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.

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.

In this space, with these people, I grew up

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

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

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

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

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

Read more

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.

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.

Read more

Senior Haus will always be my home

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

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

Erin, Senior House, Class of ’99

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

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.

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).

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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!

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.

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.

Read more

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.

Read more