My daughter

My daughter has told me many stories about her dorm. I am very glad she is in a place where the cultures and freedoms allow the students to let their minds run unlocked. They can question and create without conventional bounds–an environment like this is extremely rare in the professional world. The time they spend there should be valued.

She has told me about the reason for this page. Do not lock these young men and women down for the sake of conventions. Doing so will be to suffocate their minds, their education, and the great creations that would have come from their lives.

Open Doors

I lived at East Campus many years ago. I am a Florey alum and proud to still wear the T-shirt on occasion. I loved the abundant creativity, acceptance of anything you were, family oriented feeling that exuded from every pore of those EC concrete walls…walls that were covered with layers of paint from previous residents. Purple, Green, Black, Neon Orange…colors that said who we were, who we are. There are many stories I could relate that describe the characteristics of EC that I hold most dear, but most of the other posts have stated those sentiments better than I could.

It seems that safety is at the heart of the argument for sanitizing the East Side and removing its personality. Well, I am the mother of 2 children who could potentially grow up to attend MIT. If one of my children asked me where on campus, I would want them to live, this is what would be running through my head before I gave my answer.

At East Campus, I never locked my door and frequently left it standing wide open. Was I afraid someone would steal my stuff or barge in and hurt me? Never! In fact, once when I was very sick, another student from my hall who wasn’t really someone I would have considered a good friend knew I wasn’t feeling well and insisted I leave my door open so folks could look in on me and make sure I was ok.

In living groups other than those on the East Side, I would be afraid my child could remain anonymous enough that no one would notice if she were not well (physically or emotionally). Would I really want to send my child off to the pressure cooker of MIT to be alone in a generic living group, with hospital white walls and fluorescent lighting where everyone kept their doors firmly closed and “safe”?  No, I would want her to live in a place where her crazy ideas would be accepted and others would join in to help her make them reality. I would want her to live in a place where spontaneous sessions of some horrendously complicated board game happened with regularity with large percentages of her neighbors. I would want her to live in a place where she could decorate her own room as she saw fit, using her own power tools and imagination. I would want her to live in a place that would nurture her creative spirit and give her the chance to learn how to be her. I would want her to live in a place where no one was really allowed to be a ghost, where everyone was drawn out of their hiding places to participate in college life and feel like a part of something special. I would want her to find a family away from home.

So, where would I send my little girl to live at MIT? I’d want her to live on the East Side, the safest place on campus.

The difference between MIT and UT-Austin

Once upon a time, I was an undergrad at MIT, living on Burton One and having the time of my life. We did some serious stuff, we did some fun stuff, and we did some seriously fun stuff. (Putting a giant nipple on the Great Dome tops the list). Whether it was jumping out of windows into snowbanks or arguing about the existence of God, life was intense. Others have already explained how most of their learning at MIT happened at odd hours with fellow students from their dorms.  Hallelujah.

The MIT administration liked to say (and still likes to say) that getting an education at MIT is like getting a drink from a fire hose. Burton One in the late 70s was like that, and it worked because the administration didn’t mind our getting the carpet soaked. Sure, they slapped our wrists from time to time, but mostly they gave us plenty to drink from 9 to 5, and let us keep drinking, in our own way, into the evening and through the night.

They looked the other way when we had our parties, did our hacks, and acted on our curious impulses.  The priorities of the Campus Patrol were always (1) protect us from outsiders, (2) protect us from ourselves, and (3) enforce the rules just enough to keep the Cambridge Police off campus (see (1)).  The cops were often our adversaries, but never our enemies.

These days, I’m a math professor at the University of Texas, watching my students NOT have the time of their lives, and watching the UT administration ignore the most important part of student life. I recently attended a long faculty/student workshop about the advantages of residential education, and for over an hour NOT ONE WORD was said about life in the residences!  Finally I spoke up, and asked why nobody was talking about this, until the students on the panel explained that almost all of the dorms at UT are just long collections of rooms where students sleep and study.  Only at the honors dorm is there any semblance of a social life or a dorm culture, and even there it’s a pale shadow of what dorms are like at MIT.

From my son  (class of ’17) I hear talk that the administration is clamping down on the extremes of dorm culture and trying to create more of a “normal” life in the dorms. If true, that’s monumentally sad.