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.

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I live in East Campus

People say that East Campus residents all look the same and do the same things, but this is at best an old, tired joke. I don’t really know how to use power tools, I’ve never dyed my hair, and I’ve never gone hacking (and among all EC residents, I am by no means a special snowflake in any of those respects). When I was a freshman and insecure about fitting in at my new home, I was worried that these things implied that I would be seriously alienated from EC, but I don’t worry about that anymore.

EC isn’t about sharing interests with a wide swath of the other residents. Empirically speaking, I think that the only real prerequisite for being part of the EC community is the ability to tolerate other people’s weirdness (in exchange for them tolerating your own); everything else is optional. I’ve heard plenty of people express the sentiment that EC is exclusionary toward us non-hardcore, boring folks (and I’ve thought this myself when feeling especially cynical), but again, I don’t think it’s true.

To the contrary, the times when I feel like a part of my living community are also the times when I feel the most like myself. Other EC residents have written beautifully about how much their friends and their hall mean to them, and how invaluable the EC community has been in their lives. I feel the same way, so I won’t go more into that here.

I’ll just add this: East Campus is both where I learned how to be true to myself, and where I learned how to change and grow. I think the balance between these two goals is crucial, and I think the environment of EC is great for finding this balance. When I encounter something unusual or outside of my comfort zone, I can decide whether or not to try it out; and if I try it out, I’m free to decide whether I like it or if it’s not for me. I’ve picked my own path through EC, but with 10 halls and hundreds of residents, there’s a path for everyone.

This is a rather rosy view of EC, and I’d be lying if I said that I’ve enjoyed every second of living here. All large, tight-knit communities produce conflict and unpleasantness, and EC is no exception. But, like most of us, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Free to be me!

SH initially attracted me because it was the “oldest” housing on campus, part of the original pouring of the concrete, as it were.

What I found there liberated me from a shy (very) sheltered Asian girl from an Evangelical (actually, more rabid) Christian family into a thinking human being able to stand on her own.

I had many friends who had chosen Baker/NH/”the other side” of the campus who later regretted their choices as they didn’t know.  However, having settle into their chosen housing, inertia took over.

East side of the campus meant that I could walk back to my “home” and get away from the crushing pressure of the academia.  It meant, I could let loose and no one would judge my eclectic taste or “weirdness” (different values).  I meant that being free from judgement, I was free to express myself in ways I never thought possible.

This kind of freedom is something that needs to be treasured!  Not only did I get a first rate education while living there, the people who chose to live there became my close family with whom I still keep close contact after all these years (well, FB helps a bit with that).

I could never have taken that first hesitating step without the support of the upperclass women who told me, “everyone’s opinion counts here” and she meant it.  The fact that I still remember her and her words which had a huge impact on my life should be noted (Thank you, Tamar More!)

Choosing the East Side

I just wanted to share a memory of how I came to choose the East Side.

I wanted, or, thought I wanted, a normal, typical college experience. When I looked through the materials housing sent, I thought… Baker. Maybe Burton-Conner. I’d attended some pre-frosh events, and I liked the West Campus women I had met. I thought that was the place for me.

But. I was curious about this other side of campus I had not explored yet.

So, I asked to be placed in EC for rush week. In the spirit of being able to make an informed decision.

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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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Worth every stair

When I came for CPW I was housed in Fenway and it was magical, and I came home that spring just bursting with visions of my new life. When I came for Rush I met people from EasT camPUS and fell in love with everything: the murals, the irreverence, the fire extinguisher wars, the cult of identity around all the things I had always loved but was weird for doing in my hometown. I can’t even articulate the relief I felt every day coming up to my fifth floor room (no elevator) and knowing that I was safe from classes and outsiders and judgement. Four in the morning under the blacklight glow of the dragon doing 18.02 with people who I am still best friends with 15 years later.

Fall of my freshman year I had an accident that meant that I couldn’t walk. After I got out of the ICU the admins offered to put me on the first floor in my same dorm and I refused, insisting on walking up every single one of the stairs to the fifth floor every day of the months while I healed. I have vivid memories of the whole hall helping me up the stairs: one person above me in case I pitched forward, one behind in case I slipped, one at my side to hold my cane and another moving ahead carrying the manual wheelchair. Nowhere in my life have I ever had such good friends as those I had at MIT on my hall, who took such good and true care of each other in unreasonably bad situations. It was a support group that would only be diluted with outside observation: assessment, judgement, surveillance. The freedom to care would be replaced by the fear of being watched.

To this day when I meet an alum I make it a point to find out quickly where they lived. I define my body and my life by those I surrounded myself with intentionally, not by those I happened to be placed with in my major or in an affinity group or club.

What Community Means

Here are a few things that Random Hall meant to me in the four years I lived there, with some appearances from other dorms as well. It’s hard for me to explain why this community has meant so much to me, and why it had to be the east side, but maybe at least these stories will illustrate how much it mattered.

I didn’t originally intend to get involved in any sort of leadership activities at MIT. But I joined some student groups that the friends I met in Random were involved in. Freshman spring, I found myself sending a carefully crafted email to an administrator, presenting the case for why she should accept her nomination for the annual Big Screw competition. Since then, I’ve done far more. Random turned me into someone I never dreamed I could possibly be, and I love it.

Halfway through my sophomore year, I was unhappy with my living situation and wanted a change. A spot opened up on the floor I’d been spending most of my time on, and several people who lived there immediately started encouraging me to move. The problem was that the spot was in a double, and I’d become attached to the privacy I had in my tiny single. I talked to a few older friends. Some thought I should stay, some thought I should go. None of them convinced me. A few days of waffling later, it was the night before the floor I wanted to move to was having a floor dinner. As a non-resident, I wasn’t invited, and as I sat around being sad about it in my treasured tiny single, I knew that I had my answer. I needed to be fully a part of the community I’d attached myself to, and that meant that I had to move. The next morning, I woke up to an email from a friend on that floor, inviting me to the dinner. I ran upstairs and threw my arms around her, then told her that I was going to move.

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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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This is why I’m here.

In high school I was pretty stubborn about going to some average, pretty-good-but-nothing-special college. It was a win-win plan: the security of knowing I’d  be accepted/be able to afford it, not too intense of a workload, and not feeling like the dumbest person there. The plan instantly changed the moment I stepped into Bexley Hall for the first time.

I had come to visit a friend during my junior year of high school, and he happened to live in Bexley. When I first saw it, I couldn’t understand how it was even a college dorm. Every minute, there was another surprise. You can paint the walls? Cats?! My experience in Bexley made me want to explore more of MIT, and my attraction to the East Side culture completely overrode my desire to settle for a “pretty-good-but-nothing-special” school.

I think it seemed understandable to my friends and teachers that I wanted so badly to go to MIT, but many of them could not understand why, if I was rejected, “you’ll probably get into Harvard/Princeton/Yale anyway, it’s okay” wouldn’t do. The reason I am here has nothing to do with the prestige, and while I’m certainly grateful for the opportunities and quality of education I’m receiving, that’s not what made me fall in love.

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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.

It’s not North Campus, it’s not South Campus

East Campus is where the Rush Chairs can show up with several pounds of flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and butter, and two dozen eggs, and seconds later there are 8 hall members in the kitchen making cookies to replace the snacks that somehow never got purchased for the freshmen coming to Rush.

I will never hear the opening of Battlestar Galactica without remembering sitting in a darkened lounge with a dozen hallmates (at least – we could pack ourselves in really tightly), watching the show on the projector we installed and maintained.

I am immensely proud to have a mural I painted decorating the walls of my hall, sharing space with many others, some painted before I was born.

My hall built and installed a sound system in our lounges, kitchen, and bathrooms, which was controlled via an web interface. For several months, one of the buttons on my laptop would play ‘Push It To The Limit’ in one of the lounges.

These things are all East Campus to me. The summers I went home, I missed it all the time and counted the days until I could go back. If I was sick, my friends refused to let me climb onto my (rather precarious – the path up involved the windowsill) loft, and made me sleep on their couch instead, so they could take care of me. If I was having a bad day and needed cheering up with a cute picture from the internet, I only had to ask the first person I found in the hall. When I wanted to learn how to use power tools, or I couldn’t understand my psets, or I had a game I wanted to play, help was only steps away. 5 years since I graduated, and I’ll smell something that reminds me of EC, or see something out of the corner of my eye, and get hit by a wave of homesickness. East Campus was my home, my family, my safety net.

Mens et manus, motherf***ers.

Many of these posts share a common theme of a sense of home and family. This is true for me as well. MIT, East Campus, my hall, is the first place that has ever felt like home. My classmates, dormmates, hallmates, are the truest family I have known. But it’s more than that. East Campus is my home. But it is also my classroom. My workshop. My laboratory. The place where I’ve learned to bring an idea from conception to design to completion, to manage a team, and to be an effective minion. Where my friends and I have tried to defeat the safety features on a laptop battery to power a robot, build a remote triggering system out of a wireless doorbell, convert our wall into a electronics prototyping board, and experience Minecraft in real life. The place where the freedom to modify our space, paint our walls, build our furniture, wire our lights and our music players and our soda machines leads to more practical experience than any lab class. A safe environment in which to push our limits and grow, both personally and technically.

My hallmates are my family and best friends. But they are also my colleagues. My teachers and advisors. My co-conspirators. The people with whom I make, hack, dream, innovate, learn. The people who, my freshman Rush, before I formally lived in EC, taught me how to solder surface-mount parts, helped me extract my long, un-tied-back hair from a power drill (oops), and showed me what it’s like to feel comfortable in a community. The people who showed me what “saute” means, how to email a professor for help, how to prepare for an interview, and how to best respond to a blackout (rock climbing with headlamps), uncountably many skills and pieces of knowledge. The people with whom I invent and build, and the people who will form my professional network in the future when I’m looking for a job, or starting a company.

The summer after my junior year of high school, I visited the Media Lab as part of a class trip. Upon return, we were asked to write a reflection on our experience. I wrote about how cool it was to see a place where people with all kinds of backgrounds, fields of specialty, and interests work side by side on projects of immensely varying scope. How I could see how the flow of ideas between people and disciplines created a uniquely creative space. Biologists work next to computer scientists work next to artists, and the product is much greater than anything possible when disciplines are siloed. I was cautioned that the Media Lab was unique, that I would be unlikely to find such an environment anywhere else, that I shouldn’t let it set my expectations for what my life as a student and engineer would be.

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In this space, with these people, I grew up

I am trying to find the right words to explain why East Campus was integral to my growth as an individual.

Maybe it was the fact that I needed to learn to cook for myself, and learn how to eat healthily through some trial and error (I was 18, I could bounce back pretty fast from any ‘errors’).

Maybe it was interacting with the blend of zany people I have only ever found in East Campus , and realizing that I likewise didn’t need to define myself by the expectations of others.

Maybe it was the build culture of my hall, and the chance to learn how to use power tools every Rush for the fun of it.

Maybe it was the support of my friends when I was crying from the stress of MIT, and the freshman year roommate who always knew that I just needed a hug and someone to sit with me until the feeling passed, even at 4 am.

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More Adolescent Feels

I could write so so so much about the “East Side,”  about all of the wonderful assholes who are part of it, about the willingness of people to do whatever random, stupid shit you can come up with, about its culture that doesn’t accept your views because it didn’t care in the first place, about how it’s made someone who’s always felt isolated feel so much less so than ever before, about the fact that I consider the East Side, not where I’m from, my home, but alas, I have work to do.  Instead, I’ll just say this.

I’m afraid.  So many of us are.  We fear that in the very near future, this habitat won’t exist any more–that students like us won’t find their places at MIT.  MIT’s dorm’s shouldn’t all have an “East Side” culture, but MIT does need some with it.  Other posts on this site prove that.

This is about more than just where we eat, sleep and shower.  The East Side is where we live and grow and experience.

It’s our  home.  Here I undresswhether I want to walk around wearing a sparkly leotard or strip off the mask that shields me from the world.  Where there’s no one to judge.  Where I know people who care are.  I laugh here.  I cry here.  I curse the world here. It’s my home.

<3

The Lost

 

 

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.

home, here.

I didn’t always live in East Campus. I used to live on the other side of Mass Ave, in what seems like a different life. it was quiet there. (it’s not quiet here).  I had friends but some of them left, or moved. I tried switching rooms, parts of the building, but I couldn’t find a place to live that made me happy. it’s easy to isolate yourself if there’s no one around. it’s even easier for others not to notice whether you’re there or not.

when I moved to EC, I had to adjust to living with people again. it had been weeks since I’d arrived at my room and actually had a conversation with another resident; it had been months since I’d considered where I lived to be home. my first weeks here were a blur of boxes and bad ideas, painting and people. there were people here – amazing, vibrant, indescribably unique people. and they have made all the difference.

even now, I can hear people chatting in the kitchen, people walking through the courtyard, and a particularly needy cat trying to get my attention. my door is open, my mood is good, and my opinion of MIT is far more positive than it was two years ago. moving to EC was one of the best decisions I made at MIT.

sometimes I wish I had changed things, moved here earlier, lived here longer. but mostly, I am indescribably grateful that I have the chance to live here now.

Open Doors

I lived at East Campus many years ago. I am a Florey alum and proud to still wear the T-shirt on occasion. I loved the abundant creativity, acceptance of anything you were, family oriented feeling that exuded from every pore of those EC concrete walls…walls that were covered with layers of paint from previous residents. Purple, Green, Black, Neon Orange…colors that said who we were, who we are. There are many stories I could relate that describe the characteristics of EC that I hold most dear, but most of the other posts have stated those sentiments better than I could.

It seems that safety is at the heart of the argument for sanitizing the East Side and removing its personality. Well, I am the mother of 2 children who could potentially grow up to attend MIT. If one of my children asked me where on campus, I would want them to live, this is what would be running through my head before I gave my answer.

At East Campus, I never locked my door and frequently left it standing wide open. Was I afraid someone would steal my stuff or barge in and hurt me? Never! In fact, once when I was very sick, another student from my hall who wasn’t really someone I would have considered a good friend knew I wasn’t feeling well and insisted I leave my door open so folks could look in on me and make sure I was ok.

In living groups other than those on the East Side, I would be afraid my child could remain anonymous enough that no one would notice if she were not well (physically or emotionally). Would I really want to send my child off to the pressure cooker of MIT to be alone in a generic living group, with hospital white walls and fluorescent lighting where everyone kept their doors firmly closed and “safe”?  No, I would want her to live in a place where her crazy ideas would be accepted and others would join in to help her make them reality. I would want her to live in a place where spontaneous sessions of some horrendously complicated board game happened with regularity with large percentages of her neighbors. I would want her to live in a place where she could decorate her own room as she saw fit, using her own power tools and imagination. I would want her to live in a place that would nurture her creative spirit and give her the chance to learn how to be her. I would want her to live in a place where no one was really allowed to be a ghost, where everyone was drawn out of their hiding places to participate in college life and feel like a part of something special. I would want her to find a family away from home.

So, where would I send my little girl to live at MIT? I’d want her to live on the East Side, the safest place on campus.

Community

If I ever mess up big-time, I feel that EC will have my back. The group may not always approve of or support an individual’s actions, but when push comes to shove and the shit hits the fan, EC protects it’s own – and that’s not something you find everywhere. Because of East Campus’s community I don’t feel like just another little fish in the shark-infested water.

How Random has made a difference for me

Now that I’m a sophomore, I’ve had time to reflect on how different I am now than I was before coming to MIT. Just a few years ago, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to sit in the corner at a party, just listening to conversations without participating in them myself. I would often not respond to hugs, and I would instead just stand there and look annoyed. I would usually rather read a book or play an iPhone game rather than talk with people. During breaks, I would go for weeks being only entertained by my computer, not talking to anyone outside my family, and I wouldn’t mind at all.

Now though, I find myself wondering if it is possible to switch from being an introvert to being an extrovert in a little over a year. Throughout all of last year, I didn’t study in my room once, and the waking time I would spend in my room each day was probably less than half an hour. Instead, I would usually find myself in a lounge or kitchen, often filled with half a dozen people. I didn’t watch a single TV show or movie unless it was part of a group event. I found myself giving and receiving more hugs than I’d had in the past several years combined, as well as participating in a number of “cuddle piles,” something which I never would have imagined myself doing. And when summer started, I didn’t last a few days until I started chatting and playing card games with friends online. And while I always had fun hanging out with friends before, I realize I now find it relaxing, rather than draining.

I think the reason for this change has been the Random Hall community and culture. Random Hall is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There are always things that are happening; board games, food mobs, play/musical mobs, baking, long arguments about the mechanics behind Live Action Mafia, animated discussions about math problems, video games, LARPS, cooking for MITBeef, blanket fort building, or even just group psetting.

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Little Things

I came to East Campus last fall feeling like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate: I had more freedom and opportunities than I could ever have imagined laid right before my feet and no idea what to do with them.  (Granted he had just finished college and I had just started, but just go with it).  People were building in the courtyard and in their rooms, wiring circuits onto the hall walls, painting their own walls, cooking, coding, and playing Ultimate Frisbee out by the Green Building.  I felt overwhelmed and aware of all the things I didn’t know how to do, but I very quickly got over it once I started talking to people and participating.

That same fear appears quite often when I’m hosed, and it stings every time.  MIT definitely has moments of nirvana, but when you feel sad, stressed, or suffocated by all the work, it really hits you hard and without mercy.

I’ve found the cure to be buried within the people I’ve known in the past year.  I love all of them, but I want to talk briefly about one group I grew close to last semester.  The first night I was psetting in the lounge, they said hello to me even though they either didn’t know me that well or had never seen me before.  The second night, a few took me up to the top floor of the Green Building.  We sat down in a dark classroom, looked down at the hazy streets and white lights of Cambridge, and wondered who else might be awake.  Within a week, I knew almost everyone and felt completely comfortable crashing in the lounge or joining in on an episode of Game of Thrones.  I opted to transfer a little later and got accepted.  For reasons I will never understand, these people took a chance on me.  It means more to me than I can say.

Like I said, MIT is a place of two extremes, and growth in such an environment often occurs slowly and painfully.  But the people I live with are my family here, and when I’m with them, the growth doesn’t feel nearly as painful.  It’s the little things (a hug, a friendly card or plate of cookies, a conversation about life, or just seeing someone’s face) people do that make this possible.  That’s how it should be.

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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MIT is not MIT without the East Side

When I was applying to MIT, I had this notion of it being a place for people who weren’t only super smart, but also really creative – people who build roller coasters, put interesting things on rooftops, make robots and crazy machines to do their bidding, push the boundaries of the definition of ‘vehicle’, and so on.  When I visited during CPW, I learned that the heart of this unique culture was at the East Side dorms, so I knew that this was where I would want to live.

Others have already said plenty about the wonderful community of the East Side dorms, so I’ll just add this:  MIT is a tough place.  It’s not all roller coasters and liquid nitrogen ice cream all the time.  MIT will crush your spirit and deprive you of sleep.  If it hadn’t been for the community I had on my hall, the community that was looking out for me and being there with me through the ups and downs, I very likely would not have stayed.

I didn’t really fully appreciate what a unique place East Campus was until after I left.  I am currently attending graduate school, and when I started, I thought I should live in one of the grad dorms so that I could live in a community like the one I had at EC.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Everyone stayed in their rooms with the doors shut.  When I propped open my door with a large stack of books (they were spring-loaded to slam shut automatically) I just got some weird looks from people passing by in the hallways.  The hallways were monitored with security cameras and painted an institutional white – not exactly a welcoming environment to sit around and hang out together.  

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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.

Home is…

It took one term of personal terribleness before I opened up and started exploring MIT, beginning with my dorm. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the people around me in old East Campus. After another term of terrible grades, I started fall of 2010 dreading academics but quite enjoying my social life.

Naturally I felt pretty devastated when I was forced to leave after IAP 2011. I felt like I was being torn away from the one place I truly felt at home. I felt like EC was my biggest support group.

1.5 years later I was back on MIT’s front steps, looking around at the school I was eager to start at again. I knew I would be living in Baker instead of EC. But that hasn’t stopped me from spending as much time as I can at home. In a school full of extraordinary people, East Campus has shown me some of the brightest, the best, and the most entertaining characters of all in the story of my life.

I’m the person I am today because I failed and fell down harder than I could have ever imagined. I’m also the person today because I had the tenacity to get back up and the support of some amazing people who helped pull me back. None of that would have been possible without friends and memories. If home is where the heart is, then I wouldn’t have fought to get back to MIT if my heart wasn’t in East Campus.

<3

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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When lightning strikes.

“You want to move to that dorm?”

That’s what my parents asked me when I told them I was considering moving from Simmons to East Campus through REX my freshman year. They had been given a tour of EC during CPW and hadn’t really gotten it. To be honest, I don’t think I had gotten it at that point, but something told me that whatever “it” was, it was something I was going to need. That would definitely come to be true in the year to come, where I’d hit some of my lowest lows, and I honestly believe that had I not moved to EC, I would never have found my way out of them.

Because nowhere else do I think I could have found a family like I have here.

I found a family that noticed my door had been closed for two days since I was sick and came to check on me. And upon finding me sniffling and gushing mucus quickly mobilized to produce chicken soup and tissues and tea and company. I’d known these people for two weeks at that point, but I was one of their own and we look out for each other. That even when I would wake up in the middle of the night spooked and feeling alone, all I had to do was open my door and I would find some little enclave of people to find shelter with until I felt like sleeping again (and in hindsight, I do not think it was mere coincidence that they were often just outside my door, if only because sometimes I am now a part of that enclave).

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Why I came to MIT

Ever since I started thinking about college, I’d wanted to go to MIT. It was the best engineering school in the country and I wanted to be an engineer, so MIT seemed like the perfect fit. In high school I started to learn about the culture of the school. I watched videos of students building and riding crazy contraptions and read stories of the cool hacks that had been pulled over the years. At the time, I had no idea that this culture that I loved and so much identified with had its home on the East Side. After being admitted, I tried to learn as much about the dorms as possible. I found myself drawn to East Campus because of its incredibly unique culture. Where else did students paint beautiful murals on the walls, build forts and rides, and rappel down the stairwells? When I was temped in EC for CPW, I met some of the students who were doing all of this amazing stuff. At first, I was nervous approaching them, because they seemed so much cooler than I. But once I actually got to know these people, I realized that they were incredibly warm, welcoming, and genuine. I left CPW feeling great about MIT and fantastic about East Campus, but I hadn’t yet committed. MIT was awesome, but I had an offer from another school that was almost too good to be true. I finally made my decision when I thought back to my times at EC. Yes, I would get a great education at both schools, but only at MIT could I be a part of the East Campus community.

I’ve only been here a month, but EC already feels like home. My hall, Tetazoo, is not just where my bed is. It’s where my closest friends are: both my freshman peers and my upperclassmen mentors. It is the site of movies, smoothies, pancakes, screaming, dancing, and laughing.

I never knew how much I could learn in such a short period of time, not from my classes, but from my hall. I’ve learned how to get to the supermarket, how to use the campus printers, how to cook stuffed peppers, how to use a sledgehammer, and how to make my own harness out of webbing. Aside from these practical skills, I’ve gained insight into what classes to take and how to manage my time. I’ve found out about clubs and opportunities that I wouldn’t have known about had my older hallmates not clued me in.

Although MIT has a myriad of support services, if I ever had a problem, those on my hall, especially the GRTs and the MedLink would be the first people I’d turn to. They are so valuable because they know me well and because I can trust them to act in my best interests.

I suck at conclusions. See above post!

Tarapulin: a shoobleglorp higlfup

I started writing about my feelings for East Campus and my hall more than a week ago. I have a huge amount that I want to say and more emotions to share than I have words to cover. But I’ve been reminded that my post isn’t useful to others if I never finish it, so for now, I’m making myself write. The product might be imperfect and incomplete, but there is no way I can roll some of the most complex and wonderful years of my life into a neat package of essay, so I accept that.

My current task: write as much as I can before my laptop battery dies. (I could, of course, plug in my computer, but where then lies the challenge?)

The problem with that task: how?

How do I build a wide enough web of words to express the degree to which I love this place? It was here that I learned what it means to fall in love. What I’m referring to here is not romantic love; I mean the extent to which I have found a second family here. I grew up happily in a family I love dearly, but to find another and be old enough to feel and watch it happening has been incredible. There are multiple people on my hall I have told that I would be happy spending my life living within 100 ft of, and I’m not kidding. Though my years of school before college were a mixed bag socially, there were definitely good times. Deciding to come to MIT was an incredibly difficult decision for me partly because I was leaving everyone I knew behind. There were people in high school who were my friends and with whom I liked spending time. (Now there are people in my life who are my friends, whom I live with, whom I spend time with and study with and joke and around with and punch out of affection; in short, whom I love.)

One of the things that I realized before coming to MIT was that as great as my friends were, they got royally bored in hardware stores. This isn’t a big deal; I didn’t usually hang out with my friends in hardware stores. But hardware stores are awesome, and the people I live with now also think that they are awesome. This sounds like a silly example, but in the May after my senior year of high school, shortly after I’d accepted my spot at MIT, I went to a hardware store with my friends, and that is when I convinced myself that moving was going to give me a chance to meet people even more awesome than I knew then—people who thought that hardware stores were cool. And so when halfway through my freshman year I found myself walking around in a hardware store with others from my hall and they were as enthralled as I, I knew that I had made the correct choices in life. I knew that I was coming to MIT because the people here are amazing, but I really didn’t know how much so. I don’t think my imagination had space to handle it.

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Long live seniorhaus

When I applied to MIT, I knew I wanted to live on the east side. That’s where all the weird, creative kids were working on crazy projects at 2am. Those were my people. Those were the people who helped out with the latest thermo-hell-problem, who helped me take apart an old TV so that we could turn it into an oscilloscope, who left fresh homemade waffles on my desk when I came back from turning in a pset after a grueling all-nighter, who kept in touch over the summer when one of my immediate family was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

To this day, my parents talk about “the MIT Sorting Hat” (aka the REX housing survey) and how lucky I was to have found my community in Senior House. It isn’t lost on them that I spent four years being part of a family who helped carry me through some of my best and worst moments, or that along the way I grew into a more compassionate, accepting, self-assured person. How lucky indeed.

MIT taught me how to be a better engineer. Senior House taught me how to be a better person.

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 a community

The best thing about my four years of living in Senior Haus (and spending a lot of time across the street at East Campus) was the community. The East Side was how I found pset buddies, how I found friends, how I found older mentors who could advise me on navigating the ‘tvte, how I found food coops, how I found people for random adventures around Boston. Living on the East Side really allowed me to create connections with people in ways I don’t think would have happened had I lived in a “traditional” dorm with depressingly white walls and set mealtimes in a dining hall with cliques and drama about who is sitting with who. The kitchens really allowed for a more organically-grown community, with residents coming together over projects they were passionate about (rather than artificially over food made by some faceless underpaid line cook), and using cooking for others as a way to show caring for one another. Steer Roast is marked on my calendar every year for the foreseeable future. I graduated three years ago and I still miss living on the East Side.

Ditto.

A lot has already been said. East Campus is very much a home, and mine as well. Two weeks into freshman fall I knew the names of everyone on my hall. I share interests with enough of them that we can mob to local and very-not-local conventions. We cook, clean, watch movies, and pset–together. Having that social group around me when MIT points its firehose at me is invaluable, and I will keep in contact with them long after I graduate. After all, many of their nicknames are their email addresses.

Calloused and Creative

People wear shoes here

in the winter time

on occasion.

 

The denizens of East Campus are as hard as the callouses on the bottoms of their feet and in a good way.

Now, a huge part of the EC mantra is being hardcore, whether it be academically or otherwise. Though I don’t believe this is always the best life style to live by as it tends to be a recipe for biting off more than you can chew by unhinging your jaw, it does fit the MIT experience. Those who decide to attend MIT commit themselves to (usually) 4 years of high expectations from teachers, research advisors, friends, and even oneself; students are also expected to enjoy it, and for the most part we do. At East Campus this fervor tends to bleed into one’s personal interests too. I have friends who lose sleep over personal projects involving ludicrous amounts of LEDs, or go on whimsical mid-semester trips to Utah to hike canyons. I am constantly amazed and inspired by the creativity and drive of the people I live with. However, this fervor and these expectations to be “hardcore” can be a burden.

East Campus is a diverse place. There are people who have been through much more than “three tests on the same day” by freshmen year and others for whom MIT is the hardest thing they’ve ever been through. I’m half way done with MIT (scary thought) and I can say that MIT and everything that comes along with moving away from home have been a very trying but rewarding experience. However, I could not have done it and cannot imagine doing it without my fellow East Campus residents. Though most people at MIT find some sort support group, East Campus, again, is a diverse place. Not only do people come from different backgrounds, they also come with wildly different personalities, and interests. For many, including myself, it is perhaps the first time any one of us feels at home and at ease.  Not only do we have our immediate friends within East Campus, we have an infrastructure of autonomy that supports our wondrous and intense way of life. From GRTs to EC exec, to hallchairs we have people to turn to who can listen to us, vie for our rights to be creative and “hardcore” like MIT wants us to be even if it’s our definition of “hardcore,” and most importantly be there for us when we’re too “hardcore.”

 

People wear shoes here

if they choose to

live here if they choose to

 

My Feelings Through Admissions Blog Posts

I’m an MIT Admissions Blogger. I write a lot about East Campus, and I write a lot about Tetazoo. I’d like to post about my feelings about EC and Tetazoo with lots of links to my blog posts, some pictures, and a lot of words.

One of my first blog posts ever as a new frosh at MIT was title “Cats!!” and the first line of the post is:

“East Campus is the best home I could have ever asked for.”

I said that after only living in East Campus for less than four weeks, and I still feel that way two years later.

We have some of the coolest traditions that happen each year, and we go on some pretty great adventures. There’s caving and quarrying and camping and more camping.  We have faculty dinners, where we show our favorite members of the MIT community how much they mean to us by feeding them glorious quantities of food. We have our finals week traditions, which also showcase how awesome our community is as we cook food and cookies for each other and provide incredible moral support during the most stressful times of year.

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Home

Starting this post has been very difficult for me. I feel like I am expected to talk extensively about the hacking culture of the east side dorms and how it has helped me develop into a perfect academically inclined butterfly. To be honest, I can’t say whether or not my living group has been a net positive or negative for the state of my gpa. That’s not to say that I haven’t learned anything from my dorm or my hall. In fact, I could list endless skills that I have picked up just from living where I do; skills that had I lacked, I never would have had the confidence to take certain classes or reach certain goals. However, when I ruminate on my experiences at MIT and specifically the impact my hall has had on me, I don’t think about my academics. I think back to social mistakes and successes, responsibilities earned, hard lessons learned, failed relationships, and longstanding friendships. Since I feel like I have more of a right to speak on these subjects with passion derived from experience, that is where I will make most of my point.

Previous posts have mentioned the self-regulated social structure of East Campus and why it is important. I want to go deeper and explain how extensive our support networks can be. Each hall in East Campus has 2 obvious sources of support which are GRTs and hall chairs. The dorm acts almost as a blown up version of a hall that has Student-elected Executives who act similarly to hall chairs on a grander scale. As well, the House Master is akin to a GRT for the dorm. I have never been part of EC Exec so I cannot adequately comment on their struggles and responsibilities. I do want to say that from my observation, they have always done an amazing job of shouldering a million responsibilities so that the rest of us can go on living our lives the way we want to. I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend that the Exec’s job over the past few years has seemed to become our diplomat to the administration, a more and more stressful job.

A position I can comment on is that of the hall chair, which I held for 2 years. Hall chairs are elected every year by their hall to be people of kind nature, solid scheduling skills, and nebulous authority. I feel like Hall chairs are a good representation of my favorite part of EC culture, everyone’s drive to look out for each other. I think this drive is facilitated by the mixture of different ages in one living group. When seniors live and work with freshmen, they desire to look out for them and help them avoid oft repeated mistakes. There is so much I learned, socially and academically, from the upperclassmen on my hall throughout my MIT career. I have made … plentiful … mistakes but for every memory of a failure or a stressful incident, there’s a memory of love & support from the members of my hall.

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A Sunny Place for Shady People

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:

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Bexley – the best and worst part of my time at MIT

For the last year and a half since Bexley closed I have been relatively unable to compile my thoughts into something coherent enough to be shared.  This is my attempt, bear with me.  It’s not all rainbows and butterflies.

I think I am somewhat on my own when I say that I hated CPW.  I found very few students who had similar experiences to mine in high school.  I came to MIT knowing I wanted to be a HASS major, and without the connection of loving math/science/insert STEM subject here I really struggled to identify with other MIT students.  Then I encountered some residents from Bexley Hall and for the first and only time that weekend, I had fun.  My running tour was the highlight of my CPW, and I believe that experience is what finally made me comfortable enough to pick MIT.

When I got to campus, Bexley challenged me every single day, just like the Institvte did.  Bexley was the worst and best part of my day all wrapped into one.  It gave me identity, it gave me family, but it also could be mean at times.  The same biting sarcasm that made me smile on Monday could be really hard to handle later in the week when my head was already reeling from my schoolwork.  Did I love Bexley?  Unconditionally.  Did it make me cry?  At least once a month.

It’s hard to describe why Bexley is so special to me, but I think a lot of it boils down to not feeling alone.  I was picking between MIT and art school, and so being surrounded by engineers is something I really struggle with.  Bexley was a place where I could actually go home and discuss things I cared about like film or photography.  It was like having all the people that had the most in common with me wrapped up in a tiny burrito of awesomeness.  We played Smash Bros., painted walls, and ran around in ridiculous costumes in the name of dodge-ball.  Most of my most fun memories are in fact because of Bexley.  It upsets me when people say it shouldn’t matter that the dorm is gone if we were all really friends, because these people don’t understand what it’s like to dance the jitterbug to a jam/funk band in the Bexment while surrounded by your hall-mates.  It’s magical.  They don’t understand that walking into the lounge just to see who’s there can then turn into the most meaningful conversations and jam sessions where you end up singing songs about beavers having sex underwater.  These are not experiences that can be replicated when my family is spread across Boston and Cambridge.

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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 :)

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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Why I call it home.

East Campus is a home like I’ve never had before. Leaving for the summer…it was the first time I felt homesickness. True homesickness. When someone brings up the topic of dorms, I can’t stop going on and on about this place. It’s the one place I feel welcome no matter what and forget my old fear of crowds.

It’s here I truly learned there are no limits. I built a loft. Painted my room. Rolled around on the floor laughing for absolutely no reason. Found people who share my interests. Played games with them. Watched movies with them. Ran down hall yelling at the top of my lungs to fight scurvy. Found shoulders to cry on so that I could be my happy self again the next day. Be crazy, be free.

Here, I can do what I’ve always wanted to: knock on random doors just for someone to talk to, and keep my door open for people to randomly visit.

My first week on campus, I was honestly a bit worried about whether I would fit in–whether I was an ‘East Campus person.’ I wasn’t sure I’d be okay with the state of the kitchens and bathrooms. I remember a few of my classmates telling me that they didn’t expect that someone like me would live in East Campus. I used to be that shy quiet kid. But come this year, someone guessed my dorm before I mentioned it. This is home. And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.

Home is Where the Heart Is

And my heart’s at East Campus.  I remember first moving in and worrying I’d never fit in.  High school was awful and I was coming from a place where everyone hated me for being smart and being different.  East Campus embraced those qualities and turned me into who I am today.  The people and the culture helped me survive the hard times as well as make the most out of the good.  I love the freedom contained only within the East side dorms; I walk around and see colors and paintings and open doors with people singing and playing games and sometimes even psetting.  I would not have been happy living anywhere else and I will always look fondly back on the years I spent here.

The times that I’ve realized just how great of an environment I’ve found at MIT

The times that I’ve realized just how great of an environment I’ve found at MIT are when I’ve gone back to my hometown. When I was talking to people from my high school, I continuously found myself saying, “When I get back home…” in reference to coming back to East Campus and MIT. That’s not something that I’ve ever heard about dorms at another college. I’ve visited dorms at a few other universities and have always been struck with the feeling that I’m in some sort of holding pen for students.

Dorms with empty hallways of closed doors and stark white walls just don’t feel like a good place to facilitate learning or collaboration. The walls of East Campus aren’t just a stress reliever or time capsule of previous and current students, they’re also an example of the collaborative work environment here at MIT. So many people contributed to making East Campus look how it does from large murals to small comments on the bathroom stall. When I walk down the halls of East Campus, I see people crowded around white boards discussing some math topic or having philosophical debates. There are people playing music or building things. The students’ ability to shape the space that they live in seems to feed this environment of creativity, learning, and productivity. And that’s exactly what makes me feel so at home here.

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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!=

Well yeah, of course!  I had an awesome time at MIT.  I liked it so much I… spent my sophomore spring through junior fall co-authoring a musical about it.

I’m an alum now, and I often think of how damn lucky I was to have gotten a chance to live the “MIT undergraduate experience,” as it’s called.

What made my undergrad experience excellent (unshockingly) was the people I got to live with and around, and the place I got to live.  I spent all four of my undergrad years in Senior Haus, in the same room, actually.  It felt like home to me — yeah, I still remember my first time walking into the courtyard, seeing the leaves, bright green in contrast with the slate building and earth tones of the tree… I don’t mean to be sappy about it, but that’s a very very strong memory for me.

I’m glad I had the chance to choose to live at Senior Haus as an undergrad, because, well, it was a good fit for me.  I liked to keep my door open and talk to people as they passed.  I liked the occasional barbecues, people just talking at desk, the hall GRT’s cats sitting on my psets (you know, because that was the most important thing in the room and they had to assert their dominance… but you gotta love ’em ’cause they’re so darn cute…).  I liked… a lot of stuff, you get the point.

MIT’s dorms in general feel more like home than most other college dorms because of the history that gets built by people choosing to live together, rather than being assigned.  It’s a value that’s hard to advertise or quantify, but it’s a very real value.

When I was a campus tour guide, one of the most frequent questions I was asked was: “What is your least favorite thing about MIT,” and, always, my answer was this: MIT does a lot of things that are wonderful, yet unconventional, and, unfortunately, the direction the school’s been trending is to eliminate anything unconventional in favor of something more… unremarkable and common.

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In Defense of Senior House

Prior to coming to MIT for the summer of 2007 for the Interphase program, I spent the first 18 years of my life living in the same house in the same town with the same friends and the same experiences. I had left my home state precisely twice, and then for less than a week each time. I barely even remembered the experience. The prospect of transplanting my life to a new state 2,000 miles from home for at least four years, living with people I didn’t know, facing the necessity of making new friends for the first time in my life, and having the added pressure of needed to succeed at a school like MIT almost gave me panic attacks. I was terrified for the start of term, especially after the Interphase program taught me that my high school had not prepared me at all for the strenuous academics at MIT.

I had chosen a temporary dormitory solely based on the fact that a man I knew from my home town was a senior in that dormitory. I wanted to be close to someone I knew to ease the transition a little. Soon, I experienced concern about my choice. During Interphase, I met several students who lived in what would become my temporary dormitory and found that other than being superficially similar to them (we were from similar regions of the US, had similar racial backgrounds) I had very little in common with them. I realized that if I were given the choice, I wouldn’t hang out with them. They weren’t the kind of people I sought out for my friends and as such, I worried incessantly about my dormitory decision.

However, I had the good fortune of having a TA during my time in Interphase who lived in Senior House. He and I became good friends and he encouraged me to take a look at all of the dorms during what was then called REX, informing me that if I was unhappy in my temporary dormitory I may be able to move into another one. He emphasized that to properly succeed at MIT, one must feel that their dormitory is a safe haven and not just some building that they were forced to sleep in. He explained further that there was no one-size-fits-all dormitory and that every student feels most comfortable in a particular place and that the incoming freshman must find their niche before they can really be happy. After moving into my room in my temporary dormitory and realizing that I absolutely loathed everything about it, I resolved to find someplace better. At the beginning of REX, I visited all of the dormitories and found a home in Senior House.

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It’s like Disney World for nerds

I probably have a novel’s worth of opinions about this, so instead of going into details I will just give a few feelings I have.

I did not have many friends in high school, resulting in (or possibly caused by) a decent amount of social anxiety. As soon as I stepped foot on MIT’s campus though, I felt at home. If I had to pick a happiest moment of my life in fact, it would be realizing there was this awesome place where I would fit in and feel comfortable being myself. As a junior, I still often have these amazing moments where I realize there isn’t any place I would rather be. My hall is a super tight-knit community where I always know I’ll have friends, and I feel a connection to everyone in East Campus at large.

I’d be lying if I said I was friends with everyone here, as we are human after all. I haven’t had the chance to get to know many, and there are a few I’ve had some arguments with. But the bottom line is I love everyone here. That sounds like a stupid thing to say, but it’s true. We share something special that a lot of people outside MIT (or possibly outside of the East Side) have trouble understanding. We share a home, which is not how students at most schools view their dorms. We also have a lot in common. We chose to attend MIT, and even further, chose to live in East Campus. That means a lot, and I think it has helped many people over the years. The work at MIT can be incredibly stressful, as can life in general, but I’ll always have this large support network. A support network that I truly feel cares about me, rather than some forced support network which may have good intentions but can’t really care about me as an individual.

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Let there be colour and open doors.

My home is East Campus.

That’s a statement in it of its self, at least with respect to a college dorm. It’s certainly not one that my friends in a more traditional dorms across the country are able to make.

A part of this intense feeling of welcome and comfort is the ability to enter and go as I please, without undergoing recorded observation, and without interacting with security personal who, despite the best of intentions, tend to make the environment reticent of a wartime checkpoint, or perhaps more nefariously, a prison. Security “upgrades” have been effected at many dorms, and they have markedly increased the stress experienced by my friends. Where once a trip to collect mail could be made in PJs or underwear, now the glaring eyes of a camera is a harsh reminder that one is never not under some form of observation. The feeling is not exactly comforting.

Another beautiful aspect of both East Campus and Senior Haus is the ability of residents to artistically modify their respective spaces with intricate and elegant murals, or simply splashes of colour on the otherwise asylum white walls. I spent my first few weeks at MIT in a white walled room. It was terrible, and affecting my ability to focus, and was thankfully easily remedied. I have since moved into a room that has a Mondrian painted the full size of a wall. It’s cliche, but I believe in a balance between the artistic inclinations of the mind, and the more strictly academic. The halls I walk down every morning make me smile, because of the dedication and joy that went into every mural, and I relish the unique environment that has been provided.

MIT is renowned for its start-up culture, and a root cause of this is the ability for students to communicate across grade levels (as is allowed by MIT’s non-grade-specific housing) in an environment that fosters rather represses creativity. This is an invaluable and integral aspect to the success that MIT sees as an institution, and one of the main reasons people love to go here.

MIT is hard, and being in an environment of like-minded people is an important way to deal with the stresses associated with large and difficult workload. The fact that I can keep my door open for my friends to wander in and out, or ask for help is really cool, and the concept that some of the dorms features doors that automatically close, I find slightly distressing.

There’s a lot more to go into, but it really boils down to increasing the personal freedoms of the students, however possible.

 

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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