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.

East Campus is my bigger box

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

East Campus reminded me of those friends.

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

But sometimes, amazing isn’t enough.

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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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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

 

 

i call this place home

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

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.

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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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.

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

I Didn’t Live There

I can’t get through Bexley’s tribute video “We Lived Here – You Didn’t” without tearing up a bit.

My first tour of MIT was not of any new fancy shiny dorms. It was through Bexley – with its dark lighting, painted slogans and scruffy atmosphere. My Bexley friend, playing as tour guide, told the story of “2.361 – Friction and Lubrication”. My friends were put off by the grunge, but I was intrigued. Later, as a prefrosh coming to MIT, when I heard the news about Bexley being shut down, I was stunned. The news came just before finals. The same tour guide who had led me through was having to help her friends who had become physically ill with the news.

You’re right. I didn’t live there. But the love for that community, the ability to do stupid things, to turn your living space into your own – it’s so apparent in the video and  in interactions with Bexiles that it screams out, crying desperately to be heard.

And then you tell me that “Any new building we construct will soon develop a culture of its own“? Pointing to Maseeh and Simmons as paragons of this ideal? Please.

I refer you to what the New York Times had to say about Simmons: “Someday — when the designer chairs are all busted and tampons protrude from the wooden panels in the ceilings — this is going to be one hell of a dorm.”. We don’t need to wait for that dream. It already exists – in EC, Senior Haus, Bexley and Random. You tore down one. Don’t destroy the others.

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 is my room dirty?

I have sawdust still lying in the corners from when I constructed a cantilevered loft in my room, had two people hang off a corner, watched one person swing on a beam, and simulated placing 2000 lbs. on it to determine yield strength.

I’m not done with my 2.001 homework. We’re learning about stress-strain.

I’m fixing a broken monitor I found last week and it’s resting on the floor.

I took apart a drill I found to see why the motor smokes when I press the trigger. It’s in pieces. At least I put them in a box.

I’m not done with my 6.007 homework.

I live next to EC’s tool closet. I help maintain EC’s tool closet. I put together a hacksaw last night and its replacement blades are on my floor.

I have hacksaw blades because I’m going to make my own motorized ripstik this semester, and stacked hacksaw blades make a great torsion rod.

If I have time this semester.

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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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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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I don’t even live here.

I am a senior, and I do not live in East Campus.

I do not live in any of the dorms on the east side of campus.

 

So why am I here writing a wall of text in defense of the east side?  What does West Campus care about the east except for how badly we lose at Water War?  I cannot speak for everyone, but I know I am not the only one who feels that the east side is an enormous part of what makes MIT unique – what makes it home.  Ask anyone, MIT affiliate or otherwise, what they think makes the MIT student experience special.  Ask them what they remember most about their time here or out of things they’ve seen from the outside.  A car on the dome, a rollercoaster for orientation, crazy students building their own furniture or robots or whatever else they can think of.  Motorized shopping carts.  Liquid nitrogen ice cream.  A hundred thousand bouncy balls cascading from the sky.  Now ask someone at MIT where they think those things typically come from, and time and time again the answer (correct or not) is East Campus.

It is not that other dorms simply don’t attract this kind of ingenuity and initiative.  Those people exist.  They are my friends and classmates and neighbors.  I’ve seen Next House build an 18-foot trebuchet and deploy it alongside a huge duck from Simmons and wheeled fortifications from Burton-Conner at water war.  It’s not for lack of trying, but the reason that the east stands out is the community.  Of course every dorm, when allowed to develop on its own, has a community, but what exists there is something special.  It is a network spanning back decades and encompassing every course.  Need help?  Doesn’t matter what the problem is, just ask and someone will know someone who knows someone who has an answer.  It’s amazing.  This is why I spend nearly as much time at East Campus as I do in my own dorm: it’s a messy, chaotic incubator for the sort of brilliant insanity that has come to be the Institute’s calling card.  It’s a huge group of disparate people who look out for each other in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.  All this, embedded in and growing out of a set of some of the oldest, admittedly jankiest buildings at MIT.

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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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EC

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

 

 

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.

Acceptance

I don’t want this post being connected directly to me and my name, because it is intensely personal, so please forgive my uncreative pseudonym.

I do not feel like I am exaggerating when I say that East Campus and the culture of acceptance and family I have found here have literally saved my life. I have been dealing with severe depression and anxiety for most of my life, and I have in the past attempted to kill myself, because I was in that much emotional pain, but that was until I came here. My hallmates are closer than my family and even though they might sometimes joke about terrible things, whenever I need them to help me with my own terrible thoughts, they are always there for me.

My friends have stayed up late, delayed p-sets, been late to meetings, all to make sure that I am alright. I have slept in my GRT’s room to prevent my own self-harm practices. I have cried, feeling empty and broken, in my friends’ arms. My friends have walked with me to 7-11 in the middle of the night, because I felt like I was suffocating, because even though they don’t always understand, they always care, and this is the first time I’ve ever felt that kind of love and respect.

That support is what allows me to get up in the morning and keep going to classes, even when I feel like just curling up in my bed and sleeping all day. It’s also what has allowed me to come to terms with my own sexuality and gender, two unchangeable facts about myself that I didn’t want to deal with, because the anxiety that sprang forward whenever I considered them was debilitating. The friends I have made here tear down the wall between me and myself, and no matter what I find there, they’re always there to hold me when I need or just talk if it’s one of the days when people touching me feels like claws digging through my skin.

I don’t think I will ever be able to thank them out loud, but even if I could, I could never ever thank them even half as much as they deserve. East Campus, despite it’s loud, intimidating appearance, is the best home I could never have expected to find.

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.

You’re crazy? Me too!

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

Steer Roast

I think this is a beautiful visual of my community –> http://vimeo.com/95919532

(all video credits to Andrei Ivanov of Senior Haus)

 

The Senior Haus residents, alumni and friends of the haus came together to make Roast happen. We created the art, hired the bands, cooked the food…I mean to say that I can look at that video, see myself and my friends and my work and say ‘I am part of this place, and I love it’.  A community isn’t a group of people who live together. It is created when those people interact, when they work together and build cool things and go off on adventures.  It happens in the mundane daily collisions of minds, and it lives on every year when some of us leave and others are welcomed in.

At Roast, I met an alumnus who graduated MIT back in the seventies, decades before I was born, who remembered this tradition and came back to visit the house. A group of us sat around in the lounge as he shared tales of back in the day. At some point, after I graduate and pass on into the Real World, I’d like to come back too. I want Roast to live on.

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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