I write as an East Campus alum from 2008 who served for 3 years on the executive committee, and now gives back to MIT by donating (I’m a member of the 1861 Circle and the WBR Society) and volunteering for MIT to interview applicants. I am committed to MIT not because it ranks highly in the US News and World Reports, but because my experience living on the East Side of campus shaped who I am as a person and connected me more strongly to MIT than any of my classes ever could have. I write to share my memories, and urge caution in changing the culture of the dorm in ways that might destroy the unique ecosystem that allows some of the world’s most brilliant minds to transition from being 18 and clueless to 22 and ready to tackle the world.
There are the murals, the ones I still stop by to check out when I’m on campus, or to see what new creative paintings the current generation of students have covered up. These murals give life to the dorm and are a way to pass culture and memories from one generation of students to the next.
There is the kitchen, a place at the heart of my time at East Campus. I learned about culture by cooking my Minnesota hot dish in the same kitchen as a friend from Costa Rica making his beans and rice, a friend from Greece who brought back liters of olive oil from the family tree every time she went home, and a hall mate from Pakistan who required coaching to learn how to make soup from a can.
There are the friendships from East Campus, which are stronger than any others I’ve formed in my life. These are the friends with shared memories of “borrowing” liquid nitrogen with to entertain ourselves on Friday nights and getting in trouble for the ill-conceived acetone “waterfall of fire” (the bush below was only slightly singed). It was the freedom of East Campus that allowed us to escape from the burden of Psets, to make mistakes, to bond, and to grow into the leaders that we have become. The freedom and camaraderie that came from the East Campus culture saved me trips to MIT Medical for emotional issues, and helped me through the kinds of tough times that every student at MIT encounters while drinking from the fire hose.
The men and women I had these adventures with are the same friends who attended my wedding en masse, all 30+ of us posing for a traditional EC photo; the same friends I’m flying across the country to visit next week so we can celebrate the birth of a child (the product of an East Campus marriage!) I go to older members of the East Campus community (some of whom graduated a decade before me) when I need advice on my career, and freely give career advice to younger members of the community as they venture into the working world.
The MIT dorm culture is the reason why I spend my time each fall interviewing students and telling them why MIT is the most amazing place that a curious and smart student could go. My memories of East Campus — the friends I made and the lessons I learned — are the reason why I donate back to the dorm each year. The lessons that came from having an environment where we could paint profanities on the wall, build lofts that only barely passed fire code, and set off dry ice bombs in the courtyard at midnight have stuck with me more than any lessons I learned in the classroom for a grade.