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.