time I got back, but only to hole myself up in my temp room on 5E. I could hear people having fun in the courtyard, and I wanted to go down and join them, but I was too nervous to bring myself to.

It was at that moment that I heard a knock on my door. When I opened it, it was another prefrosh temped on 5E.

“This hall has a stripper pole! Do you want to go see the stripper pole?”

I was somewhat taken aback by this, as I did not know this person at all. But, in the heat of the moment, I agreed to go look at the stripper pole with this complete stranger. I remember watching my new friend fumble on the pole, and the whole experience was so wacky and funny that I couldn’t help but forget the fear that I had felt just moments ago. In fact, it was so strange and out-there that I felt like it might be okay for me to come out of my shell too.

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A new home

I may not have four years of memories here yet, but I can say that East Campus is the reason why I came to MIT.

Personally, if I’m not in a tightly-knit community, I will withdraw completely. I will not socialize, I will not make friends, and I will become nothing more than a grade-producing machine. This was somewhat true of me through high school – I had a large group of people who I liked and who liked me, and we would all have complain about school together and go to each others’ events from time to time. However, I never had close friends. The person I was dating was the only person I really confided in – my family life had gone to hell and I didn’t really trust my classmates to care all that much about my struggles. Nobody really “knew” me.

Though I survived, I don’t want to just “survive.” I want to be happy. The thing that distinguished MIT from the nine other schools I had planned to apply to was the culture. When I stayed in East Campus for CPW, I felt like I had found my people. I hung out on Tetazoo where a friend from high school lived and I now live. I talked to my host on 4E for hours as various other upperclassmen from the hall wandered in and out of the conversation until we suddenly cooked dinner (lemon and herb fish) at 2:00am. I wandered back into the dorm to fetch a sweatshirt in the evening and was swept into an impromptu adventure.

That was just CPW, and REX and the beginning of the year have been even more overwhelmingly full of this kind of activity. What strikes me the most is the freedom of this place. Even at my family’s house, I’m not completely free to be myself. Here, everyone is free to do pretty much as they please so long as they don’t make other people uncomfortable. I feel safe here. I feel like I can wander, squinting, to my morning showers in my underwear without being hassled or judged. The people here treat me the same whether I’m wearing cargo pants and a T-shirt or a pretty dress. I can be straight. I can paint on the walls. I can question authority.

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Madness in any direction, at any hour

If you ask any MIT student what they love about MIT, chances are you’re going to get the same answer—“it’s the people”. It’s clichéd, but it’s true; and this is the same answer I have for why I love East Campus.

I wasn’t able to come to my CPW, so moving into my temp room was the first time I stepped foot into EC. The door to my room had no key (I had to ask the housemaster to let me in) and was decorated with poorly peeled off stickers. Next to it was a “borrowed” construction sign; the stick figure construction man on the sign had a penis and puddle of pee drawn in with Sharpie. My mother was dubious. I was delighted. It was the coolest place I’d ever been.

East Campus was just so dynamic. People were making and doing such incredible things, and they were doing them in ways that were unconventional, informal, and often outside the rules merely by virtue of the rules not having been designed to handle them. East Campus is full of hackers and rule-breakers, counter-culture people and people who choose to ignore social conventions.

Before I go any further, let me clear up a misapprehension I may have inadvertently led you to entertain right now: you do not need to break the rules to live in East Campus. Nor, in fact, do you need to be a great mural artist or a brilliant inventor or a talented fire-spinner or any number of other things that are stereotypically associated with EC. Not to live here, and not to become deeply involved with the community. This isn’t the sort of place that tolerates competitiveness in the usual sense. For one thing, outside of the community, there isn’t anything worth being competitive for: would you like this falling-apart room or this other, slightly larger, falling-apart room?

Instead, I discovered very quickly that East Campus, while prone to the pettiness and social stratification that plagues any large group living situation, is very good at making space for all types of people. I’m hesitant to compare it to a family, since that comparison implies affection bred through deep familiarity, which obviously isn’t correct. It’s also not correct to imply that everyone likes everyone else that they know in EC, when they consider them as individual people. But what you do get is a shared sense that together, you are part of something so special, something so much more amazing than anything you can accomplish on your own.

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East Campus *IS* MIT.

I’ve never lived anywhere in the east side of campus, but I feel like I’m at home whenever I visit. It is the people, the attitude, the nature of my school. It’s a place where you’re invited to slap paint on and drill things into your walls and call it home. Where you can live, cook, work, organize, argue, hold, and cry with your family. Never in my life have I witnessed an environment that’s so open to experimentation, to exploration, to performing research on life, while rewarding you so much in turn. Be it art, a class project, new technologies, old technologies, new friendships and experiences, doing something really stupid, and learning from it.

This is the MIT I will remember always. This is the MIT I will donate money to when I start to make it. My brothers and sisters in this video, who taught me so much, who brought me so much joy, who stayed up with me til dawn on countless night working on psets, projects, or just talking about life.

East Campus IS the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the school I’m honored to have attended.
Please don’t destroy my beloved Institvte.

-DGonz ’14

I belong here.

I grew up in a place where conformity reigned supreme. I am now in a place where individuality is not only tolerated but celebrated. Those around me have already shown me that this is a place where people grow into their own skin–which is something the east campus culture facilitates and fosters. I couldn’t imagine becoming myself anywhere else.

EC

East Campus is my home because it embodies this precious idea: that whoever you are, and whoever you strive to be, you are welcome here. There is a wonderfully low coefficient of friction between idea and execution; people here can do anything and you won’t lack for enthusiastic people to help. And, perhaps most importantly, I have found so many admirable people here–you truly get a different appreciation for friendship and community. I’m a sophomore now, but I still think I’m lucky to live at EC

 

 

I’ve found home.

I never got homesick at a kid. I went to summer camp each year as a child and comforted so many other kids who were crying about their families, their pets, their city, or just their room. They had left their comfort zone. Why didn’t I get homesick? I thought, “maybe I’m just braver?” I’m not that brave… “Maybe I don’t like my home?” I like my home… I just hadn’t found my comfort zone.

I’ve found that comfort now. I’m filled with the warm fuzzy feeling of home every time I walk onto my floor. I finally know what “homesickness” feels like, I experience it each time I leave. The people in Random Hall comfort me when I’m having a bad day, provide unlimited entertainment through baking adventures, have giant cuddle piles on beanbags, provide unlimited hugs, and most importantly – they fully accept me for who I am. This is my home.

I feel like many people interpret the East Side culture incorrectly. We’re not trying to stand out or rebel. We’re just being ourselves. This wonderful place allows us to be exactly who we want to be, without having to worry about not being “normal”. You’re not judged on appearance, not on intelligence, not on sexuality.

I typically like being optimistic about humanity, but honestly, there are very few places/ groups of people who are this accepting. We’ve all found a home here that will love us no matter what.

Infinite Hugs,
Molly :)

Autonomy Breeds Creativity

To Whom It May Concern:

The nonjudgmental atmosphere/culture that is furnished by the East Campus dorms is indubitably one of the most wonderful things I have ever come across in my short time alive. You walk around for your entire life trying to keep yourself quiet because somebody called you weird or some other degrading socially acceptable epithet just for being yourself. Maybe you find a group of friends that you can be “weird” together with, or even just people who tolerate you. But there’s never a feeling of true belonging. Now you come to East Campus, and you’re free. People are excited about what they want to do and not afraid to show it. Ideas mingle and become projects. You find someone who likes that one strange thing that you thought NO ONE ELSE knew about and BAM you have an explosively interesting conversation. And maybe that conversation will lead into something magical: art, engineering, science, you name it. And you can really only have this with a special kind of autonomy that really attracted me to living on the East Side of Campus in the first place. You really feel a great joy and hope for humanity knowing that this culture and these people are around. Knowing that there are places where it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, that it only matters that you care and are willing to learn is just splendid. This place really teaches you that “hey buddy, you don’t need anyone to tell you how or why you should do things. You have the greatest thinking machine in the universe right in that noggin of yours. You have tools to do whatever you dream of. Go do it!” And that is what I believe is the message of MIT. We’re innovators, movers and shakers, builders and makers. Scientists, architects, artists, imagineers, and we’re all just awesome individuals given the right environment to enliven the life of our minds.

So… yeah! East Campus is great! And so are you!

With hosed regards,
Daniel “Ber” Bespalov

P.S. A “Monkey see, monkey do” mentality won’t make an environment that’s able to nurture anyone into a leader or some other great and vague word that we’re ostensibly being conditioned to become. Restrictions and limits only help to restrain the mind, and eventually just turn us into bureaucrats (not that being a bureaucrat is a terrible thing! I’ve read too much Sci-Fi/Dystopian Fiction! I’m sorry!)

There’s no place like home.

When my family first visited me in EC, my brother told me the building looked like a tenement. My mother promptly responded, “She’s here for the culture!” It’s that simple. A place that is tolerant and accepting, a place that has people that feel like home, makes everything worth it. And part of it is the freedom to express yourself and enjoy the expression of others. There’s a sort of unparalleled openness of discussion, and a fantastic mix of uncensored people who facilitate these sorts of conversation. Nobody is ostracized by being “that one person” who defies the “accepted” norms, because definitions of normal don’t apply on the East Side.

I love recognizing the faces of everyone in the lounge as I walk past, and I love introducing new people to our hall, which isn’t really as scary as you might be led to believe. I love walking out of my door to see the smiling bears on the Grateful Dead mural across from my room, and I love the rainbow and red lights that make waking up a little easier on the eyes. I love the sense of history and tradition that permeates from the very walls themselves, and I love that we’ve created so many stories of our own by just living our lives here. And I’ve gotten so used to the smell of the place that I’m inclined to believe that stockholm syndrome that has developed this far could be classified as love as well.

This summer, I spent three months with exclusively non-MIT students for the first time in several years. And all of them expressed admiration for the sheer amount of experiences I could share about my dorm, about the breadth of things we’d experimented with and the uniqueness of my college life. For the first time, I realized that so many of the great things that I took for granted about the people and place that I lived with were not the regular, sterile dorm life in other universities. The three AM conversations and random baking endeavors, running barefoot through the snow and consoling friends over hot tea, and the bright colored hair and verbal memes I’ve acquired would never have been possible if MIT was like every other college dorm system, where dorms are uniform and regulated to eradicate personality, and most people move off campus because there’s nothing keeping them there.

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You’re crazy? Me too!

East Side culture is often characterized as “counterculture” and often criticized for being needlessly or childishly against all things “normal.” Honestly, I feel freedom here to be myself: very much mainstream in some ways, a bit off the beaten path in other ways. I disagree strongly with anyone who says we dye our hair and the like just to be “cool.” Nope. We’re just celebrating our quirks. You should try it sometime.

MIT’s unique academic rigor is enabled by an undergraduate residential system which is idiosyncratic to MIT, and that is good.

I was asked by some of our students to contribute my point of view to the essays being assembled in this collection. The issue at hand is so much more important to MIT’s success than most of my academic and administrative colleagues seem to understand that I feel compelled to comply with this request. In fact, I would have liked to have spent an extended effort on this essay, collecting my thoughts into a brief but compelling argument of only a few paragraphs in length. Alas, time is against me. With apologies, I have made no attempt to be brief.

I want to add my voice to that of the other writers in this collection in expressing my conviction that MIT’s undergraduate residential system is one of the core elements that contributes to our success as a school. However, I must also express agreement with those writers who point out that the residential system only contributes positively to MIT when it is operating according to certain values — like personal choice, a sense of ownership by the residents, and academic community governance — which our students seem to intuitively understand, but which are being eroded by a series of policy changes that appear to be attempting to bring MIT’s idiosyncratic system more in line with what would be more broadly recognized as modern best practices in the field of student life administration. I have no doubt that this gradual elimination of the natural support system which enabled MIT’s highly demanding academic culture in years past, together with the more recent attempts to replace it with a more managed and controllable system, are the principal causes for the escalation of student stress in unhealthy directions that we have all observed in recent years, and which has been extensively discussed in the news media both inside and out of MIT. To enable their success under the rigors of our academics, we need our students to feel like their living group at MIT is their home, not a temporary shelter owned by an organization hostile to their interests. When we take action to undermine that sense of the home, we insert new sources of stress into the community which carry no educational merit.

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What makes our dorms great made MIT great

You may or may not know the history behind MIT’s Building 20 – depending on your age, you may have even worked in it at one point. It was torn down when I was three, so I can’t directly relate to it. But when I heard the story of this ugly temporary building, and how much it did for the US in World War 2, and of all of the amazing things and people that happened inside it, I was moved. And when I walk through the building 32D lobby, I generally stop to look at all of the plaques adorning the walls as a monument to that “Magical Incubator”. Reading the things that those who worked in building 20 have to say reminds me of what I think MIT can and should be, and of all the things I love about my home.

(For context: I’m a course 8 sophomore in East Campus.)

1. Passion

“[Because the doors were always open,] as you wandered down the corridors, you saw what was going on in the rooms … In that process, you learned of many wondrous things in addition to your own work.” –Professor Walter E. Morrow

“Sessions typically began around 11 PM and lasted until 3 or 4 in the morning. They would typically sit at a conference table, while we graduate students would sit in the background and listen in.” –Professor Alan V. Oppenheim

“It was always a fairly wonderful mix of people concerned with different disciplines. We got along fairly well together, so that you could always pop over next door and talk with somebody who had nothing to do with what you were doing. Simply because everybody had a passion for doing what they were doing.” –Professor Jerome Y. Lettvin

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned more in East Campus than in any academic building. Simply by being in lounges, listening to conversations, getting in arguments and turning to Wikipedia, I’ve learned about topics as diverse as the Riemann-Stieltjes integral, computer security, rope hauling systems, and the Freedom of Information Act, none of which would have ever come up in my physics classes. My recent interest in signal processing and speech recognition is partly spurred by Course 8’s flexible major option, but also by the excitement of a friend of mine who’s worked in those areas and geeked out about them in East Campus.

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