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.
I’m here writing a small novel because, put simply, I’m afraid. Many of the attributes that made me choose MIT among the many colleges I was admitted to are stereotyped as “East Campus.” It’s what makes us stand out, and even in the few short years I’ve been here I’ve seen trends that threaten that uniqueness. The dormitories of MIT are unique in having their own culture, their own government. Nowhere is that stronger than in East Campus, for the simple reason that it is the place that has gone the longest without administrative interference and micromanaging. I realize that the various changes made are to bring MIT’s system closer to what is considered “good” and standard in student life administration, and while there are potential positive effects the actual impact has been to reduce the intrinsic support network built up by students for students and put more and more people in high-stress situations with no real way out. This is tied to the diminishing of student culture and government that allows MIT students to do so many amazing things. As quick examples that I won’t go into here in the interest of space: the shortening of REX, the addition of ever more administration over student governments and house teams, and the attempts to standardize student life. I don’t even live here, but I think that the East represents the best of the Institute’s residential system.
So I might be out of place, I might be out of line, but if anyone with power actually reads this: Please just listen. I’ve written all this about the east side but the real problem goes deeper than that – I took a class on the history of MIT where the professor spoke about the old student protests, then gave a writing assignment on how the spirit of protest and speaking out at MIT was a thing of the past. It’s not that the spirit is gone; it is that those who would speak out no longer believe anyone in the administration will listen. I’m not attaching my name to this post because I’ve seen friends speak up over similar issues and land in hot water. I’ve seen serious, organized concerns redirected and dismissed repeatedly. There is a fundamental disconnect between the top of MIT and the ground and if it continues we risk the loss of everything that makes this place great.