Learning to make things happen

Coming to MIT, I was the classic quiet guy in the back of the room.  I could do schoolwork. . .and didn’t think too much past that.  I didn’t like it much, but I didn’t really know what else I wanted.

The East Side fixed that.  And not only from exposure to all sorts of people; the exposure to the idea that I really could make my life interesting, in ways I never would have dreamed of anywhere else.

Do I want to learn how to cook?  Then go for it.  Make mistakes.  Ask for help.  Work at it.

How about a mural?  Make the dorm something other than institutional white?  Get an idea, make a proposal, and try it.  So what if you’ve never painted before?  Worst thing that happens is you cover it in white paint and someone else gives it a try.  Who wants to live in a sterile hallway, anyway?  Humans decorate anything they can get their hands on.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Origins of the East Side

I don’t know if people here have already seen this or not, but I found this recently when cleaning out my archives.

 

When MIT moved to Cambridge, Bosworth was commissioned to draw plans for a dormitory unit of six houses, named Ware, Atkinson, Runkle, Holman, Nichols, and Craft. Built on Memorial Drive in 1916 this dormitory was designed in the classic tradition with Pompeian accents, and the group as a whole exhibited the light and gay elements of a Roman villa. But it was planned, as were all living quarters, for
practical student housing in accordance with the result of a study of dormitories at other colleges. Major contributions to this study were
made by A. Farwell Bemis, ’93, an eminent authority on housing problems and founder of the Bemis Foundation at MIT.

The dormitory group had six stories and a two-story loggia above the main building. From this loggia arches open into rooms described as
‘dens, attractive probably to students in architecture, small in comparison with the other rooms and for the moderate purse.’ The dormitory itself is L-shaped, a plan that allows sunlight to penetrate all sleeping rooms, for in designing this group sun and shadow where studied in relation to room arrangement.

In 1924, the second dormitory, designed by Bosworth as part of a quadrangle, was built north of Walker. While less elaborate than the
first, Bemis dormitory is a plain rectangular building planned to form the central section of the east wing of a quadrangle. Its walls of
cream-colored brick are broken by fluted pilasters and the doorways suggest classic dignity. As considerable study had been made of living requirements for students, the rooms provide maximum comfort and privacy without luxury. Four years later, a unit was connected to
either side of this dormitory — Goodale on the north and Walcott at the south — forming a continuous structure that completed the east
wing. In 1931, the architects, Coolidge and Carlson (Harry J. Carlson ’92) constructed the entire west wing — Wood, Hayden, and Munroe — of the intended quadrangle which still lacks the enclosing north and south units. This wing is almost identical in appearance with the east group of dormitories, except for the central unit which has a parapet along the roof adorned with Grecian urns.

 

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Let Upperclassmen Be In the Dorms During Rush

I am a former Senior House resident, from 2007-2011, and I find it baffling that upperclassmen move in day is after REX. It makes no sense. The value (to me) in MIT’s residential system is that you can choose to live with people with whom you share common interests and you can be apart of a longstanding culture or a community instead of a generic freshmen dorm where you would get some random roommate like in most colleges.

REX is a chance to explore different dorms and figure out where you might want to live. Even if you don’t choose a dorm you visited, you might meet cool people there and hang out there sometimes, and it gives you a chance to learn different aspects of MIT that you wouldn’t get from a website or a brochure. It also has free food. What is there not to love?

However, I find it a glaring flaw that the upperclassmen move in after this process. If they aren’t a REX chair or a desk worker or qualify for some other exemption, they are excluded from the process, which makes it harder for the freshmen to get a genuine perspective on what the dorms are like and it makes it harder for the upperclassmen to welcome the freshmen to MIT, and as an upperclassmen, that was one my favorite things about school starting again: making food for people or telling embarrassing stories about our hall mates. I think these things should be encouraged.

When I was a freshman, I did an FPOP and when I came to my dorm for the first time, I found it creepy. There was barely anyone in my suite. I thought I lived in a ghost dorm where people never come out of their rooms only to later find out my temporary suite mates hadn’t been allowed to move in yet, so the rooms were just empty. I enjoyed my FPOP. It was fun, but it would have been nicer to come home to a suite with people in it.

I have no first hand knowledge as to why the upperclassmen move in later, but I have heard (from a friend who debated this with an administrator) that it is because upperclassmen are weird, they will scare the freshmen’s parents, and those parents won’t leave their kids at MIT. I think this is ridiculous. If the MIT administration finds its own student weird and scary, then I wonder why they want to work here. Assuming they don’t and their opinion is merely paternalistic, I think their opinion is unfounded.

Every year, about 1000 freshmen come to MIT. Most of them are weird. It’s one of the reasons why MIT is awesome. I would find it odd that a parent with a weird kid was alarmed or concerned that their child is going to go to school with other weird kids. For many of them, MIT might be the first school where their weirdness is appreciated and parents might feel relieved that their kid finally fits in somewhere.

Furthermore, moving into a (relatively) empty dorm is creepy. When I was a junior, I had one freshman move into my hall and she contemplated moving out of the building because she didn’t think anyone hung out at Senior House because she didn’t see anyone during the day. Many of the upperclassmen who did qualify for early move ins were at work so when she came with her parents, they saw no one. This was not a good welcome, and I know that MIT students can and want to do better. They just need the opportunity to do so.

Ultimately, I found Senior House to be awesome, but it could be more awesome if upperclassmen were allowed to move in earlier.

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.

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.

Read more

East Campus

MIT’s motto is mens et manus. Nowhere else is this more visible than on the East side. You know this because you use the videos of the murals, kitchens, wood-working, electronics projects, and hacks to advertise the undergraduate program; you blog and tweet about it. This is inspiring to kids because it shows that you can dare to take a dream and build it. An amazing, inspiring, organic marketing campaign that costs nothing (in fact it makes money, considering that the students pay to be there).

Online education is changing the nature of higher education, and you will have to think very carefully about what students are getting out of the in-person MIT experience. The reason any one of us supports MIT (with our money, good words, or children) is not because of the course catalog but because of the environment that encouraged and amplified our creativity and confidence. If you don’t foster this in Cambridge MA, it will happen somewhere else and attract the hearts and minds and hands of kids who want to build their dreams. I know of initiatives at other top tech schools that are desperately trying to recreate the East side experience. Are we going backwards?

The past and proposed changes that we have heard about will erode our culture. The dorms are a little less hands-on, a little less exciting. You should be alarmed that there has only been one roller coaster in the past four years. How can MIT maintain its reputation and continue to attract creative students? These long term consequences are very much connected to silly issues about security cameras and murals. It’s your job to understand why.

Lessons outside the classroom

When I tell people about what going to MIT was like, I never focus on how hard the classes were, even though that is the first thing people ask about.  I focus on the crazy things we built at East Campus — fish tanks in the walls, disco dance floors, überlofts that the house manager always kindly ignored during fire inspection due to our mutual respect, speakers in the showers hooked up to an mp3 server (and I still shower to music to this day because of this), movie mode buttons that triggered the lights and closed the doors in the lounge to provide instant darkness, other robots that might still be installed to do not-exactly-within-the-rules stuff that I probably shouldn’t mention, and the emergency pizza button.  These are the stories that make people say to me, “Man, I wish I went to a college like that.”

I mention the emergency pizza button last, not because it was the crowning achievement or our EC exploits, but because its existence came in handy later in life when I was a TA at the University of Michigan and I needed to teach Huffman encoding to a class of undergrads.  A Huffman code had been used to encode the various pizza toppings you might order when you pressed the big pizza shaped button on the wall, and it was the perfect example for teaching, which kept my students engaged.  (“Cheese is the most popular, so that’s 0, followed by pepperoni, which is 10, etc etc.”)

But the kicker was the end of the lecture when I popped up a photo of the actual pizza button at work back at MIT.

Read more

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.

Random Hours of the Night

When I was working on my thesis last year, I would frequently keep a really irregular sleep schedule, leading to me being awake in Random at really weird times of night. I really appreciated that no matter what time it was, there was always someone in the dorm awake that I could go talk to about something, anything else to get me away from my brain for a while.

Professor of Biology, Boston College

It is a shame to think that one of the most distinctive aspects of MIT that supports the creativity of its students, i.e., the undergraduate housing system, may be heading in the direction of Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle.  As a “child of Florey” (class of 1980), I participated in activities that were not necessarily permissible, but were part of growing up.  My first date with my future wife included sitting on the minor dome watching traffic move up and down Mass Ave. I became friends with the EC building manager Norm Magneson (of blessed memory), after he made me repaint the exterior of my fifth floor window frame from the optic orange I had painted it (who knew that you could only paint the interior of your room?) only later to realize that he made a student go out onto the fifth floor ledge!

The placement of cameras to constantly monitor the activities of MIT students would create an environment not unlike that of the world of The Circle, in which “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN”. This is a time for students to make some mistakes and grow from these experiences. Administrators who advocate for these policies should “go transparent” and elect to wear video cameras 24/7 to see what a bad idea this is and how it would stifle the human spirit.

Long live Jack Florey and the East Campus/Senior House lifestyle.

Charlie Hoffman

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.  

Read more

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

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.

Trust.

As a 5E’er, the murals and hacks and black hallways embodied the agreement the institute had with its students:

“Go govern yourselves.   Make sure everyone is represented, feels safe, and is happy and in return you are free to make this place your home.”

This freedom, this responsibility, this trust was palpable within East Campus.   We valued that trust and reveled in it.  Our friends from other schools were in awe of it.

At 17 years old, the institute treated me like an adult and thus helped me grow into one.   I sincerely hope MIT does not revoke that trust.

The importance of being different

A simple question: can you expect MIT to continue to be a conduit for world changing individuals if the Institute takes steps to suppress heterogeneity? Please continue to support environments which allow those that do things a little different (and many of whom subsequently end up figuring out novel next-level solutions to important problems) to thrive and find supportive culture.

The global status quo and trajectory are not acceptable. The world needs these people now more than ever.

watson

class of 2003, EC Fifth East

Residential Life Elevates MIT

When I reminisce about my undergraduate education, I think about East Campus.  Most of my best friends are from East Campus. Through my East Campus community, I went from someone who had never been west of Chicago or slept in a tent to someone who has traveled over 20,000 miles in the past three years, and spent a cumulative 3 months living out of a car.  East Campus has given me opportunities to try my hand at painting, circuit design, fort and roller coaster building, sailing, mechanical design, and computer programming.  After running 2 60+ person Thanksgivings at East Campus, I will NEVER fear holiday entertaining.  And there are few people who are better at making enormous quantities of ice cream than my hallmates and I.

East Campus taught me to explore, and to take risks of all sorts–and through these risks, East Campus taught me to not fear failure, but to take a deep breath and a step back, and to try again.  When I was struggling, as we all do at some points–difficulties associated with being on the crew team, relationship problems, frustrations and fears about my future–I turned to East Campus for sympathy, advice, support, and occasionally, tough love.  I do not know where I would have turned without East Campus. Through my East Campus community, I grew from a timid person who always assumed she was wrong and unintelligent into a person who can hear all sides of an issue, but who is also much more confident in her own abilities and judgement–a confidence necessary to succeed as a woman in science and engineering, and a confidence that allowed me to deviate sharply from my mechanical engineering degree to pursue a Ph.D. in geosciences. I am certain that I, personally, would not have developed this confidence outside of East Campus, and I shudder to imagine my future without it.

In getting to know other bright young scientists from other institutions, and their histories, I have realized that what makes MIT the best technical university (not one of the best, but THE best), is our community of faculty, staff, and students.  Our student body is truly unique because our residential system encourages creativity, diversity, and true community in all of the living communities, not just the East Side.  The more our residential system is homogenized, the more homogeneous we as a community will become, and we will quickly lose what makes us special, what makes us MIT.  MIT’s residential system fosters independence, creativity, and a willingness to take risks.  Without it, I fear the brilliant and dynamic inventors, designers, and innovators MIT  is known for will be a thing of the past.

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.

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.

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

Bexley :) and beyond

Hey Cynthia (and whoever else reads this)!

I made awesome friendships through the Bexley community. The relative lack of restrictions made it feel like our (the students’) territory, rather than some foreign space (how I feel in the more sanitary west-side dorms). This sense of ownership made it a lot more fun to hang around and get to know people, so a strong community formed.

What I didn’t realize is that these East-side communities would continue to provide support to those who lived there even after we graduated. My friend recently got a full-time engineering/design job through someone she met in Bexley. I lived in pika my senior year; I found absurdly affordable accommodations after moving to San Francisco through a pika alum (believe me, this was a miracle). This summer at Burning Man I met a bunch of 5th East alums who graduated over 10 years ago but still fly from all over the country to hang out with each other a couple times a year.

Obviously, the east-style life makes MIT a lot more bearable (even fun) for the yearly batch of eccentrics MIT will inevitably attract. But if you want to think in terms of students’ long-term wellbeing, know that these communities also provide opportunities, happiness, and meaning long after graduation.

My connections to East Campus are my connections to MIT

East Campus was very hard for me to explain to my high school friends. Compared to my best friend who went to Mount Holyoke, I had way more freedom and responsibility. I could eat when and what I wanted, as long as I was willing to shop and cook for myself. It was very fair. Obviously, I occasionally made the wrong choices (it turns out you can’t really live off of ice cream for dinner), but I seemed to grow up faster than people I knew who didn’t even have the chance to make mistakes.

In EC, I was exposed to so many different subcultures, hobbies and opinions. That’s probably true of many dorms, but EC is special because of its persistent culture. Older students and alums would sometimes tell stories about what life was like “back in the day”, and it gave me a sense that there was this larger society to which I was connected. This feeling of connection and sense of a bigger picture eased some of the psychological burdens of academic stress. It’s not easy to feel this deep a connection to MIT as a whole–it’s just too big–but I feel very connected to MIT nevertheless because of my enduring connections to the East Side social world, which I still have now.

This is not to say that life was perfect. It never is with real people. I was growing up, and so were the people around me. But I like to think that I learned how to handle myself in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in a more sterile environment. There is something very flat about dorms that don’t have a culture that persists from year to year, and that flatness can make a dorm seem less like home and more like an assignment. That was my experience in a grad dorm (not at MIT). Sure, I met some interesting people and made some friends at the time. I worked on psets with other residents in my classes, and I learned how to roll sushi from someone who shared the same kitchen as me. I even experienced the drama of a love triangle. But these experiences felt like they were divorced from the dorm itself, like the dorm was just coincidentally where they happened. There was a lot of turnover year to year, as you’d expect in a grad dorm, which made it hard to really connect to the living group as a whole and to the university. It was just some place I stayed for a year.

The first story I remember hearing about MIT when I was in high school was about the hacks on the Great Dome. That’s when I knew that I’d find people like me if I came here, and I did :)

I credit East Campus with half of my MIT education

“You can’t do that!”

“You’re not allowed to do that.”

“That’s not safe.”

I hate these phrases with a passion.

I’ve learned to ignore people when they say these things. Even so, when you hear them often, it becomes disheartening.

Why can’t I do it? Do the laws of nature prohibit it? Certainly not. Does my own technical expertise not suffice? Well that can be fixed. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

Who is disallowing me from doing it? Are there rules or regulations that prohibit it? Let’s analyze the motivation for these rules, and decide why they exist. If they are well-grounded and applicable, we should revisit the design. If they are indeed arbitrary, let’s continue. Sometimes keeping things secret from the rule-makers just adds to the challenge.

What do you mean by “safe?” Would you like me to to reference some relevant published literature on its safety? And justify our deviations from it and their ramifications? What makes you, whose understanding of this consists of a cursory glance, qualified to judge the safety of our meticulously researched setup?

If I listened every time I was told not to do something, it would have halved MIT’s contribution to my education.

That’s right, easily half of my knowledge gained at MIT was due to studying, researching, experimenting, and executing activities that were unnecessary, uncalled for, disallowed, or illegal.

You will probably think this is absurd and blatantly false, or that I should have spent more time on my schoolwork. Well, I graduated in four years with a degree in Course 6-2 and a minor in Course 2. I consider this to be an acceptable course load. But as I work at my job now, I find that about half of the knowledge that I call upon comes from my formal education, and half of it from hacks, personal projects, and the results of spontaneous 3AM experiments performed while at home in East Campus.

“How will we do that?”

“Can we make this safer?”

“Can I help?”

These are the kind of phrases you hear at East Campus. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re surrounded by open-minded people.

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!)

The most important part of my MIT experience.

When I visited MIT during CPW ten years ago, what convinced me that I belonged there was the passion of the students I met. Everyone was brilliant, everyone had projects, everyone cared. Everyone had big ideas *and* the ability to carry them out. I knew it was home. During my four fantastic undergrad years, East Campus was the epitome of everything I love best about MIT.

Many of my best times were thanks to EC – living with people who thought that ambitious projects were the definition of fun, whether that meant writing custom software to control the floor’s music system through contacts hidden behind gorgeous handpainted murals, building lofts and January hottubs and roller coasters, or “merely” wrangling the logistics of cooking 1500 cookies in a day for a homemade FAC. My classes taught me to be a scientist, but East Campus taught me to be an engineer.

And when the worst times came around, East Campus got me through it — living with folks I cared about, with classmates who sympathized and upperclasspeople who could offer a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, with the same people I’d chosen to live with and gotten to know and trust over years, a hall full of open doors. Later, I was proud to be able to pay it forward to younger hallmates myself. MIT is hard work; being an undergrad at MIT is being a big fish from a small pond who’s been suddenly plunged into an amazing terrifying ocean. What makes it work is acknowledging that what we’re doing is tough, showing vulnerability and giving and accepting help. East Campus was my home base and my team. Having it made all the difference.

When I meet fellow alums out in the world, no matter how long it’s been since they were at the ‘tvte, the first few questions between us are always the same: “what course? what year? where did you live?” Dorm culture is so central to the unique MIT experience. Don’t lose it!

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.

!=

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.

Read more

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.

Read more