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.
Emotions aren’t the only thing that greatly benefit from the East Side. The amount I’ve learned and been inspired to do because of East Campus is incredible. It is arguable that you can get an MIT education online for free right now. As technology and our understanding of online education progresses this statement will become more and more true. 50 years down the road, what will make attending a 4 year institution worth it? The living groups are the clear answer to me. I chose MIT because of the campus culture. I am confident that the campus culture as we know it would not exist without the East Side. When it comes down to it, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, etc. all give comparably excellent core educations. At this level of academics, making a decision about where to go to school should be about where a student feels most comfortable. From my personal experience shadowing students and going on tours while in high school, I honestly couldn’t distinguish campus cultures at most of the Ivies and other “top” schools. Everything felt the same to me, and uncomfortably similar to my absurdly preppy high school. But MIT was different. I immediately felt at home. Before I was even accepted, I spent hours reading about the dorms and the history of the school. I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.
I think at the heart of this feeling was simply the passion that MIT students have for their work. I’ve had lengthy conversations with accomplished students across the country. Not one of them describes their school the way I (and other East Side denizens) describe MIT. The passion we have for our chosen academic pursuits is so much more apparent. Without the dorm system we have, I do not think that would be the case. The ability to so freely express ourselves here on the East Side leads to many learning and teaching opportunities. I could list hundreds of projects and conversations that have gone on, but for the sake of brevity, just take a look at the pictures of the East Campus courtyard from this year’s REX. Show me another dorm in the world that does anything like that.
East Side culture (which must be noted has many distinct facets) has grown organically over 50+ years, and it will continue to do so. It isn’t something that can be forced. It is, in my opinion, the result of years of like minded people living together with a large amount of freedom. I worry about the future of our dorms because of recent administrative trends. But hopefully through my thoughts and the many others posted here, everyone will realize that without the East Side, MIT would not be MIT.