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.

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a piece about a place

MIT won’t let you down if you don’t let each other down.

When Bexley was still a place, I would wander through the well-trodden, labyrinthian hall after a long day or week or month of working. The creaking below my feet—I could hear if someone was headed toward me or walking behind me. Swinging of kitchen doors. “Good evening, madam,” said a freshman I had not yet spoken to. When Bexley was still a place, sun rays and outside air always reached the circulation space, through the windows of rooms whose doors were always left open. Music from the courtyard travelled that way, too. A couple of 30 year-old alumni might have done it when they stopped by to visit and found out the building would be shut down indefinitely. I was one of the last to move out of Bexley Hall, and it was strange to see all of the doors shut and locked for the first time. I remember when Bexiles arrived in Senior House, as soon as they dropped their luggage in the room, would tinker with the door closer installed in almost every room there. It was a reflex.

When Bexley was still a place, sometimes I would wander to the other side of the building, to a friend’s room—if you were at MIT when I was, you could see this room from the student center or 77 Mass Ave in the dead of night; it was always lit in warm yellow, dressed in red and silhouettes of leaves. The room interfaced with the public in many ways: from teasing a group of MIT students with poor motor control at 4 AM on a Saturday to an EE side project used to anonymously “greet” the hustled pedestrians in daylight. Many rooms in Bexley took advantage of their windows to interact with the rest of MIT and passerbys. We were at the heart of campus. My first couple of years at MIT I often heard upperclassmen say that Bexley is a gateway to the East Side, conveniently situated on the West. Being at the center, and at the periphery/transition are indeed very special conditions, but sometimes it makes sense to me to see Bexley as being a dot on one side of Yin and Yang.

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I live in East Campus

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

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

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

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

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

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!)

EC and my family

I am the younger sister of a sophomore living at East  Campus. At first I was hesitant to let my beloved role model leave for college, but after visiting East Campus I witnessed the happy and “always willing to help” environment and realized my sister was in the right place. I have seen my sister grow so much her experience at East Campus and whenever she calls she has a new and exciting story to tell. From the signs she puts on everyone’s doors to the sea of smelly laundry on her floor East Campus is the perfect place for my sister to learn and live.

Choosing the East Side

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

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

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

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

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The most valuable part of my MIT education

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

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

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

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Worth every stair

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

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

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

The Essence of MIT

My time in East Campus covered the end of the 80s and start of the 90s. What brought me to East Campus as a first-year student and kept me for my entire tenure as a student was the camaraderie, creativity, and energy I found. I was not sheltered as a kid, but still found the world around me, and more to the point the people in it, so much more than I expected.  The ability to stay in one place for all four years allowed me to form lasting, close friendships and also experience the dynamism of meeting people as new students appeared each fall and as my social circle expanded through my senior year. The support available during difficult times, and the challenges posed by conflicting personalities, helped me grow in ways I am still coming to realize. Last month I made the acquaintance of a recent alum, 20 years my junior, on an airplane. Finding out he was from Senior House and I was from East Campus provided us with an immediate, and pleasant, understanding of one another.

I was privileged to have spent time at MIT. Outside of academics, I learned to play guitar and joined a band (who practiced in Masterton and played Beast Roast), I formed friendships with wonderful people I still love, and I matured greatly even while playing Slip and Slide down West Parallel hallways.  What I learned in East Campus was as important to my life as what I learned in 26-100.

East Side Culture is the best of MIT

I’m a senior research scientist at a major technology company in Silicon Valley.  I teach at Stanford. I’ve seen, worked with and hired a lot of really smart people. I’ve also been an educational counselor for MIT, interviewing high school students, for something like twelve years.

I think in many ways, East Side culture – and I mean that writ large, encompassing EC, Senior House, Tep, Random House, Bexley and so on – is not just the best thing about MIT, but has shown itself to be the bellweather of MIT culture, and I think there’s two examples of that that seem particularly relevant.

First, MIT has always had an emphasis on building, on hacking, on creating, on building. Nowhere is that so exemplified as in the places that build roller coasters in their courtyards, that set up huge fire pits, that have laser light shows and couches hanging from the ceiling. There’s an emphasis on collaboration, on learning through doing, and that’s exemplified by the East Side.

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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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Why I Love MIT

I love MIT. I get excited whenever I meet a fellow alum, I donate every year, and whenever I’m asked about the school I gush about my undergraduate experience.

This is largely thanks to my experience living in East Campus. I fell in love with East Campus when I visited as a high school senior and it was my home for all four years of college. I loved that people could build furniture for their rooms, paint the walls, cook up weird concoctions, and really feel free to be themselves.  The residents of my hall were extremely supportive, accepting and celebrating each others quirks and oddities, and pitching in to help with fun projects.

For the first time in my life I really internalized the fact that I didn’t have to accept the status quo, I could change it. This, more than anything else, more than any class material, is what I got out of my time at MIT. The freedom to build, paint, experiment, and act outside the dictates of social norms, made me realize how much I could really take my surroundings into my own hands.

Living in East Campus was the single most exhilarating part of my MIT experience. It made me love the smell of sawdust. It made me more open, daring, and confident. It made me the person I am today. And it made me eternally grateful to MIT.

An optimal home, anytime

MIT provides more opportunities than students can possibly take advantage of in their time here as undergraduates. Some people choose to take 7 classes, others push themselves in research aiming for a publication, and still others get involved with campus activities or are varsity athletes. Similarly, some spend a lot of time on these “out-of-dorm” commitments, but other students choose to spend a lot of their time around the dorm.

Those who live in East Side dorms are no different. In particular, at Senior House, I’m one of those people that takes a full load of classes and is also very passionate about research. As a result, I’m often super busy and primarily asleep in my dorm. But even for me, it is so important that when I do hang out, or work on psets late into the night, I feel comfortable with the people around me.

As a pre-frosh at CPW, I stayed in Burton-Connor and was hosted by a Course 6 sophomore, who showed me around BC and even brought me to a meeting with her UROP supervisor. All the people I met in BC were cool and I had a lot in common with them. But I had always heard from MIT admissions that each dorm was different and there was an optimal place for each student. Even though I thought this sounded a bit corny, I was determined to explore other dorms, and make a well-informed decision. After the bouncy-ball drop and a magnificent tour of a painted fun haus, I knew that Senior House was the place for me. It wasn’t that BC was bad, but that SH was better for me.

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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.

I am dyeing my hair a wacky color again, though.

I recently had a reunion with several alum pizens (EC third west residents).  I left EC in 2010.

Sitting there on the grass, laughing at old times, talking about our current lives, what played in my mind was one simple thought: “This would never have happened if not for East Campus”

East Campus forced me to grow up.  It set me on the path to becoming a more confident person.  It set me on the path to being able to set my own path, breaking away from other people’s expectations — and breaking away from my own.  It didn’t give me permission to try out new things.  It asked me why the #$%^ was I asking for permission.

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Creativity in my dorm had a huge effect on my future work

I could go on for hours about this (and sometimes do…). The fact that Senior House extolled creativity and weirdness during my time there (1975-1980) had long-lasting effects on my work. It gave me the confidence to say to prospective employers “I don’t know how to do that, but I learn fast and I know how to find out about it”. It helped me relate better with the weird engineers with whom I was going to work, and helped put them at ease with me. It reminded me that adulthood, while being very different than collegehood, could still have lots of valuable fun.

The begrudging, eye-rolling permissiveness of the MIT administration towards East Campus and Senior house during that period helped create a healthy atmosphere of growth for a lot of people. Yes, it’s easier to be authoritarian and enforce “safety” in students, but that creates a different kind of adult, one whom is less likely to be a creative researcher or leader. Putting more effort into patience (and even humor) pays off quickly as the students graduate.

It is common for me to come across alums who lived in other dorms who say, in one way or another, “I was afraid to switch to Senior House, but now I kinda wish I had”. That in and of itself speaks to the long-term benefits of letting the east side stay weird.

Pay it forward

The first time I visited East Campus was before my freshman year, when I was visiting colleges.  I stayed overnight with a friend on his birthday.  Around 11pm, we all gathered in the kitchen.  Around 15 hallmates were crowded around a cake with lit candles in the middle of the table, and we all sang happy birthday.

I didn’t realize then, just how difficult it is to take time out of an MIT schedule to bake a cake, or how important little gestures of affection are when you are under extreme stress.

A community based in a dorm is available for support 24-hours a day, unlike a community within your major, or club, or sport.  Having the freedom to form and choose living communities is not specifically an East Campus issue.  However I felt more at home in East Campus for four years than I did anywhere else.  I hope that the self-reliance, support, and laughter will continue for many more years.

 

Minimizing Judgmentalness Of My Surroundings

The rest of the world is judgmental about 20 different ways in which I am a weirdo.  I went to MIT so that only 15 of those ways would be deemed weird by my classmates, who would celebrate the 5 ways the outside world finds us all weird.  When I found the East side of campus, I met people who only judged me for being weird in 5 ways and celebrated the 15 ways that the rest of the world is judgmental about and the 10 ways that the West side of campus still judged us for.  When I found Senior House, I met people who only thought I was weird in one or two ways and celebrated: not just the ways that the rest of the world judged all MIT undergrads and not just the ways that West Campus were judgmental about the residents of the East-side of campus and not just the ways that Senior House residents were thought to be weird by the rest of the East-side….but also celebrated the one or two ways that Senior House residents themselves thought I was weird.  It was an amazingly powerful and rare experience to have, for the first time in my life, all my different flavors of weirdness celebrated, without having to suppress aspects of myself to be truly socially accepted.  What I needed and wanted from MIT in general and found living at Senior House in particular was a place where both the start and end points of my college emotional development would be “normal,” where the journey and end point would not be distorted by social norms that I did not personally value.

No Uniform Here

I am a Chinese parent from a “normal” upbringing where strict rules to keep sameness was commonly enforced. After living in the USA for more than forty years, I have learned to be comfortable in diversity and also encourage my children to be who they want to be. This culture is not afraid of mistakes, does not shy from challenges and is full of humanity – some great qualities I found in my new country. EC has these qualities. An exceptional institution would embrace this community as it adds an immeasurable dimension to the uniqueness of the institution. A great institution is often measured by how open and accepting it is.

East Campus

Open. Inviting. Creative. Exciting.
Innovative. Caring. Passionate. Enlightening.

It’s where anyone can build something as simple as a four-legged desk to something as complex as a rollercoaster. It’s where you learn to cook, dance, spin and ripstik. It’s where you meet the most incredible people – people with such boundless energy and desire to be everything and more. It’s where such brilliance surrounds you on a daily basis, and you can’t help but smile and partake in amazing feats of engineering interspersed with childhood curiosity. It’s where people of all races, backgrounds, heritage – identities, come together as one unified conglomeration known as a family.

As we grow older, they say we lose the ability to find wonder in the simple joys of life.
That we take them from granted. That we see them as typical, everyday aspects of life. That we no longer see the magic of pure curiosity.

I don’t want to grow old. East Campus, please stay forever young and thriving.

 

Free, As In Laundry

An email from MIT ResLife on April 19, 2013, the day after the death of Sean Collier:

We know today has been a long day. In efforts to continue to provide some community building residential life and dining will be opening all laundry machines for free from 7-10 this evening just a small way to let students gather together in social setting as we work thru [sic] this emotional day.”

Within fifteen minutes of the Boston Marathon bombings, students put together an editable spreadsheet to send around East Campus with the names of every resident and whether or not they had been accounted for since the incident. When Officer Collier was shot just a few minutes walk away from our home, I stayed up all night listening to police radio and watching local news with my hall. The following day, we as a dorm watched Disney movies in Talbot Lounge as “a small way to let students gather together in [a] social setting,” so no one had to be alone. Tributes to the MIT police force soon appeared on the Great Dome and the Stata police car (but who can say whether East Campus had a hand in either of these activities.)

ResLife & Dining gave us three hours of free washing machines.

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East Campus was home

East Campus was home. I would talk to my friends at other colleges, and they each had tales about struggling to find a friend group, to click with their hallmates. They worried about being too insular — they became friends with the 5 random people they shared a suite with, and that was about it.

Not so was my experience at East Campus at MIT.

Immediately upon finishing EC Rush, First East was my family. They wanted to like me, for me to be involved in their community. I didn’t have to prove anything, or be anyone in particular. I was living on First East, so I was family. And because there was a rush process, we weren’t just 10 random freshmen with 30 other random people. Each of us had chosen East Campus and First East had chosen us — by and large, anyways. So we all had a feeling that we truly belonged on First East. It wasn’t purely happenstance.

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Making Everything

I always felt that what set MIT apart from other institutions was respect.  MIT’s admissions office does its job well, and admits the curious, the driven, and the talented.  It is the only place I’ve been where I could have absolute faith that the people around me had something really interesting that I could learn from them, and that they felt the same way about me.  This is strikingly rare in this world, as I’m sure you know well.  The Institute respected us in the way that only an institution can: by providing the resources to fuel our creativity, incredible people to look up to, and getting out of the way to let the reagents mix.

The remarkable feature of East Campus was that everyone was making stuff all the time.  Someone would put an LCD display in his fridge, which would inspire someone else to rig a two-axis webcam tilt-zoom out of a disk drive, which would inspire another person to make a keyless door entry system from scratch, which would inspire someone to make a plant-watering system, which would inspire someone to bolt a whiteboard onto his door and populate it with CS koans like “atomicity or idempotency?”.  We’d experiment with our living spaces, building really big lofts, putting trap doors in them, making murphy beds, building pistons to make hydraulically-lifted beds, making vaulted lofts that counterbalanced a bed with a couch on cables controlled by an enormous electric motor, or steam-bending a single block of wood into the exact shape of the owner’s back.  We shaved magnesium off of computer cases to ignite it in dry ice, we played with discarded superconductors, we built motor vehicles, we made dot matrix displays of water, we created the trend of liquid nitrogren ice cream parties.  Some of those things were wastes of time, some of them made a mess, some of them broke something else, some of them were expensive, some of them were loud, and I’m pretty sure all of them would have been stopped in their tracks by surveillance cameras and having to be vetted by a security apparatus on every entry to the building.

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I chose East Campus, and it chose me

Five, ten, twenty years after graduation, alums like me are writing in to discuss what this place means to them,
because East Campus called, and we dropped everything to help;
because we’re still so tightly connected to our community that they could contact us immediately;
because East Campus marks you for life.

It changes you. MIT bends and breaks you, and East Campus is what puts you back together at the end of the day. This is the place where I grew up, because the most important things I learned in college were in Building 62. I learned how to live with hundreds of other people and how to accept and love their quirks, and they accepted and loved me in return. I am a better person for having lived here.

You don’t get to choose your family.
I chose East Campus, and it chose me.

“Uh, excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice how much you look like everyone else?” – Crow T. Robot

Much has been said by others about how the freedom we have on the East Side encourages creativity and ingenuity. It’s great to live in a place where I can pick up “reuse” dry ice on the way home from lab and know that someone else on hall will join me in doing dumb stuff with it. I no longer throw up my hands and admit defeat when something breaks in lab or at home.

The writers above have also pointed out how the unique culture of the East Side protects the mental health of its residents. MIT is not a cake walk. When we are stressed and want to blow off steam, we don’t stick to conventional coping mechanisms. Getting drunk is boring after awhile. Instead, we paint the hallway, build a porch that hangs out the window, or put an inflatable kiddie pool in the bathroom. And instead of hiding from our hallmates and GRTs in fear that they might disapprove of our policy violations, we trust them with the most sensitive details of our lives. When truly hard times arrive, we fortify each other with hugs and baked goods – not because we’re worried about each other, but because we’ve spent so much time together that our emotions are linked.

One area that has been a little less addressed is citizenship – the kind of people MIT produces.

I didn’t have many friends in high school. Many other East Side people can relate. Honestly, I really didn’t know how people worked, and that was upsetting to me. They didn’t care about the things I cared about, and they did a lot of things that didn’t make sense. I was not comfortable enough to talk to people, let alone work with them.

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<3

I’m from New Mexico, and for my entire freshman year, my parents’ home in New Mexico was “home,” MIT was “school” (or “work,” or on especially bad days “hell”) and my dormitory was “my dorm,” or occasionally, “my living group.”

My living group, when I first came to MIT, was in Burton Conner, on a floor which people often described as “very East-side.” I came to understand the term “East-side” as “giant do-it-yourself construction projects” and “full of very nice people” and “probably involves rainbow hair.”

Mid-sophomore fall, I moved to East Campus without really knowing too many of the current residents and was struck by the number of facets of East-side culture that exist which are a little less easy to describe in cute taglines that you can tell potential freshmen on campus tours.

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Friends for life

I lived on Burton Third, which was considered one of the ‘bad’ living groups on West Campus. I won’t lie and say we were well-behaved model students all the time and I can understand why the administration is concerned about the liability. However Burton Third is where I met some of my closest friends that will be there for me for life. Despite all of the stupid shit we might have done in college we looked out for each other. That carried over into classwork and personal issues. I know I can count on those people. I don’t know if I would have met such a close group of friends if it wasn’t for MIT’s unique housing system. I would have succumbed to the firehose of MIT without the support of my fellow Bombers.

The Black Market at Harvard (for MIT students)

Last January, I started working in the CMB lab at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard.  When my lab started its search for summer undergrads, it was already late into the spring so my advisor asked everyone if they knew of any “good undergrads who didn’t have summer plans yet”*   I asked if they needed to be from Harvard or if they could be from MIT, and my advisor just grinned.

He apparently has a long history of hiring MIT people (from EC and senior house, unknowingly) and often says that he likes MIT students because they typically bring a “tech skillset and can-do approach.”  It turns out that even those who aren’t majoring in 2 or 6 end up with a lot of engineering skills by the time they leave EC, just from being around and wanting to help with cool projects.

I spammed a couple of EC hall’s mailing lists and poked a few people who I’ve worked on projects with and got an overwhelming enthusiastic response.  We ended up hiring 4 tetazoo/florey undergrads for the summer (and one Harvard freshmen), and the lab loved them.  

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Gift of myself, thanks to East Campus

Although it’s been 20 years since East Campus, I can state unequivocally that East Campus was a huge part of giving me my true sense of self, the self that was nearly impossible to uncover elsewhere.

The people at East Campus were, for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, a lot like me in outlook; they even laughed at my jokes. If you’ve never had people laugh at your jokes in your entire life, you have no idea how powerfully freeing and transformative the experience is. Not all of MIT’s undergraduate population matched me or would laugh at my jokes, but thankfully, thanks to dormitory choice, I found home.

Even now, I still believe passionately in dormitory choice, precisely because it allows young people to finally, at long last, find the few, rare people who understand them and can help them find and be themselves.

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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Culture of exploration

As a transfer student, I have had the opportunity to become intimately familiar with another college in addition to MIT. The thing that makes MIT stand out, and the reason I decided to come here, is the passion, ingenuity and fire of the East Side population. There are many colleges with rigorous academics and involved, capable student bodies. There are many places to make great friends, and many colleges with fun, quirky traditions. These things, though certainly present at MIT, are not unique. What makes MIT unique is not just the intelligence and interests of its students, but the ways in which they are allowed to express those interests. Students on the East Side take it upon themselves to go beyond simple industriousness. They explore everything. They question things that others consider axioms and find doors where others only see walls. They don’t leave their ideas in the classroom and their projects in the lab and their mathematics on the blackboard. They use their knowledge and intelligence creatively to fix, explore and improve the world around them. Nothing is allowed to remain a black box, whether its the inner workings of one small switch or a building or the entire internet. It is this environment of constant discovery and modification that makes MIT legendary, and it could not exist unless MIT continues to offer its students an unusual amount of creative freedom. It is the fact that MIT is the place where students can paint murals and install home-built electronics and build roller coasters that allows MIT to enjoy the sort of reputation that it does: not just for academic excellence, but for genius.

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Mechanics, Materials, and Meaningful Relationships

MIT taught me a lot of things, but the one I’ve talked about at job interviews is that it taught me that failure is not the end.  East Campus taught me that.

I left high school used to breezing by in my classes, but unused to being able to express my thoughts and feelings without people looking at me like I was from some other planet.  At MIT, I worked harder than I ever had in my life in order to scrape by with average grades.  If I wasn’t a brilliant student anymore, what was I?  My hallmates on Fifth East, and my friends from students activities (mostly from Random Hall, Senior House, and Epsilon Theta) taught me all the other things I had to offer to the world besides intelligence.  They taught me to value my creativity instead of hiding my ideas as “too weird.”  They taught me that I had patience and empathy to offer, and that what made me a worthwhile person went far beyond intelligence.  They taught me how to be connected to the rest of the world so I could use that intelligence to do things that really matter.

In a different type of dorm environment, this never would have happened.  Through dorm rush, people actively told me that they wanted me to live with them.  This recruiting style meant that I trusted my hallmates in a way I had never been able to trust anyone before.

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I love East Campus. I do.

I’d like to echo all the other eloquent responses here. For me, EC is MIT. I could not have survived MIT without living at EC, and I would not have wanted to stay at MIT if I had not lived at EC. After a high school experience smothered in suburban conformity, EC let me figure myself out. EC let me be wild, let me be the least interesting person in the room. It let me get to know other people equally passionate about a variety of weird hobbies and niche interests. EC let me meet my best friends, my post-college housemates. It let me live with cats instead of cinderblocks. It let me make mistakes and it let me grow up without feeling as terribly out of place as I did in high school. And EC let me paint on the walls.

There’s No Place Like Home

For some, home will always be where mum and dad are.

But not for me. East Campus is my home. I have never seen a more loving and accepting community, yet here I am, blessed to experience it. When life is beating me down, I know that I can come back to my hall, full of supportive people – all of whom care deeply for each and every other member of the hall. I can come home to rolling octagons, expressive murals, pokémon, hacking plans, blaring music, and discussions about life or simply ice cream.

Last year, when everything was going wrong in my life, it was my hall that kept me, quite frankly, alive . I have grown closer to my hallmates than to my lifelong friends outside of MIT. Why this is such a recurring theme on the East Side is up to speculation, but our desire to always be open with one another is, I believe, a major factor. We are open to crazy murals, outlandish ideas, sketchy contraptions, and all those tear-jerking words you have to say on your darkest days.

East Campus makes all the horrors of TFP undoubtedly worthwhile. Thank you, EC, for showing me this. Every. Single. Day.

It Already Feels Like Home

Even though I have only been living in EC for a month, it feels more like home than any other place I have ever lived. In high school I was content. Not happy, not sad, just content. I fit in as well as I could in a small suburban school and acted “normal.”

When I attended CPW, I was temped in Burton Conner. The people were nice, interesting, and smart. But Burton Conner felt a little like my home town. When I ventured over to EC and was handed a can of spray paint, I knew I had found something different. I didn’t know how to build things, how to code, and had never participated in FIRST robotics. But none of that mattered; everyone was willing to let me explore and try things out. Over three days of CPW I spray painted, soldered, dyed my hair, learned power tool basics, and met amazing people.

There is no “normal” at EC. There are no expectations for how you dress, who you date, or what you spend your free time doing. I have met musicians, computer scientists, video game plays, inventors, climbers, ariel silk performers, and more at EC. I have learned how to use power tools, basic lock-picking, ripsticking, and more in the past month. For someone coming from a small homogenous town, this was the most exciting thing.

Since moving in to EC I have come out of my shell. I have changed how I dress, the color and style of my hair, and the activities I do. I didn’t change to conform. I changed because instead of hiding who I was, I felt free to be me. To be happy. Genuinely happy. I am sure I would be content at Simmons or Next house, but only content. I would still be the same person I was in high school, afraid to to discover who I truly am. EC is already more than a dorm to me. As I continue to learn, explore, and grow as a person, I know EC is a place where I will find friends to teach me new skills, guide me through classes, and be there when I just need a friend. EC is why I chose to attend MIT.

A Conversational Snipet

I met a guy from Maseeh the other day. As many people from other dorms do, he asked me why I chose live in East Campus. I responded by asking him why he lives in Maseeh.

“I want somewhere quiet where I can eat, sleep, and get my Psets done,” He said.

“Well,” I said, “I want more than to eat, sleep, and get my Psets done.”

Defining Home

I remember that when I first visited MIT and stayed with a fellow gymnast in EC, she was genuinely insulted a bit that I said it ‘wasn’t weird enough’ for me.

I can understand. I was asked to describe myself in only three words this year, and what came out was “I’m totally normal.” This from a circus performer, of course, so take that with a grain of salt.

But in most of the ways that people measure, I was normal. Quiet, studious, not a partier or a wave-maker, I was (and still am in most cases) someone who is happy to be on the sidelines of the action rather than in the center.

And yet, Senior House spoke to me as soon as I stepped in the courtyard during rush. I knew I was home.

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We are here

My little sister just left for college last month. While I don’t think her dormitory gives her the same kind of self-governance that East Campus does, she has recently told me that she wants to take back some of the criticism she had for me when I first arrived at MIT. She used to berate me for “not doing things”. When I got here I didn’t join any sports. I tried some clubs and none of them stuck. I spent most of my free time sitting around in my lounge and by winter there were often weekends were I wouldn’t leave the dorm. She has told me now that she gets it; this is my home and I live with my friends.

The values of MIT’s living group based communities are innumerable and so I will highlight just one. Not only are these people my friends but they are also my family. We are not just people that work together, live together or hang out in our free time. We are a group of people who support each other and help each other grow and reach our fullest potential. Some of us paint our hallways black, scream collectively in the hallways or proclaim the moto “smoke crack, worship Satan”. There is no elevator or single gendered bathrooms. There are cockroaches and rats, broken sinks, and holes in the wall. Even with all of this, we are a community that can convince a parent that their child is looked after here. We are a place where even new residents will have a shoulder to cry if they need one. We are people who will stay up all night even though we have a test tomorrow just because someone doesn’t want to be alone. These communities are amazing not because of the cultures that have already developed but because they continue to develop. As our residents learn, grow, fail and succeed in all aspects of their life including dining, studies, and relationships we are there.

Sport Death

Not gonna lie, just the rumors of Senior Haus scared me away when I first came to campus. I didn’t even set foot inside until sophomore year.

However, when I decided to move there on a whim and a desire to live in a dorm that had a sense of community, I found the most accepting, supportive, and resilient people I have ever met. These are people who would drop their pset at 3 am to let you rant about why something was absolutely terrible or knock on your door to make sure you were awake for an exam if you had been up late studying. Everyone kept it real and I felt like I was closer to the people I lived with in the 1.5 years I spent in Senior Haus than people I’ve known my entire life. I may not have had a lot in common with some people I became friends with, but they challenged my beliefs, spoke passionately about things they cared about, and didn’t judge me for my personality quirks or my academic and mental health struggles. I doubt I’d be as comfortable with myself as I am now if I hadn’t lived in Senior Haus, and I definitely doubt that I would have survived MIT without the friends I made there.

Why I give back

I write as an East Campus alum from 2008 who served for 3 years on the executive committee, and now gives back to MIT by donating (I’m a member of the 1861 Circle and the WBR Society) and volunteering for MIT to interview applicants. I am committed to MIT not because it ranks highly in the US News and World Reports, but because my experience living on the East Side of campus shaped who I am as a person and connected me more strongly to MIT than any of my classes ever could have. I write to share my memories, and urge caution in changing the culture of the dorm in ways that might destroy the unique ecosystem that allows some of the world’s most brilliant minds to transition from being 18 and clueless to 22 and ready to tackle the world.

There are the murals, the ones I still stop by to check out when I’m on campus, or to see what new creative paintings the current generation of students have covered up. These murals give life to the dorm and are a way to pass culture and memories from one generation of students to the next.

There is the kitchen, a place at the heart of my time at East Campus. I learned about culture by cooking my Minnesota hot dish in the same kitchen as a friend from Costa Rica making his beans and rice, a friend from Greece who brought back liters of olive oil from the family tree every time she went home, and a hall mate from Pakistan who required coaching to learn how to make soup from a can.

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The importance of self-defined living groups

I spent my time at MIT living at East Campus, although I spent Rush at Random Hall. Knowing that I was surrounded by a group of people who had actively chosen to live together was a huge support for me. I grew up poor in a rural area on the West Coast, and I had a very rough first year at MIT. My hall mates supported me in many ways — cooking together, offering hugs, dragging me off to a party, and offering immediate on-the-spot tutoring.

I also appreciate the “intergenerational” aspect of self-defined living groups. Because people continue to identify with their living group even after they finish at MIT there is a nice pool of people of all different ages and experiences who will randomly drop by to chat, cook, or offer assistance.

East Side Pride

People have stereotypes about MIT students. Some of those preconceptions and legends about MIT culture are why people like me come to MIT, and the East Side is where they are *true*.

Don’t homogenize the student population. There is no doubt in my mind that this is also an LGBT issue. Transgender visibility and support is way greater on the East Side. Taking that away will put people at risk.

Keep it weird, keep it queer, let us quirky geniuses find our tribe.

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.

Crusty alum

When I lived in East Campus…

Ronald Reagan was elected, Rap music was first heard on the radio, John Lennon was assassinated, Jerry Weisner was President, our radio station was WTBS, the Solidarity movement began in Poland, and Muhammed Ali fought his last professional match. I remember those events, and so many more, like they were yesterday. I also met my wife and many of my (still) closest friends in EC and in Senior House.

What made EC so special was the coupled sense of freedom and of personal responsibility. My classmates and I truly had the sense the the “PTB” considered us old enough to take care of ourselves (mostly) and left us to it (mostly). I understand that that sense has evolved over time. External events and changing culture guarantee that. My recent visits have convinced me that these changes have generally been reasonable and natural.

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Personal Development and the East Side

As an alum and now employer, I have learned that the best MIT experience comes not just from academics but from extracurricular experiences that include leadership, self-directed projects, transgression of boundaries, informal mentoring, and opportunities to organize peers. While some students get these from sports or clubs, I find that in the context of a sometimes overwhelming MIT workload, the most effective way to have these experiences is in your living group. And broadly speaking, I find the “culture of the east side”, talking to graduates from 1970 to 2014, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, is a highly effective place for students to have these experiences.

By matching your aspirations to your living group, by being in a place where you are not an outlier but a core member of the community, and by starting with people who are a little bit weird, we develop very strong self directed graduates. And for incoming students who are not traditional “leader” types, the environment of the East Side does a far better job of giving them leadership experiences.

finding a home

MIT has a housing system in which students choose where to live.  This leads to communities that develop and persist in different dorms, fraternities, and other living groups.  This system is unusual among colleges, and it makes MIT a better, more healthy, more collaborative and less competitive environment.  Most other colleges have freshmen living in randomly assigned housing with other freshmen, and alumni of these colleges are awed and jealous when I tell them about my experience at MIT.

Most undergraduates at MIT came from a place where they were set apart from others.  While it is often nice to be labeled as “gifted”, it can sometimes be lonely.  The vast majority had no true community of peers in high school.  For those people, the daunting challenge of leaving home and attempting the undergraduate curriculum at MIT was made possible, bearable, memorable, enjoyable, and life-changingly awesome by the home they found in their living group at MIT.  For those who wished for a more common college experience of studying, hanging out with friends, and playing beer pong, those living groups were there.  And for those who never knew there were other people like them, who wanted to learn to use power tools by being challenged to a spontaneous chariot-building competition, stay up until 5am cracking physics jokes while baking cupcakes, turning their lounge into electrical engineering labs for 24-hour soldering on an epic project that would make their dance parties better than ever, there was East Campus.  For those of us who went to a place like MIT and even there were considered “weird”, it was incredibly important to have a place where we found like minds, and where we could truly find a home.

When I think about what I learned at MIT, the classroom was just a small part of that.  The bulk of the learning experience is in the dorm lounge, where freshmen desperately recruit upperclassmen’s help to pass their classes, and upperclassmen are glad for an opportunity to feel like they know something and pass it on.  This collaborative atmosphere is why students at MIT become a top-notch engineer, no matter what their majors.  We need our kitchens, murals, dance floors, minor explosions, cats, roller coasters, and liquid nitrogen.  We need our home.

East campus made me who I am today.

On first glance, I probably did not seem to be a great fit for east campus. I was hopeless with power tools. I had no idea how to code or even assemble a computer. I’m not artistic. I’ve never been a risk-taker. And yet, second west (Putz) quickly became my home. During rush (back in those days) I was temporarily on third east and did my best to explore the other dorms but something kept bringing me back to all of the East Campus activities. It probably also helped that the residents of EC kept on giving me rides back from west campus on their rickshaws. There was no question that I wanted to live at East Campus for my entire time at MIT.

I became fast friends with the residents of Putz. I was amazed at how fast I was incorporated in the community there. We bonded over cooking in the kitchen, struggled over our p-sets together, and explored what Boston had to offer. If anyone was sick, there would always be someone checking on you and running to the store to get you OJ, tissues, or meds. Upperclassman put together semi-official tutoring sessions for the core courses and were always available when we were having difficulty figuring out a problem. I learned how to use a drill, how to wire an electrical socket, how to paint (skills that have come in handy in my adult life). I formed life-long friendships. When I got married several years after graduating, 21 MIT folk came from across the country and across the world to attend. 17 of them had lived on second west with me. Two years ago, I went to a wedding in for a fellow alum; 10 fellow east-siders came from across the world to meet up in a tiny mountain town in the Alps to celebrate their marriage. I know that anytime I go to NYC, San Fran, LA, Boston, Chicago, Paris and many other places across the world that I will always have a place to stay or a dinner date. When I run into a technical barrier in my research, I can call a number of friends to help me figure out some code or how to optimize a piece of lab equipment.

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East-side culture fosters thought leaders

The vibrant cultures of east-side living groups (including Random Hall and all of the ILGs) reflect two values that are critical to MIT: (1) creativity, and (2) a can-do attitude. Few social environments are as broadly are supportive of wacky new ideas. Residents learn how to take measured risks and which sorts of new ideas have the potential to change the world. This kind of risk-taking is treasured in academia and industry alike, and this training is not seen in MIT classrooms to the same extent. Please preserve this culture!

The East Side is a residential culture of trust and self-determination the enabling of which is critical to MIT’s educational mission

When I first arrived at MIT not all that long ago in historical terms, I was simply blown away by what I saw at East Campus and Senior House. I found it remarkable what a rich residential culture existed and the way in which it was all organized and created organically by the students themselves. Students were in charge of everything! From huge events like Steer Roast, Dorm Rush and Spring Picnic, to fundamental house management functions (desk, room assignments, dispute adjudication via judcomms), to even retail food service (student-run Pritchett Cafeteria). I remember wondering (and then having the history explained to me) how MIT had gotten so lucky as to have developed a self-sustaining residential organizational system that returned so much from so little overhead in institutional effort. It wasn’t until later, after I lived in Senior House, that I realized that part of this equation was precisely the limitation of top-down external input that allowed the residents the freedom to own and take responsibility for the emergence of their preferred environment.

I must mention here that I was hardly a newcomer to the university system and the co-residential environment; I would not have been so impressed with just any institution. I had already studied at two universities before MIT, lived in two very different student dormitory residences, and been familiar with the operations and cultures of many more, including representing one as a delegate to a national conference on university residences. The East Side of MIT, and Senior House in particular, quite simply took the concept of an academic residential learning environment to an entirely new level, and I knew immediately that I wanted to live there. And once I did live there, I finally felt, after years of experiencing similar but not equal residences, that I had found home. A place where people like me, highly motivated to explore and resistant to being pigeonholed or spoon-fed, could thrive.

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A lifelong community

There are many things I could say, many things I wish I had time to say, but one of the most powerful things about being a part of East Campus and Senior House when I was an undergraduate is that it turned out to be a community that I didn’t leave behind when I graduated.

Many times friends have commented to me that they can’t begin to fathom how it’s possible to still be so intertwined with people I knew from my alma mater. And just this year, as I was preparing to head to Steer Roast, a close friend blurted out with great incomprehension that, even though she had loved her undergraduate experience and had made a handful of great friends there, it would never even cross her mind to go back for a school reunion. I knew what she meant, but I could only say that it doesn’t feel like a school reunion, it’s more like going to see family – a family that keeps growing, and keeps surprising you, and that makes you feel grounded, not just at that moment of reunion but the whole year around.

I can say confidently now that all the memorable bits that happened while I was an undergrad were just the tip of the iceberg. After graduating I worked for a while with BU and Harvard students and various alums from other schools, and the closest thing I could find in their experiences that matched mine were fraternities and the crazy networking that comes from being a Harvard alum. In that sense, Senior House has been the most open, free-for-all, genderless, fraternity-like experience I’ve ever run across. Since graduating I’ve met people who were at SH in the 70s and 80s who immediately took me in, made me feel welcome, introduced me to their old SH friends and connections, and went out of their way to help me get a leg up in my life. Along the way, I’ve tried to do the same – not from any sense of obligation, but from a genuine feeling of connection through shared culture. These kinds of interactions have been a big part of my life since leaving MIT.

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I wish I could live here forever.

The coolest things I’ve ever done, I’ve done while I was here in East Campus. The coolest things I’ve ever seen have been products of East Campus.

East Side culture is why I decided to apply to MIT, and now it’s why I stay here. My hallmates are my family.

I can’t even begin to describe my feelings about my home. The people, the cats, the activities – you can’t get anything like it anywhere else. I can’t imagine life without MIT’s unique dorm culture. Actually, I can. Life would be boring. I don’t want to have the same kind of stale housing system they have at other colleges. The way we live here is the reason I’m even here at all.

I really just love East Campus. I’m going to be really sad when I graduate and I can’t live with all of my best friends anymore.

I love East Campus

I love the fact that misadventures are a regular occurrence.

I love the fact that I can have conversations ranging on a scale from silliness to serious and hit everything in between.

I love the fact that I know everyone on my hall and they know me.

I love the fact that I can call them my family.

I love the fact that they will protect me and help me, whether the trouble be other people, psets, or my emotional state.

I love East Campus for many facts, many more than the few above that I pulled off the top of my head, but I think what I love most about this place is the freedom: Freedom to act, freedom to create, freedom to control our environment, freedom to create microcosms of individual cultures within this encompassing community, freedom to create families out of (what some could qualify as) misfits.

I love East Campus because, when I come back from class at the end of the day, I’m happy I can truly be home.

I don’t know who I’d be without East Campus

[This is written all at once and unedited. Apologies for typoes]

I don’t know who I’d be without East Campus.

I had so much to work through coming in, a sheltered kid from single sex Catholic school, no idea what I wanted to be, struggling with mental illness I hadn’t yet identified. The community I found in East Campus was everything I needed. I was challenged and supported. I was encouraged to explore and given reality checks when I needed them. I did things I never thought I’d do, and I loved them. I met the person that I married a week ago. I avoided needing to be hospitalized when I was having medication problems because I did have a community that would take care of me around the clock for a couple days (I just needed people keeping an eye on me, a hospital would only have been stressful.)

It was rough at times. We were passionate, and we fought, and a lot of us were dealing with some rough things, but we all made it, and I’m a better person for it. I saw people at their best and their worst and I appreciated them for the mad, sad, wild geniuses they were. Without my community, I *never* would have graduated –  I would have moved back in with my parents and gotten a degree somewhere else, instead of working my ass off to get readmitted. When I came back, my old cohort had all graduated, and I wound up spending my time at Random Hall, being part of another community that made me a better person. I hope I was able to pass on some wisdom as someone who’d been around the MIT block, but regardless, they were great for me. It’s really hard coming back after a few years off (I was even in a support group for it), but the continuity of East Side culture was amazing for me. I know from that support group that I had it easier than other people, having a community to be part of even though I lived in an apartment in Somerville.

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living groups something future something

After reading all of the posts on this beautiful website, I feel absolutely compelled to jump on the Bandwagon. Not only do I want to add my feels to the pile of feels, but I want to especially emphasize a point that I have seen in a lot of posts that is very important to me.

Living groups are absolutely essential to success at MIT.

When first arriving on campus, I thought I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted to be. Obviously I wanted to be a Chemical Engineer, and I needed to ASE out of all my GIRs so that I could graduate a year early and begin my career changing the world. As soon as I learned about the existence of CourseRoad, I began mapping out my plan of classes so that I could be in and out of MIT with my shiny degree. You see, I had been enrolled at a university for two years already, and thus I knew what I needed to do with my life.

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How I Learned Happiness

I could talk about everything East Campus has done for me – the community here has taught me how to feed myself deliciously and cost-effectively, squashed the squeamishness out of me, made me kinder and more compassionate, raised the standards I set for myself, and changed my outlook on life. But most of all, this place – my family – taught me happiness, and saved me when I needed it most.

Something that I loved right off the bat about MIT’s housing system was the freedom and flexibility for choosing where I would live. I wanted to live in East Campus because I saw it as a community of people who do things for the sake of doing them; a unique blend of concentrated creative expression and application of practical skills and technical knowledge. Upon moving in, I didn’t realize exactly what I was getting into – the amount of passion people have for what they do here. From what I’ve observed, people here don’t do everything – far from it; however, when they do something, they engage in it fully.

I came to MIT with the realization that I had been relying on my social life to be happy for years. I didn’t really know what to do with myself if I wasn’t around my friends, and I often chose to do things because my friends were doing them, or they seemed like they would be objectively useful to me and I didn’t dislike the thought of doing them. I didn’t really have a passion or drive to do things. I suppose my approach to life could be described succinctly as “apathetic,” and I was fully conscious and equally apathetic towards that thought.

EC changed me. People here are using the things they’ve learned, taking them beyond solving p-sets or acing tests, and using their knowledge to explain to me why there’s suddenly a black circle in the middle of my iPod screen that sometimes changes shape, or how different properties of knots make them useful for different things. More than that, no one ever wrote me off as being entirely froshy and incompetent; they found my skills useful and sometimes amazing – skills I considered more befitting to a housewife than a student at a technology institute. They gave me ideas for how to combine the two to create something beautiful and unique. They showed me a reason and a new level of creative freedom that allowed me to think of ideas I never would have before, and that excited me. I don’t necessarily know what my passion is, but now I think I’ll find it one day. I sincerely think this exponential growth of passion happens perhaps not exclusively on the East Side, but with much higher frequency here. I attribute this to a mix of living in a place where we have so much freedom and autonomy, and the high concentration of people who take advantage of said freedom to its full capacity make EC a place where I am more driven, and more actually, actively, passionately happy.

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Home (Even If It Is Kind of Falling Apart)

As a frosh, I haven’t spend a great deal of time at East Campus. However, in the 2ish months I have spent here, I can’t help but love this place. At East Campus, I am not afraid to be myself since I know I won’t be judged. Far from it, the people here welcome everyone with open arms. It just wonderful. I don’t have to fear putting up a mask in order to fit in. The people, while occasionally sassy or mischievous, do love each other and will support each other in any way they can. Whether it be with helping with PSETs or baking cookies for hall when the mood is somber, I know my friends here at East Campus will help me when in need. It is an amazing family. Even if the place isn’t the most beautiful dorm facility wise, it is a place I am proud to call home.

Learning to Think

For me, MIT delivered on its promise to teach me to think, but classes were a small part of that. More important for me were the late-night discussions, usually sitting on the floor in the black or mural-covered halls bathed in the glow of the gel-colored lights of Fifth East East Campus. EC culture isn’t just about questioning authority, but about questioning everything, including yourself. Well, why couldn’t you build a …? How do you know … is true? What happens if we try …?

Having a place where you feel at home — comfortable and with a sense of ownership — is incredibly important to fostering intellectual creativity and emotional growth.

Class of 2003

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.

I found a shoe behind my projector

It was 4 AM, I was pissed at my Psets, searching for my passport, and altogether annoyed. On a whim I decided maybe my passport hid on the shelving above my desk (stolen from an alum, half a sawed Institute Desk frankenstein’d to a homemade piece, no legs in the middle just prayers for stability). When I looked up, I found a shoe behind my projector, also on these shelves.

My friends had come into my room (door’s open all the time, sometimes I find friends sleeping on my super-comfortable beanbag when I return), hidden shoes in places I didn’t expect, and waited for me to find them. It cheered me up immensely that in the middle of a shitty night, I discovered there was a game of hide-the-shoe in my room.

I don’t know if you understand what the things I’ve mentioned here mean to me, but there’s no denying that they mean I live in a community. A community with good friends, people who without even seeing me can cheer me up at 4 am when I’m angry with my work.

East Campus means community to me. A community that has its troubles with each other, and isn’t perfect. But sometimes, the shoes behind my projector remind me how much happier I am here than anywhere else.

Story Time

This may be slightly irrelevant, but I want to tell the story of my Freshman year and how I landed in East Campus.

Before arriving at MIT, I had only a slight understanding of the ‘cultural’ differences associated with the MIT dormitories. I wouldn’t have necessarily applied the word ‘culture’ to them myself, at the time. They were dormitories- a bed, a desk, a place to eat. If I was lucky, it might have a gym and a weight room, or even a ball pit or a movie theatre.

I wasn’t yet 18, and relied heavily on my parents’ own college experiences and concerns to make my campus housing decision. My parents were worried, of course. They wanted to know how I would be fed, if I would be sleeping enough, if someone would be keeping tabs on me and make sure I was doing my school work. I was not even eighteen! Feeding myself was not even an option, so a dining hall was a must. Somewhere clean and quiet was also a necessity, so I would be able to focus on my school work! My decision was such, and I landed in a brand new, recently renovated dormitory for my Freshman year.

I was happy enough. I made a friend or two around campus. I ate regular meals. I had a GRT who checked up on me often, and held weekly social events to help me meet (and really, even just remember the names of) the people that lived within my general vicinity. And then- at the end of my Freshman Fall Semester, tragedy struck. My roommate, whom I had thought of as a wonderful friend since even before our CPW, had a serious mental breakdown. She asked that, for her physical and mental well being, I not return to the dorm room or to anywhere where I might be in her presence whatsoever.

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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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Individual Histories

The following is long and has a long of rambling, but it’s hard to put down my thoughts about these things.

Most of the other people here talk about how their dorm is/was there home. About how the people they live with are family and how their experience at MIT would not be as awesome or as meaningful without the residential structure that gives people freedom to do awesome things where they want to be with whom they want to live with. I don’t want to really talk about that but what I’m talking about is related. I want to talk about History.

Every university has its history: Y founded the school in the year X for Z reasons, This building was built this year, That scandal happened, the university sportballers won the championship during one year, these famous alumni took these classes in this time and so on and so forth. MIT has an archipelago of histories. Each dorm has it’s own history as does each hall, entry, suite, and even individual room and walls.

I didn’t know it when I started, but by choosing living in certain dorms or joining with certain floors I wasn’t just choosing who to live with for the next four years. I was adding myself to a continuous string of residents that spans back decades. They may not have taken the same classes, or been in the same clubs, but they had the similar traditions, painted some of the murals I see every day and through their actions created the culture and communities in which I lived and belonged.

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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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the place my parents warned me about…

i remember freshman fall, when I first got to campus my parents said “daughter, don’t move to EC, they built a roller coaster (and it doesn’t look safe so don’t go on it), they die their hair and some people didn’t have clothes on, let alone shoes. it’s weird and i think they’re allowed to have cats and even smoke in their rooms *gasp*”. as an agreeable kid who was content with my assigned dorm, i obeyed.

during my first semester, i became friends with one haus resident… and soon, half of my friend group lived someplace on the east side. i loved my floor on west campus and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything but senior haus and East Campus were definitely my second homes.

after attending my first 5E party, i realized my parents were right. everyone was weird and i LOVED it. then i attended my first roast… and fell in love again, press repeat until my last roast this spring. i would go to east campus and stay late chatting with people i never met, making new friends and before i realized, every single time, we would see the sunrise. i never had to worry about what i was wearing to east campus or how my hair looked or if my socks matched. if i wanted a beer, i just had to ask and if i wanted to smoke, someone was there with a pack.

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Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc

— Wow! My heart just fell out my nose because you guys understand the same math jokes I used to make in high school!

— Indeed, little pre-freshman, did you know lots of people at East Campus have heard all those jokes before.

 

— Excuse me, I drilled a hole in the wall during Rush and need to come back to finish what I started.

— Yes! The erection of it’s-going-to-kill-you-if-you-don’t-show-an-upperclassman-first lofts is a much loved alternative to the white wall asylum decor of the MIT bachelor program. Did you know you can also build a chair out of frozen cockroaches?

 

— Wow Jack! You’re so jaded and cool and acerbic and angry at the world! Throw another package at me, please!

— [Under the soft glow cast by a Green Building, eyes stained red with caffeine and framed by the bleached shell of a human skull glance up from a computer and a cat-scratched hand turns the headphone volume up.]

 

East Campus is my reason the hermit crab loves his shell. East Campus is the sled in hand at the top of a tall snow-covered hill when the air is still and the trees are dead.

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Why we were inspired to write Hack, Punt, Tool — a musical about MIT student culture

Hi everybody!

It’s the Hack Punt Tool team here.  We were asked to write a bit about our experiences as writers of a show about MIT.

Hack Punt Tool, for those unfamiliar, is an original musical written about the MIT undergraduate student experience, created by MIT students and alums.  Our adventure began after a performance of MTG’s 2011 IAP production of Jekyll and Hyde, when dRache (co-author) turned to Julie (composer) and said, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if there were a musical about MIT?”  Julie said, “Actually… I’ve been wanting to write a musical for a while.”

The the first line was written in late January 2011, and the final piece was performed almost exactly 1 year later including full orchestrations, a modular set, intricately designed costumes, the works.  We held 3 readings, went through over 150 google docs of drafts, and shared 30-some sunrises together (more extensive chart here!).

Why did we pour so much of our souls into this show?  Well, frankly, we care a whole hell of a lot about MIT and we wanted to tell a story about what it’s like to be a student here.

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Rising to expectations

I was a Burchard Humanities Scholar my junior year at MIT, meaning once a month I got to attend a sit-down dinner with the other undergrad scholars and some SHASS professors. It was nice to spend an occasional evening talking to folks I didn’t usually see, and eating catered food. One of the professors also served on some sort of student life committee, and towards the end of that year – upon making small talk with me and discovering I lived in EC – said “see, wouldn’t it be nice if you could do this every night in your own dining hall?” I was so surprised at the question I choked on my drink (much to my embarrassment), but eventually managed to sputter out an emphatic “NO!”

How could I prefer an antiseptic dining hall with strangers, instead of family dinner cooked and consumed collectively – in the kitchen we painted and maintained – with the hallmates who would become my closest, lifelong friends?

How could I prefer the forced homogeneity and structure my friends at other universities despised at their schools, instead of being able to make myself dinner in the middle of the night when I got home from lab?

How could I prefer the overpriced and unappealing dining hall food I experienced when visiting friends in west campus, instead of learning to plan meals, budget for food, and cook for myself? (Skills that served me well when I became a public school teacher after graduating!)

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EC Cares

The people here care. They care about things that don’t matter; they care about things that do. They care about the people, the culture, and the perception of EC around campus. We care about looking like we don’t. I love that I get to be a part of a group of people that cares enough to have a conversation.

At EC I feel safe. I feel accepted. I feel like people care about me.

Freaks and Geeks

I didn’t have all that many friends in high school.  I was kind of a weirdo – nerdy, outspoken, and well, not straight.

When I visited MIT over CPW I fell in love, specifically with the east side.  It was a place that was a home for people like me.  It was full of freedom and art and trying things and acceptance.  I came to live in East Campus and I was absolutely ecstatic when the majority of people I met just seemed to accept me.

I’m a tour guide – I know that MIT strongly believes in the influence of place, so to speak – the way an architectural setup can influence the culture that goes on there.  Well there’s more to the places of the east side than just architecture but I think the same principle applies.  The freedoms we’re given allow all sorts of people to thrive, allow a culture to spring up.  The ability to paint on the walls, for example, to be surrounded by art of our own creation, gives us a sense of permanence and continuity.  It allows us to shape the space we live in, it’s a visual extension and support of the cultures we make.  And it’s that culture that gives me a home.  I wouldn’t love the place if it weren’t for the people who live here and the things we’ve created together.  My life would be poorer without it all.

Don’t Diss the West Side

I love how many of the posts celebrate the zaniness, fun, and personal growth that comes from living on the East Side in general, at at East Campus in particular.  But a lot of posts have veered into trashing anybody who lives more than a few feet west of Mass Ave as a stuffed shirt, a trashing all West Side housing as living in a hotel.  They’re missing the whole point.

The glory of the MIT housing system, with students choosing where to live after experiencing what each dorm is like, is that all of the dorms have their own intense cultures.  Within a dorm, each floor (or entry) has its own culture. By picking the home that’s right for you, you add to that culture, and it sustains itself.  The EC culture that my son describes to me has a lot in common with the EC culture of when I was an MIT student (in the late Bronze Age, in case you’re wondering).  Obviously things evolve with each new generation of students — it would be pretty sad if they didn’t —  but the core values have largely stayed the same.

But EC wasn’t the only place where crazy things happened. Until the administration stopped it, the Baker piano drop was always at …wait for it …..Baker!  Baker was also the house with the strongest sense of house solidarity.  I lived in Burton-Conner , which had nine different cultures under one roof, and some of the best hacks around (he says congratulating himself). McGregor, New House, and Next House all had their share of colorful characters and colorful rituals.  (OK, McCormick was pretty staid.)   And that’s not even counting the frats and ILGs, which were 4-year residential back then.  The houses weren’t the same — far from it — but they all offered something far beyond the ordinary.

Mixing things up and having all the dorms be more the same would be a disaster for MIT student life.  Unbelievably bad idea.

So long live the spirit of EC!  May you haunt the rooftops and steam tunnels forever. And long live the spirits of Burton, Baker, and the rest of the dorms, too!

 

Tinkering and taking risks are inventors’ modes of play!

East Campus felt more like home to me than home ever did. I arrived in 1998, quiet and tired after a week of ROTC indoctrination, feeling out of place and lonely. I took one slip ‘n slide ride down plastic-lined 2nd West, and knew these were the people for me.

My hallmates bore me up over the next four years. I would come home exhausted from field training or Junior Lab, shuck my uniform, and melt into my friends. Our hall’s projects comprised pure problem-solving: scaling recipes for liquid-nitrogen ice cream, rewiring the hall lights, or installing speakers for an mp3 system in the shower. On my first date with my college boyfriend, an upperclassman guided us to the top of the Little Dome. My sophomore year, I lofted my bed and realized I was too short to get down safely. With the help of several friends, I borrowed the EC chop saw, cut a length of pipe, and mounted it with SpeedRail to the ceiling and the floor. I slid down this fire pole every morning for the next two years. My hallmates and I encouraged each other to try near-unimaginable things—like buying a Winnebago at a police auction, hot-wiring the ignition with alligator clips, and driving frosh around in it during rush. Through it all, I felt safe at East Campus; I felt like myself. And it was a welcome release from the pressures of military training and a grueling Course VIII major.

The friends I made at EC are still people to whom I feel close. They escorted me to Logan Airport when I went to Officer Candidates School, and two years later, sent me puzzle letters and math problems when I deployed to Iraq. We have traveled internationally to attend each other’s weddings. These days, we discuss startup life, tenure-track jobs, and the best time to have a family. But our friendships are rooted in those hall hacks.

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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!

Fraternities are people, too!

I spent my four years at MIT living in a fraternity which was recently banned from campus life. Most people didn’t care about us, some apparently disliked us (prejudiced bastards!), but almost all of those who actually spent time with us valued our community.

Many undergrads celebrated our punishment. Some even helped it along.

TO ALL VAGUELY INTERESTING LIVING GROUPS: Know this. First they will prosecute your traditions, even when every living participant maintains their harmlessness. Second (and by virtue of #1) they will attempt to sterilize your culture. Third (if you resist) they will destroy you.

It’s not IF, it’s WHEN. Unless everything you do would make a good photo on an admissions brochure, prepare to bid your identity adieu.

Just don’t forget when it’s all over how readily everyone threw the other communities they didn’t identify with under the bus when it was their turn to be executed.

Fred

 

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.

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.

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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In this space, with these people, I grew up

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

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

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

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

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

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More Adolescent Feels

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

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

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

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

<3

The Lost

 

 

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.

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i call this place home

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

Where I found my confidence

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

My daughter

My daughter has told me many stories about her dorm. I am very glad she is in a place where the cultures and freedoms allow the students to let their minds run unlocked. They can question and create without conventional bounds–an environment like this is extremely rare in the professional world. The time they spend there should be valued.

She has told me about the reason for this page. Do not lock these young men and women down for the sake of conventions. Doing so will be to suffocate their minds, their education, and the great creations that would have come from their lives.

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.

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.

Open Doors

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

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

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

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

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

Community

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

How Random has made a difference for me

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

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

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

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Little Things

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

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

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

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

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

I found home the minute I though I lost home

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

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

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

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MIT is not MIT without the East Side

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

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

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

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Senior Haus will always be my home

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

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

Erin, Senior House, Class of ’99

Queer Affirmation

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

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

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

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

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

Why I chose to live on the east side of town

Greetings.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

thank you for your attention.

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

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.

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.

The Tour Guide with the Bright Green Hair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

On tiredness

If I start trying to write a real post, it will snowball to 10,000 words. I don’t want to do that because I have been trying to be disciplined about not letting my deep sadness about the future of the Institute – my erstwhile home – take up too much of my mental real estate.

This place embraced me – queer, awkward, nerdy, and from a spotty family background.

If you erase the culture of the east side dorms and ILGs, you erase a place that has historically helped many people from marginalized groups feel welcome. (I wish in all their demonizing of SH/EC/Bex, the administration would for once at least acknowledge what e.g. the Living Pink survey reveals about dormitory cultures.)

You erase a place where many have found a community of people who love them, and whom they can love. If you gut our communities of their personality, if you sand off our communities’ sometimes-challenging edges, you will have lost something that is truly beautiful. You will have lost weird, creativity- and life-enhancing spaces where people voluntarily live despite the cockroaches and buildings fall apart because these communities are more inspiring to them than castle-like renovated “halls” built with 1% commissioned art. You will have lost something which is quite unique in the national university system. Example: these are spaces where students self-designated bathrooms as gender neutral because that was the human thing to do, well before any of that stuff was cool (15+ years ago). Of course, students these days could never be trusted with that kind of autonomy or decisionmaking power. (Fortunately for us, university administrators have caught up with us on the gender-neutral stuff; on this solitary point alone we can all agree that the east side dorms were on the Right Side Of History.)

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The Real Genius Types

Years ago, when I was still an undergrad at MIT, I was sitting in my room in the West Parallel with the window open and overheard a tour passing through. “This is East Campus,” the tour guide said, “All the ‘Real Genius’ types that you see in movies and stuff, they pretty much come from here, along with most of the famous hacks. It’s a little weird, but it’s also the part that makes MIT MIT.”

I don’t know who that tour guide was — I didn’t recognize him, so I doubt he was an EC resident — but his description was spot on.

It’s always bothered me that one part of the MIT administration loves talking about the awesome things that MIT students (mostly East side residents) do — hacks and disco dance floors and Time Traveler Conventions and boats made out of couches — while another part of the administration is constantly at war with the very culture that produces such wonderful PR for the Institute.

Why is everyone so mean to Team Rocket?

Steve Leeb is a harsh mistress. Every night last semester, I would toil away in lab, trying to get my circuit to do what Steve Leeb said it should do, like shoot lasers, and not be on fire. Sooner or later, my vision would start getting fuzzy, and I’d remember I’d forgotten to eat dinner again. I would fold up my lab kit, and trek quietly through the institute’s hallways, until I finally made it back home.

And every night, when I opened my door, there would be, like, five people, just sitting there, in my room. Someone would ask me how I was doing, and I’d tell them, and he or she would give me a big hug, and I’d forget all about my circuit, which was probably burning through building 38 about now. They’d sit me down, and force me to watch a couple episodes of Pokemon, and we’d laugh at how bad the show was but how much we still loved it, and at some point, I would fall asleep. When I woke up, there would be cookies sitting on my desk, because someone knew I needed them.

This just happened, every night, because everyone on hall knows each other, and cares about each other. Our little hall is my family. I mean, that’s the whole point of dorms, isn’t it? Well, it should be.

What I love most about my home is who I share it with

East Campus, and more specifically my family on Fifth East, is the only place I have ever felt safe, comfortable, and (most importantly) loved. The building may seem like a proper decrepit place to put irresponsible 20somethings, but we are all unspeakably grateful to be given somewhere to truly be ourselves. The walls are covered with years of students painting their own pivotal moments, and the explosively creative spirit of the residents who find themselves within those walls can only be kept under wraps by the stress of classes. Come IAP comes Bad Ideas. Come REX comes The EC Party. If given the time, we East Side folk can accomplish anything.

For awhile, I didn’t feel like I fit in. I am not an engineer. I can’t build roller coasters or program lights to go off with the beat of the music. I was thrilled I could build my own loft, but I now know I won’t be attempting furniture again. Then I found Fifth East. As a freshman I learned Fifth East had a notably “scarier” rep than most floors – it had black walls and red lights and wayy too many open policies – but I put it at the top of my list anyways. Coming from a conservative, conformity-driven family, the strong undercurrent of independence and acceptance was overwhelming at first. It was the first time I found myself so far outside my comfort zone, and the first time I took steps to lead my own life.

We get a bad rep because we dye our hair, pierce our body, and sometimes neglect to acknowledge the importance of shoes in the winter. We take pride in playing by the rules of our own game. We care about our community and do everything in our power to protect it, because we know it’s something special. We know here we get to be who we are and say what we feel without the threat of judgment. We’re spontaneous, not rash. We’re creative, not delusional. We’re independent, not detached. We are always pushing the limits of what can be done, what’s socially acceptable, what’s “normal.” Because who ever wanted to be that anyway? I want to be me.

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.

Finally at Home

Before coming to MIT for the first time, I had kind of taken on the mentality that I would forever be on my own for a lot of things and had no place in the world unless I forced one for myself. I had friends and I’d go hang out with them but I was always the weird one, a different species composed of just me. Even surrounded by my friends it was easy to see which one I was. I was the one who stuck out. If my friends were up at 3 am, they never wanted to talk STEM or anything else of much interest to me. We could talk about doing stuff but nothing ever really happened. My ideas were crazy, I was insane for being so different. I was the only openly queer person in my grade, it wasn’t until end of my junior year of high school that people in my school started to come out at all and they were all in lower grades. I would do most things with my parents but talking about certain subjects was hard and still is with them. Some subjects can’t really touched with people from where I grew up.

Then came MIT, my hair was already dyed and my feet loved having no shoes on. People immediately said “you should really check out East Campus…”

Now I get it, there is a place in this world for me. Like it was waiting for me. More than just the funky hair, bare feet, and mere appearances, there are people I can finally relate to. 3 am is a good hour for anything. I feel safe here, there is nothing I can’t talk about, no reason to feel uncomfortable. No reason to feel like I don’t fit in. People want to do stuff and love to collaborate.

Each hall is very different and very cool even if they can be generalized into East Campus. The hall I chose and got into feels like it was tailored to me exactly.

Yes, it is crazy and the place can be messy from ongoing projects and psets but this is my home, and I finally know what home feels like.

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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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.

A new home

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

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

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

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

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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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Why I came to MIT

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

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

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

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

I suck at conclusions. See above post!

Tarapulin: a shoobleglorp higlfup

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

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

The problem with that task: how?

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

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

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Long live seniorhaus

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

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

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

Madness in any direction, at any hour

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

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

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

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

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

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East Campus is a community

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

East Campus *IS* MIT.

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

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

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

-DGonz ’14

I belong here.

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

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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The difference between MIT and UT-Austin

Once upon a time, I was an undergrad at MIT, living on Burton One and having the time of my life. We did some serious stuff, we did some fun stuff, and we did some seriously fun stuff. (Putting a giant nipple on the Great Dome tops the list). Whether it was jumping out of windows into snowbanks or arguing about the existence of God, life was intense. Others have already explained how most of their learning at MIT happened at odd hours with fellow students from their dorms.  Hallelujah.

The MIT administration liked to say (and still likes to say) that getting an education at MIT is like getting a drink from a fire hose. Burton One in the late 70s was like that, and it worked because the administration didn’t mind our getting the carpet soaked. Sure, they slapped our wrists from time to time, but mostly they gave us plenty to drink from 9 to 5, and let us keep drinking, in our own way, into the evening and through the night.

They looked the other way when we had our parties, did our hacks, and acted on our curious impulses.  The priorities of the Campus Patrol were always (1) protect us from outsiders, (2) protect us from ourselves, and (3) enforce the rules just enough to keep the Cambridge Police off campus (see (1)).  The cops were often our adversaries, but never our enemies.

These days, I’m a math professor at the University of Texas, watching my students NOT have the time of their lives, and watching the UT administration ignore the most important part of student life. I recently attended a long faculty/student workshop about the advantages of residential education, and for over an hour NOT ONE WORD was said about life in the residences!  Finally I spoke up, and asked why nobody was talking about this, until the students on the panel explained that almost all of the dorms at UT are just long collections of rooms where students sleep and study.  Only at the honors dorm is there any semblance of a social life or a dorm culture, and even there it’s a pale shadow of what dorms are like at MIT.

From my son  (class of ’17) I hear talk that the administration is clamping down on the extremes of dorm culture and trying to create more of a “normal” life in the dorms. If true, that’s monumentally sad.

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 :)

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 :)

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!

There’s no place like home.

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

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

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

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Why I call it home.

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

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

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

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

Home is Where the Heart Is

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

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.

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

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

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

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MIT Hacker Culture

Hello,

I’m a senior, currently living in East Campus, and MIT culture is an issue close to my heart. I think professor Abelson summed it up best in his 2013 report to the president:

MIT celebrates hacker culture. Our admissions tours and first-year orientation salute a culture of creative disobedience where students are encouraged to explore secret corners of the campus, commit good-spirited acts of vandalism within informal but broadly – although not fully – understood rules, and resist restrictions that seem arbitrary or capricious. We attract students who are driven not just to be creative, but also to explore in ways that test boundaries and challenge positions of power.

In short, hacker culture celebrates clever and inventive exploration of limits of all kinds: technological, practical, and social. This hacker culture has a home at all the top technical schools (Caltech, MIT, CMU, etc.), and it has played a role in shaping MIT’s history by attracting top students.

I would like to relate an experience of mine from my freshman year that was a formative introduction to MIT’s unique brand of hacker culture. I was sitting in 8.01 lab, running the lab software, when I decided to see if I could break out of “kiosk mode,” and take control of the lab computer. Sure enough, after a while I found an exploit, and had escalated permissions in a persistent way. That night, I ssh’d into the machine, and poked around a bit, when suddenly my connection died, and I couldn’t reconnect! Thinking nothing of it, I simply waited until lab the next day, and started rerunning my exploit. Mere seconds into launching my exploit, the machine shut down. Shortly thereafter, a fellow walked into the classroom, and requested that I follow him out of class. I had clearly been caught. Bracing myself for the worst, I followed him into a side office, ready to receive my punishment.

But, to my surprise, instead he merely wanted to chat about how I had broken out of the kiosk mode, and what my intentions were. I explained exactly how I had done it, and that I was merely exploring the system out of curiosity. He simply congratulated me on my clever hack, thanked me for showing him the bug I exploited, and said I should feel free to keep exploring and hacking the lab computers once he had fixed the bug.

I have many friends with similar stories, some with happy endings, some without. Some of these stories even end with conference talks at venues like DEF CON — hacking is not always just reckless college antics.

This is the sort of culture of creative and playful “white hat” boundary pushing that makes MIT, and especially East Campus, an incredibly special place. I was swayed at the last minute to come to MIT for undergrad entirely because of seeing this culture at East Campus during CPW, and I know many others who feel the same way.

I would strongly urge anyone in an administrative position to think carefully about how to preserve this vital culture, and how to appropriately respond when boundaries are inevitably exceeded.

Thank you for your consideration.

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.

!=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Defense of Senior House

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

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

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

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It’s like Disney World for nerds

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

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

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

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Let there be colour and open doors.

My home is East Campus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What makes our dorms great made MIT great

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

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

1. Passion

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

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

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

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

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