If I start trying to write a real post, it will snowball to 10,000 words. I don’t want to do that because I have been trying to be disciplined about not letting my deep sadness about the future of the Institute – my erstwhile home – take up too much of my mental real estate.
This place embraced me – queer, awkward, nerdy, and from a spotty family background.
If you erase the culture of the east side dorms and ILGs, you erase a place that has historically helped many people from marginalized groups feel welcome. (I wish in all their demonizing of SH/EC/Bex, the administration would for once at least acknowledge what e.g. the Living Pink survey reveals about dormitory cultures.)
You erase a place where many have found a community of people who love them, and whom they can love. If you gut our communities of their personality, if you sand off our communities’ sometimes-challenging edges, you will have lost something that is truly beautiful. You will have lost weird, creativity- and life-enhancing spaces where people voluntarily live despite the cockroaches and buildings fall apart because these communities are more inspiring to them than castle-like renovated “halls” built with 1% commissioned art. You will have lost something which is quite unique in the national university system. Example: these are spaces where students self-designated bathrooms as gender neutral because that was the human thing to do, well before any of that stuff was cool (15+ years ago). Of course, students these days could never be trusted with that kind of autonomy or decisionmaking power. (Fortunately for us, university administrators have caught up with us on the gender-neutral stuff; on this solitary point alone we can all agree that the east side dorms were on the Right Side Of History.)
I have tried, as much as I humanly can, to give back to this home that I identify with so powerfully. Probably more than was personally advisable given the time commitment – serving in leadership positions, student government, Institute committees etc. All I feel I’ve gained from this service is a life lesson that it does not make sense to try to take a principled stance, if that stance goes against what people who have absolute and unchecked power desire to accomplish. The people who have the power will steamroll you and lie to you (and lie about you, even!) and you will only waste your own precious time. You should be studying.
I’m sad that the main lesson I’ve gotten from all this “leadership experience” is that it’s a waste of time to challenge institutional power structures.
I know this all sounds fairly dramatic. If I weren’t trying to be good about mentally distancing myself from my innate desire to care about the Institute’s direction, I would write a much longer, much more level-headed post detailing all the ways in which the current policy direction is harming our rich and welcoming communities, and eroding much of the good here while ineffectually trying to stamp out the bad. I’d focus on developing a scholarly exposition/policy analysis – making an academic case against many of the well-intentioned policies which have recently been put into effect, which I believe have perverse and unintended results, and make the situation worse rather than better. I’d talk about the necessity of cost-benefit analyses for all our new ResLife programs, because tuition is rising twice as fast as inflation and that is a nationally urgent problem. I’d assert that we could be stewarding the Institute’s resources far better than the current inclination towards big, corrupt handouts to administrators’ contractor buddies. I’d delude myself, for a few seconds at least, that someone would be interested in what I put together, if it’s sufficiently well-researched and data-driven.
I’d also detail the times that we’ve been directly lied to by administrators – those are easy to enumerate, some being extremely fresh in memory (how about all those assuaging promises surrounding dorm security, eh? I remember “cameras will only be on the outside of the building” like it was yesterday, even though it was like five iterations of lies ago. Oh, and “they will only review the camera feed in the case of an active police investigation”… hilarious.). I’d try to demonstrate how trust became so incredibly frayed, and how hopeless it can feel when you can’t even get a straight answer on details of how new policies are currently being implemented. How it feels to not be accorded the respect of accurate information; all you can do is guess that it’s probably worse than they are telling you right now.
Instead of all that I will leave it at this: I’m very tired, and very sad, and I am going to leave MIT as soon as I can and never look back because I do not think MIT is deserving of the care and effort that we have all put into it. Our energies are misplaced; we should all go build awesome communities elsewhere, where instead of expending most of our energies trying to carve out tiny spaces where can still sort-of be ourselves, we can just spend our time building cool shit and being together.