a piece about a place

MIT won’t let you down if you don’t let each other down.

When Bexley was still a place, I would wander through the well-trodden, labyrinthian hall after a long day or week or month of working. The creaking below my feet—I could hear if someone was headed toward me or walking behind me. Swinging of kitchen doors. “Good evening, madam,” said a freshman I had not yet spoken to. When Bexley was still a place, sun rays and outside air always reached the circulation space, through the windows of rooms whose doors were always left open. Music from the courtyard travelled that way, too. A couple of 30 year-old alumni might have done it when they stopped by to visit and found out the building would be shut down indefinitely. I was one of the last to move out of Bexley Hall, and it was strange to see all of the doors shut and locked for the first time. I remember when Bexiles arrived in Senior House, as soon as they dropped their luggage in the room, would tinker with the door closer installed in almost every room there. It was a reflex.

When Bexley was still a place, sometimes I would wander to the other side of the building, to a friend’s room—if you were at MIT when I was, you could see this room from the student center or 77 Mass Ave in the dead of night; it was always lit in warm yellow, dressed in red and silhouettes of leaves. The room interfaced with the public in many ways: from teasing a group of MIT students with poor motor control at 4 AM on a Saturday to an EE side project used to anonymously “greet” the hustled pedestrians in daylight. Many rooms in Bexley took advantage of their windows to interact with the rest of MIT and passerbys. We were at the heart of campus. My first couple of years at MIT I often heard upperclassmen say that Bexley is a gateway to the East Side, conveniently situated on the West. Being at the center, and at the periphery/transition are indeed very special conditions, but sometimes it makes sense to me to see Bexley as being a dot on one side of Yin and Yang.

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This is why I’m here.

In high school I was pretty stubborn about going to some average, pretty-good-but-nothing-special college. It was a win-win plan: the security of knowing I’d  be accepted/be able to afford it, not too intense of a workload, and not feeling like the dumbest person there. The plan instantly changed the moment I stepped into Bexley Hall for the first time.

I had come to visit a friend during my junior year of high school, and he happened to live in Bexley. When I first saw it, I couldn’t understand how it was even a college dorm. Every minute, there was another surprise. You can paint the walls? Cats?! My experience in Bexley made me want to explore more of MIT, and my attraction to the East Side culture completely overrode my desire to settle for a “pretty-good-but-nothing-special” school.

I think it seemed understandable to my friends and teachers that I wanted so badly to go to MIT, but many of them could not understand why, if I was rejected, “you’ll probably get into Harvard/Princeton/Yale anyway, it’s okay” wouldn’t do. The reason I am here has nothing to do with the prestige, and while I’m certainly grateful for the opportunities and quality of education I’m receiving, that’s not what made me fall in love.

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I Didn’t Live There

I can’t get through Bexley’s tribute video “We Lived Here – You Didn’t” without tearing up a bit.

My first tour of MIT was not of any new fancy shiny dorms. It was through Bexley – with its dark lighting, painted slogans and scruffy atmosphere. My Bexley friend, playing as tour guide, told the story of “2.361 – Friction and Lubrication”. My friends were put off by the grunge, but I was intrigued. Later, as a prefrosh coming to MIT, when I heard the news about Bexley being shut down, I was stunned. The news came just before finals. The same tour guide who had led me through was having to help her friends who had become physically ill with the news.

You’re right. I didn’t live there. But the love for that community, the ability to do stupid things, to turn your living space into your own – it’s so apparent in the video and  in interactions with Bexiles that it screams out, crying desperately to be heard.

And then you tell me that “Any new building we construct will soon develop a culture of its own“? Pointing to Maseeh and Simmons as paragons of this ideal? Please.

I refer you to what the New York Times had to say about Simmons: “Someday — when the designer chairs are all busted and tampons protrude from the wooden panels in the ceilings — this is going to be one hell of a dorm.”. We don’t need to wait for that dream. It already exists – in EC, Senior Haus, Bexley and Random. You tore down one. Don’t destroy the others.

Bexley :) and beyond

Hey Cynthia (and whoever else reads this)!

I made awesome friendships through the Bexley community. The relative lack of restrictions made it feel like our (the students’) territory, rather than some foreign space (how I feel in the more sanitary west-side dorms). This sense of ownership made it a lot more fun to hang around and get to know people, so a strong community formed.

What I didn’t realize is that these East-side communities would continue to provide support to those who lived there even after we graduated. My friend recently got a full-time engineering/design job through someone she met in Bexley. I lived in pika my senior year; I found absurdly affordable accommodations after moving to San Francisco through a pika alum (believe me, this was a miracle). This summer at Burning Man I met a bunch of 5th East alums who graduated over 10 years ago but still fly from all over the country to hang out with each other a couple times a year.

Obviously, the east-style life makes MIT a lot more bearable (even fun) for the yearly batch of eccentrics MIT will inevitably attract. But if you want to think in terms of students’ long-term wellbeing, know that these communities also provide opportunities, happiness, and meaning long after graduation.

Bexley – the best and worst part of my time at MIT

For the last year and a half since Bexley closed I have been relatively unable to compile my thoughts into something coherent enough to be shared.  This is my attempt, bear with me.  It’s not all rainbows and butterflies.

I think I am somewhat on my own when I say that I hated CPW.  I found very few students who had similar experiences to mine in high school.  I came to MIT knowing I wanted to be a HASS major, and without the connection of loving math/science/insert STEM subject here I really struggled to identify with other MIT students.  Then I encountered some residents from Bexley Hall and for the first and only time that weekend, I had fun.  My running tour was the highlight of my CPW, and I believe that experience is what finally made me comfortable enough to pick MIT.

When I got to campus, Bexley challenged me every single day, just like the Institvte did.  Bexley was the worst and best part of my day all wrapped into one.  It gave me identity, it gave me family, but it also could be mean at times.  The same biting sarcasm that made me smile on Monday could be really hard to handle later in the week when my head was already reeling from my schoolwork.  Did I love Bexley?  Unconditionally.  Did it make me cry?  At least once a month.

It’s hard to describe why Bexley is so special to me, but I think a lot of it boils down to not feeling alone.  I was picking between MIT and art school, and so being surrounded by engineers is something I really struggle with.  Bexley was a place where I could actually go home and discuss things I cared about like film or photography.  It was like having all the people that had the most in common with me wrapped up in a tiny burrito of awesomeness.  We played Smash Bros., painted walls, and ran around in ridiculous costumes in the name of dodge-ball.  Most of my most fun memories are in fact because of Bexley.  It upsets me when people say it shouldn’t matter that the dorm is gone if we were all really friends, because these people don’t understand what it’s like to dance the jitterbug to a jam/funk band in the Bexment while surrounded by your hall-mates.  It’s magical.  They don’t understand that walking into the lounge just to see who’s there can then turn into the most meaningful conversations and jam sessions where you end up singing songs about beavers having sex underwater.  These are not experiences that can be replicated when my family is spread across Boston and Cambridge.

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