Well yeah, of course! I had an awesome time at MIT. I liked it so much I… spent my sophomore spring through junior fall co-authoring a musical about it.
I’m an alum now, and I often think of how damn lucky I was to have gotten a chance to live the “MIT undergraduate experience,” as it’s called.
What made my undergrad experience excellent (unshockingly) was the people I got to live with and around, and the place I got to live. I spent all four of my undergrad years in Senior Haus, in the same room, actually. It felt like home to me — yeah, I still remember my first time walking into the courtyard, seeing the leaves, bright green in contrast with the slate building and earth tones of the tree… I don’t mean to be sappy about it, but that’s a very very strong memory for me.
I’m glad I had the chance to choose to live at Senior Haus as an undergrad, because, well, it was a good fit for me. I liked to keep my door open and talk to people as they passed. I liked the occasional barbecues, people just talking at desk, the hall GRT’s cats sitting on my psets (you know, because that was the most important thing in the room and they had to assert their dominance… but you gotta love ’em ’cause they’re so darn cute…). I liked… a lot of stuff, you get the point.
MIT’s dorms in general feel more like home than most other college dorms because of the history that gets built by people choosing to live together, rather than being assigned. It’s a value that’s hard to advertise or quantify, but it’s a very real value.
When I was a campus tour guide, one of the most frequent questions I was asked was: “What is your least favorite thing about MIT,” and, always, my answer was this: MIT does a lot of things that are wonderful, yet unconventional, and, unfortunately, the direction the school’s been trending is to eliminate anything unconventional in favor of something more… unremarkable and common.
Let me spin you an example of what I mean by “wonderful, yet unconventional”: the fact that not all freshmen are required to be on a meal plan qualifies as wonderful, yet unconventional. It’s wonderful, because it gives students who want it autonomy. It’s unconventional because… well… what other school does that?? Anyway, it was great for me. I never had to purchase a meal plan, I so I learned to cook. I made mistakes, yes. I burnt rice. I burnt pasta. I probably burnt water once, who knows. I learned though, and there wasn’t a better place to learn than surrounded by people who had done this before. Much better than spending my first year out of college in some apartment, maybe alone, learning how not to burn rice or pasta or whatever.
Something else wonderful, yet unconventional (and this one’s East Side specific): students can paint hall murals on the walls and in rooms. I remember being super excited about this; I’ve always loved to draw, and I was stoked at the prospect of being able to paint something where I lived. It’s kind of cool to think that when I go back to visit Senior Haus during Steer Roast, I’ll be able to still see some of the murals I painted when I was there — I wonder if they kept the blacklight up… the glow-in-the-dark jellyfish looks so much more vibrant that way :) — even more exciting will be seeing the new ones.
If you want to identify others, you can usually tell when something is wonderful, yet unconventional, when someone from outside MIT comes to visit and is pleasantly surprised or overwhelmed by it. Usually there’s an exclamation ending with some sort of multi-punctuated glob: “You can have cats in your dorms?!!?” “You get to choose where you live??!” “You got to stay in your room over the summer??!? You can also tell something is wonderful, yet unconventional when someone from within MIT has a similar reaction to that thing being taken away or changed: “Students can’t work desk anymore??” “They painted over student murals??!?” “What is this nonsense about cameras??”* People get passionate because it’s really difficult to watch something you love get chiseled away, often despite protestation.
*Apparently there are cameras now? I remember meeting with Dean Humphreys, (what was it, IAP 2012?) when he proposed putting cameras up. We explained to him how sterile and corporate they’d make our home feel (besides being unnecessary and expensive), and, as I recall, he agreed it was a bad idea and promised not to put up cameras. Did I misremember? Also, apparently they’ve rehired non-student deskworkers? The camera discussion was the same time that there was a trial period for non-student desk-workers; they were deemed ineffective and so we went back to student desk workers, so I’m not sure why they’d bring back that idea. I… feel kinda lied to.
Unconventional’s not the same as wrong, and, honestly, it’s the unconventional stuff that (to be cliché) makes MIT MIT. I mean, what MIT tourist *doesn’t* remember the story of the cop car on the dome? What MIT tourist *does* remember what foods they serve in the dining halls?