Where do you live?

When you meet another MIT undergrad, and you’re trying to get a sense of who they are, “Where do you live?” is the first question you ask. It comes before their course, their year, or where they are from. You can learn a lot about an MIT student based on which living group they chose. Being able to find a community I love made MIT an amazing experience for me.

We’re moulded by our communities. In discussions about relationships or other personal choices, when someone asks my opinion, I often say, “Well, I grew up on Black Hole [a floor of Random Hall], so…”. Growing up on Black Hole, and on the East Side of campus more generally, ingrained in me a very strong feeling that people should be able to lead their lives in whatever way fits them so long as they’re treating others with integrity.

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I love Random Hall

I think the key for me of Random was having critical mass. Critical mass of people to do lots of things. One can’t play a 10 person game of Resistance at 10pm on a Saturday without previous notice…unless you live in a dorm that has lots of people who want to play games. You can’t have a giant closet of costumes that everyone shares for LARPing if you don’t have lots of residents who LARP.

But, for me, the most crisp example of how Random was the correct place for me came my senior year. I love learning things from my peers. Random hall has a seminar series where we would invite PhD students and undergrads to come to Random and teach us interesting things. Not only did we have many people show up for each lecture, lots of Randomites were interested in giving lectures. There are still more lectures talks now that I have graduated. Every dorm has people who love learning and teaching. But, in Random people hear “Type Theory lecture this Sunday at Noon!” and actually show up, learn and solve problems together.

What Community Means

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

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

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

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A home

The thing that struck me most during my time at Random Hall was the combination of friendliness and acceptance and the feeling of being both a community and a home.  From people looking out for each other to all the wondeful interaction the kitchens enabled to people being willing to just be themselves and everyone being OK with it, it was an eye-opening experience for me, and I feel truly blessed to have lived there.

Being Normal

Back before college I always wanted to be ‘different’ and thought that being ‘normal’ would be a travesty. At EC and Random I found a place where I’d be perfectly happy to be ‘normal’. I guess I really just wanted to be myself and though I was alone until I got here. This is where I belong and these are the people I want to become.

Bondage and pancakes

I’m a former West Campus resident who just recently moved to Random, thanks in large part to the evangelical efforts of Randomite friends. I’d just like to share a couple of stories that come to mind when I think of the East Side.

My first story takes place back in March; I was already subscribed to Random’s email discussion list, r-h-t, and one afternoon an email popped up in my inbox about an informal seminar at Random that evening. The topic: How to tie people up safely, effectively, and prettily. After I’d finished laughing and facepalming, I decided this actually sounded fun and interesting and was worth a look. I headed over at 10pm, and J— and K— (not sure whether I actually need to keep their names secret, but I just like using initials; it feels all cool and literary) taught us basic safety principles and some knots and harnesses. We split up into groups of two to practice on each other, so of course there were an odd number of people; I ended up in a threesome, which worked well enough for simple knots that only needed a limb or two, but when we got to harnesses, I was just waiting around while one of my partners tied up the other. J— invited me to practice on him, so I started tying the harness he’d just demonstrated. I kept worrying that I was tying things too tightly, and apologizing if he was uncomfortable, but he just said, “No, it’s fine. I like being tied up.”

…Well, obviously, otherwise why would he be teaching this class? But still, the way he said it so casually made an impression on me. The lesson I took from this was: The truly wise have no guilty pleasures; they are who they are, and like what they like, and are open and comfortable with themselves. I feel like this candor is an important aspect of East Side culture.

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We call it home for a reason

The banner of this site says “we call it home for a reason”, and I think that really sums up why I care about Random Hall.  Random is home.  Let me say that again: at most other schools dorms are a place you rent a room to sleep, maybe eat, and if you’re lucky even talk to friends; at MIT, especially on the east side of campus, the dorms are home.  This is why MIT students consider our dorms such an important part of their identity, and it is why we get angry and defensive if someone else tries to come in and change our homes in ways we don’t like.  It’s why we often live in the same dorm, even on the same floor, for all four years; it’s why we remain friends with our floormates, hallmates, and suitemates long after we leave the Institvte.

Let’s talk about the good parts first.  Dorms are home because we choose them, rather than being assigned by someone who thinks they know us better than we do.  Dorms are home because we have some ownership over our rooms and floors — and often keep them from year to year, murals, custom furniture, and all.  Dorms are home because the artifacts we leave can outlast us: a mural painted before the freshmen were born, a cookbook left by a recent graduate, a couch or bedframe whose original and current owners have never even met.  Dorms are home because we can set our own standards for noise, for murals, for music, for clothedness, for the cleanliness of the kitchen, and for how we treat each other.  And dorms are home because we take care of each other, whether it’s asking after a person who hasn’t been seen in a few days, or walking to MGH in the middle of a snowstorm to help a friend get home safely from a minor surgery.

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You rock, quirks included (also REX)

I’m a freshman living in Random Hall and I love it. I have my quirks and many other Randomites have their quirks too; I feel perfectly free to be exactly who I am, however weird or otherwise. Different kinds of people are welcome; one can socialize or enjoy more alone time, and still find their home an accommodating space. I think this aspect of East Campus culture should be protected, as it is an important moral support for students who identify with this kind of culture to have people who understand them and resonate with.

On a marginally related note, I’d like to echo a previous post about REX. Those four days let me learn so much about the “character” of Random Hall (where I was temped) and other dorms, allowing to make an informed decision to stay in Random. I had such a blast at REX, and I still think it was THE most fun and important event during orientation. It was the best way for prefrosh to understand the respective dorm cultures and figure out which dorms truly fit their needs.

However, upperclassmen have told me that rush period has been shrinking. Not to mention that some FPOPs clash with REX, costing their participants a valuable day or two out of the grand total of merely four days of activities. This reduces the amount of raw data they can collect during REX to make the best possible choice of where to live, arguably one of the most important decisions they have to make at short notice. I was also disappointed, like many prefrosh temped in other dorms to be living in a ghost dorm during REX, when the residents had not moved in. Learning about dorm culture through rush events is fine and dandy, but just as important is actually talking to the actual residents to hear about their experiences and advice.

In short, East Campus should continue to accept and celebrate the quirks of its family members; make REX longer; deconflict REX from everything else; and allow upperclassmen to move in before REX!

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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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.

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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This Place Feels Like Magic

I still can’t believe a place like Random Hall exists. A place where regularly at 3AM, people ask if you want to play a board game, watch a movie, make pancakes, or go out on an adventure. A place where an hour-long conversation can randomly start with anyone, even someone you usually don’t talk to, and can be one of the most interesting conversations you’ve ever had. Where free baked goods are announced at all hours, and stampedes towards cake are a regular occurrence. Where someone in dorm will be able to answer any question you have, and if they can’t, they’ll eagerly join you in your quest to find the answer. A place where if you have an idea, you can easily get other people on board and actually make it happen.

Because of the great people who live here, I’ve felt comfortable enough to ask for support when I need it, which I hardly ever did before coming to MIT. It still surprises me how comfortable I feel at Random Hall. I know that I have a voice here, and that everyone’s opinion matters, including mine. I feel so lucky to have found this amazing, magical place where I’m constantly making friends and memories.

Home, not Hotel

One of the things that makes MIT truly unique is the dorm culture found on generalized East Campus. Whenever I describe the culture found in Random or EC (the places I identify with the most) to my friends at other schools, their eyes get wide. “You get to choose where you want to live? Each FLOOR has a culture??” We don’t want a sterilized living environment where everything is provided for us – we want the chance to live, to dream, to explore.

I want to wake up at 3 AM with people building pulley systems or blowing things up in the middle of the night. I want to be able to explore my sexuality without any fear of judgement from my community. I want to break free of cultural restraints and try things – and when I fail, to be protected by my community in a safe, caring manner.

I want East Campus culture.

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 :)