If you ask any MIT student what they love about MIT, chances are you’re going to get the same answer—“it’s the people”. It’s clichéd, but it’s true; and this is the same answer I have for why I love East Campus.
I wasn’t able to come to my CPW, so moving into my temp room was the first time I stepped foot into EC. The door to my room had no key (I had to ask the housemaster to let me in) and was decorated with poorly peeled off stickers. Next to it was a “borrowed” construction sign; the stick figure construction man on the sign had a penis and puddle of pee drawn in with Sharpie. My mother was dubious. I was delighted. It was the coolest place I’d ever been.
East Campus was just so dynamic. People were making and doing such incredible things, and they were doing them in ways that were unconventional, informal, and often outside the rules merely by virtue of the rules not having been designed to handle them. East Campus is full of hackers and rule-breakers, counter-culture people and people who choose to ignore social conventions.
Before I go any further, let me clear up a misapprehension I may have inadvertently led you to entertain right now: you do not need to break the rules to live in East Campus. Nor, in fact, do you need to be a great mural artist or a brilliant inventor or a talented fire-spinner or any number of other things that are stereotypically associated with EC. Not to live here, and not to become deeply involved with the community. This isn’t the sort of place that tolerates competitiveness in the usual sense. For one thing, outside of the community, there isn’t anything worth being competitive for: would you like this falling-apart room or this other, slightly larger, falling-apart room?
Instead, I discovered very quickly that East Campus, while prone to the pettiness and social stratification that plagues any large group living situation, is very good at making space for all types of people. I’m hesitant to compare it to a family, since that comparison implies affection bred through deep familiarity, which obviously isn’t correct. It’s also not correct to imply that everyone likes everyone else that they know in EC, when they consider them as individual people. But what you do get is a shared sense that together, you are part of something so special, something so much more amazing than anything you can accomplish on your own.
I remember the first time I had this experience. I was sitting in my temp room when someone ran by my open door. Pausing to stick their head in, they yelled, “The land yacht is sailing! The land yacht is sailing!” Of course I followed them outside, into the heavy winds of Hurricane Irene and a crowd of people, all brightly colored hair and bare feet. We chased a homemade wheeled sailboat as it careened across the Dot and I felt wildly, incandescently joyful, surrounded by people I didn’t yet know, in an unfamiliar place.
Same with Rush 2014—any EC resident, including freshmen, is excited to share that “East Campus built a roller coaster!” though maybe eight people total worked on the construction of it. It’s a sense of ownership over our community and the amazing things that happen in it. It makes life exciting, even if only by proxy when you’re drowning in work in the middle of the semester and your personal life seems like an endless brigade of work and psets and exhaustion. And it makes you want to do all you can to be part of it and support it.
I am not capable of designing a roller coaster. I have never been part of an epic hack. Despite the vast improvement in my cooking skills since coming to MIT, I am not likely to become a virtuosic chef. What I can do is to be EC vice-president and attempt to represent my home fairly to what seems like an increasingly hostile audience, so that the interesting things that I am privileged to observe have a chance of continuing to happen. And that will always, always be worth doing.