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.

An administrator once commented that an East-West culture dichotomy was a divide, promoting hostility.

But it’s not about being different, it’s about being unique. It’s easy to confuse the two, I know, but that difference is important.

I am not defined by being unlike someone from Baker or Maseeh, or unlike a Harvard student, or unlike the rest of the kids back in high school – these things may turn out to be true, but that’s not who I am at my core. My identity isn’t an “un” at all. When somebody asks where I’m from, I don’t say “not from Simmons.”

I’m from Random Hall.

When the time came back in high school to choose a college, I was on the fence – Harvard or MIT. Harvard had a curriculum that I favored and the lab space I always dreamed about, but I soon discovered that MIT had its own special brand of amazing tucked away in Central Square. I fell in love with Random over CPW, with its ever-growing collection of murals on the walls and its ragtag group of misfits who had finally found a place to fit.

I can, in fact, imagine living somewhere else. I could have lived in Burton Conner or Simmons, and it probably would have been okay. I would never have had the chance to grow into the person I am today, though – proud of what makes me unique, unashamed of my flaws and absolutely in love with life. That growth came from my fellow Randomites, from Nerf guns in the kitchen and spontaneous cookie baking and cuddling on the beanbags and the amazing warmth and open arms of a unique, special group of people the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else.

The East Side of MIT – Senior Haus, Random Hall, East Campus and the late Bexley – is not just a group of people who share an interest in the alternative. It’s a brilliant, crazy community of what made MIT the only possible school for me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it better than I can. It’s not the goal of a college to blindly shepherd children through four years, to turn out another crop of engineers by rote.

Universities, he wrote, “can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns, and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit. Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year.”

 

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