MIT is not MIT without the East Side

When I was applying to MIT, I had this notion of it being a place for people who weren’t only super smart, but also really creative – people who build roller coasters, put interesting things on rooftops, make robots and crazy machines to do their bidding, push the boundaries of the definition of ‘vehicle’, and so on.  When I visited during CPW, I learned that the heart of this unique culture was at the East Side dorms, so I knew that this was where I would want to live.

Others have already said plenty about the wonderful community of the East Side dorms, so I’ll just add this:  MIT is a tough place.  It’s not all roller coasters and liquid nitrogen ice cream all the time.  MIT will crush your spirit and deprive you of sleep.  If it hadn’t been for the community I had on my hall, the community that was looking out for me and being there with me through the ups and downs, I very likely would not have stayed.

I didn’t really fully appreciate what a unique place East Campus was until after I left.  I am currently attending graduate school, and when I started, I thought I should live in one of the grad dorms so that I could live in a community like the one I had at EC.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Everyone stayed in their rooms with the doors shut.  When I propped open my door with a large stack of books (they were spring-loaded to slam shut automatically) I just got some weird looks from people passing by in the hallways.  The hallways were monitored with security cameras and painted an institutional white – not exactly a welcoming environment to sit around and hang out together.  The only decorations were that occasionally someone swapped out the default typed name card on their door for one that they had doodled by hand.  No kitchens, just a mandatory meal plan, and the only socialization that happened was at official organized events.  It wasn’t just a depressing non-community, it was downright infantilizing, but I guess I got to see what dorms are like at other schools.  You don’t get creative thinking, collaboration, and exchange of ideas in an environment like that.

Needless to say, I got out of there as quickly as possible in favor of braving the NYC rental market – if I wasn’t going to be able to have the kind of community that I had at East Campus, I could at least find somewhere to live that was less sterile and locked-down, and more like a home.  Fortunately, I had already learned some responsible-adult skills like cooking for myself and basic household repairs and construction at East Campus, which made the transition to semi-responsible-adulthood much easier.

If MIT wants to continue to attract the smartest and most creative students, and to be THE best engineering school, there needs to be space for students to create, explore, express themselves, and work together, and to learn confidence and responsibility by having agency, autonomy, and ownership of their living space.  If the East Side as we know it goes away, then MIT as we know it will, too.

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