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.
It starts off with the individual rooms. By living with upperclassmen and others who have lived on the floor during previous years, you can find out about who lived in the room your currently living in and know the stories about them. During my freshman year I lived in a triple on Burton Third. From talking with upperclassmen and reading through the floor histories, I eventually learned that my room had a number of entertaining stories of the past residents as a hopping party room and had some marks left to prove it. Another room had a famous story of when an old resident got locked in the room as a freshman and had to lower himself out the window using bed sheets in order to escape. At East campus, similar things are true with rooms that have murals that tell the resident inside that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
These murals and other projects around hall themselves form part of the history of the individual floors and cultures. I’ve been able to walk out of a room and see a mural that was painted back in the 80s next to a mural that was finished last semester. One can see the changes in artistic style and of the topics that people decided to paint and therefore get a beautiful window into the MIT students of decades past. Most importantly, the murals show that the people who lived in the dorms had similar struggles and experiences as I had. On Tetazoo (3E of East Campus) there are murals including images from books I have read, bands I have listened to, and a weirdly motivating poem that talks about how sometimes, “THINKING you can just aint enough!” All of them were painted years and possibly decades before I was a student.
However, my favorite mural was one that existed on Burton Third though unfortunately it was removed at the start of last year. This mural was on the elevator doors putting them right in the very middle of the floor so that whenever you left or walked from one side of the floor to the other you could see the mural. The mural consisted of a bunch of comm.prod sent in past emails to the floor. Whenever someone sends an email to the Burton Third community mailing list one needs to end the message with what is known as a comm.prod or communication protocol. This is meant so that before sending out an email to the floor, you have thought about it enough to add something funny to the end of it that the comm.prod fulfills. I don’t know when this practice started on the floor, probably around the time email became ubiquitous. But this mural contained quotes of some of the highlights from previous emails up to around 2008 when the mural was painted. The quotes were all slightly inappropriate as email jokes will be but the style of the mural with many different fonts made the elevator look beautiful. Furthermore, the words themselves made me feel like the previous residents lived similar lives to me and made me feel like being a bomber was something bigger than just being a student, I was part of a community and it’s history.
This extends to actual projects that were not just on the walls, like the bar on Burton Third, so people could show our culture with pride, or the work bench, where people can work on their project with parts provided by the hall. I mention the work bench because it was something built during my time here and just in the 3 short years its been around it has become a staple of the floor and has become an intrinsic part of its history.
Beyond all the physical things that make one feel part of the floor and feel part of its history are the traditions. Whether it Shower night, The scavenger hunts, Secret Satan or other random traditions that would take too much time and space to explain every single one, all of these things are experiences that all the different student going back years have participated in. Burton Third actually has a weekend long floor event and party called DTYD that has happened every year for 45 years. We have mugs and bottles of floor-brewed beer that commemorate the occasion. During the weekend we invite alumni to come on a bar crawl with those students who are of age and people get to mingle and discuss what the floor used to be and what it has been now. Similarly, Tetazoo had a Alumni barbeque a year ago and got people who had lived on Tetazoo as far back as the 60s and 70s to tell us their stories. The details of the stories themselves are not as important but the biggest thing that hit me during these events was that even after 40 years these floors were still very similar. People had similar stories and memories that connected them back to the floor/hall and wanted to still connect with those people years later.
There are many other similar things that because of the connection to their floor and the memories they had here cause alumni to come back here and still want to remain connected to MIT. Last year I had the pleasure to become really close to a whole bunch of alumni ranging back to the class of ’97 because the Putz-Tetazoo team won Mystery Hunt and had to write the 2014 Mystery Hunt together. This enabled me to become close to these alumni who I only interacted with because they used to live on the same floor that I did.
I could keep talking on and on about how the current setup allows connection to alumni, stories of the past and helps give MIT the many histories it has, (and I’ve already taken 1200 words to do so). However, instead I want to talk about why this strong connection and unbroken chain of history and community is able to develop and helps keep these communities intact so that they can develop this sort of camaraderie and history. It all really comes down to the fact that people desire to be where they are with who they are. Each of these communities has different histories because they are different from one another. Each person can find their niche and therefore be really surrounded by people who have chosen the same place.
People are united by their ability to choose and find the place that is right for them. This enables the immediate connections that allow the backbone of each individual society within MIT to thrive and have people who live with each other create these traditions and events that allow that culture to survive. The people who lived on Burton Third of Tetazoo back in the 70s chose to live there just as much as I did or the current set of freshmen did. That instantly forms a bond that allows us to feel like we’re part of something more than ourselves. It allows alumni to connect to freshman 30 years younger than them and makes them want to stay in contact with the MIT community.
MIT is a place that has a multitude of different community. Each has its own people, alumni, traditions, and murals. By allowing people to choose and be who they want to be, they can grow into unique individuals connected to the fabric of MIT past through their own personal communities. By connecting themselves to the intimate history of their floor and creating the culture for future students, each person helps make MIT the current awesome place it is helping create the type of people who end up making History for the larger world.
For me, being part of these communities helped me feel like I am part of something bigger and better than myself; I am part of a community with traditions that span back decades. I am part of a family that includes many generations of alumni. I am part of a culture that has helped me grow by living with the people I wanted to live with and having fun with them. But most of all, I am part of History, which I couldn’t do in any other place.