“Uh, excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice how much you look like everyone else?” – Crow T. Robot

Much has been said by others about how the freedom we have on the East Side encourages creativity and ingenuity. It’s great to live in a place where I can pick up “reuse” dry ice on the way home from lab and know that someone else on hall will join me in doing dumb stuff with it. I no longer throw up my hands and admit defeat when something breaks in lab or at home.

The writers above have also pointed out how the unique culture of the East Side protects the mental health of its residents. MIT is not a cake walk. When we are stressed and want to blow off steam, we don’t stick to conventional coping mechanisms. Getting drunk is boring after awhile. Instead, we paint the hallway, build a porch that hangs out the window, or put an inflatable kiddie pool in the bathroom. And instead of hiding from our hallmates and GRTs in fear that they might disapprove of our policy violations, we trust them with the most sensitive details of our lives. When truly hard times arrive, we fortify each other with hugs and baked goods – not because we’re worried about each other, but because we’ve spent so much time together that our emotions are linked.

One area that has been a little less addressed is citizenship – the kind of people MIT produces.

I didn’t have many friends in high school. Many other East Side people can relate. Honestly, I really didn’t know how people worked, and that was upsetting to me. They didn’t care about the things I cared about, and they did a lot of things that didn’t make sense. I was not comfortable enough to talk to people, let alone work with them.

When I got to MIT, I finally had something in common with my peers. I was able to begin socializing and learning about other people. I acquired many of the social skills that mark a fully functioning adult: how to say “no,” how to compromise, how to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Every single one of those skills originated from the fact that East Campus is largely self-governed. Every noise complaint, every party, every hall meeting, every housemaster interview, we all know that everyone will be infinitely better off if we find a solution ourselves. This is an essential part of being an adult: understanding that there often isn’t a higher authority to solve our problems for us. Running to the teacher because “Jane is making faces at me!” doesn’t work forever. No one wants to live like that. At least not in East Campus.

I often find that I still don’t “get” people. My acquaintances, colleagues, and friends frequently do things that don’t make any sense to me. But the most important lesson that I’ve learned here is that *that’s OK.* Not everyone is alike. Not everyone has the same goals in life. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make others act the way I want – or even in a way that I can understand. But if I could, the world would be a pretty dull place.

That’s the mentality I take with me to difficult conversations and group projects. Engaging with other people on their own terms, as responsible adults instead of malfunctioning machine parts, makes me a more competent worker, a better friend, a more tolerable human being. That’s what an East Campus education has taught me.

I only wish administrators would treat us that way.

————
There are many different ways to express my gratitude for the East Side, and they will all resonate with different people. What follows is the same story, told from another perspective. After all, MIT can’t run solely on the good feelings of its students.

Three and a half years ago, I was torn between attending MIT and [redacted] State University.

[redacted] State was a very attractive place. It was a top-notch R1 university. I had grown up there, with all the attending (if arbitrary) feelings of school pride and attachment. Everyone and everything I knew was there.

Best of all, it was free. Tuition, room and board paid in full, a spot in the honors college, a guaranteed research position. I couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Of course, I ended up deciding that something about MIT was worth $200,000+ more than [redacted] State.

It certainly wasn’t the classes. The science taught here is the same as the science taught at any other university. I took classes at [redacted] State in high school, and the quality of teaching was similar. Both very good, on average.

It wasn’t the research, either. I’ve had the good fortune to work in a lab at [redacted] State, too. They do the highest caliber science there, and they have a “dream team” in my field.

The real reason I came here was CPW: 72 hours on the East Side, doing some smart things, some dumb things, and some things that would make the General Counsel cry. After CPW, I knew that if I didn’t spent the next four years with these people, I would spend the rest of my life wondering what would’ve happened if I had. That, to me, was worth $200,000.

That is what MIT has that no other university in the world can provide. Think about it: on a planet with 7 billion people, with thousands of universities, dozens of which offer the same academic rigor and research opportunities that MIT does, we have something entirely unique. East Side culture brings alumni back to us decades later when they’ve made their fortunes. It’s what makes the public unsurprised when the latest news story about a great invention or crazy project features an MIT student. It’s what makes us better than Harvard, better than Stanford, better than Yale. If we gave that up for the sake of liability, or security, or “best practices,” that would be a damn shame.

Leave a Comment