What Community Means

Here are a few things that Random Hall meant to me in the four years I lived there, with some appearances from other dorms as well. It’s hard for me to explain why this community has meant so much to me, and why it had to be the east side, but maybe at least these stories will illustrate how much it mattered.

I didn’t originally intend to get involved in any sort of leadership activities at MIT. But I joined some student groups that the friends I met in Random were involved in. Freshman spring, I found myself sending a carefully crafted email to an administrator, presenting the case for why she should accept her nomination for the annual Big Screw competition. Since then, I’ve done far more. Random turned me into someone I never dreamed I could possibly be, and I love it.

Halfway through my sophomore year, I was unhappy with my living situation and wanted a change. A spot opened up on the floor I’d been spending most of my time on, and several people who lived there immediately started encouraging me to move. The problem was that the spot was in a double, and I’d become attached to the privacy I had in my tiny single. I talked to a few older friends. Some thought I should stay, some thought I should go. None of them convinced me. A few days of waffling later, it was the night before the floor I wanted to move to was having a floor dinner. As a non-resident, I wasn’t invited, and as I sat around being sad about it in my treasured tiny single, I knew that I had my answer. I needed to be fully a part of the community I’d attached myself to, and that meant that I had to move. The next morning, I woke up to an email from a friend on that floor, inviting me to the dinner. I ran upstairs and threw my arms around her, then told her that I was going to move.

Not all of the cliched nice things we say about the east side are always true for all people, and I want to acknowledge that. The people saying them really do mean them, but failures happen. Personally I think it’s better to look at something like “the east side accepts everyone as who they are” not as a blanket truth but as a value we hold, as something we strive towards. Not everyone feels accepted all the time. But when there’s a conflict, it’s not about whether we should be more accepting or prioritize something else instead. It’s about how to balance everyone’s needs for acceptance with everyone else’s, and how to work it out when the same practice that makes one person feel more accepted makes someone else feel not accepted at all. Our solutions aren’t perfect, but there’s value in knowing that we try, and when I finally figured out what I needed, I found the people whose balance fit well with mine.

The night of the shooting, during my junior year, I was on campus in a rehearsal. Exhausted and not wanting to walk up Mass Ave back to Random, I followed a friend back to Senior House from the classroom where we’d been sitting for hours and crashed on her couch. I woke up six hours later and found that I was stranded because of the lockdown. I was sad and wanted to go home, but the people there took good care of me. The housemaster baked muffins for everyone, and I introduced myself to a ton of people as “Miriam, a stranded Randomite”. Later, someone I had just met made enough eggs and bacon to share with me. When it was finally clear for me to go home, I climbed the stairs and walked into my kitchen in a bit of a daze. Most of my floormates were there, and their faces lit up when they saw me appear. A few of them jumped up to hug me, and I almost started to cry with relief that I was back where I belonged.

Every time I sing an a cappella concert, I look up into the audience and see a whole row of seats full of my floormates. I try to always return the favor for my friends in other performing groups.

I opened the ominous email from our housmaster while eating lunch on the first day of the hardest week of my junior year. Like many others, my first conclusion was that Random was going to be closed. I froze, unable to imagine how I would continue for another year if my friends and I were separated. We’d supported each other through so much that semester, losing my living group was unthinkable. That night, I sat on the floor in my kitchen, head in my hands, telling my friend how terrified I was. “It’ll be okay,” she said. “Nina told me it’s not as bad as it sounds.” I didn’t believe her. The next day, I was alone in the kitchen when I heard the news from Bexley. I spent the next 40 minutes in a panic, convinced that the news for us would be the same, until someone in the Bexley meeting asked about Random and the answer was relayed to me. Whoever that was, I am incredibly grateful that they thought of us.

That summer, I moved temporarily to East Campus along with only a few of my Randomite friends. At first I was lonely, but by the end of the summer I had found a group to spend time with, and I had realized that the life I could have had in East Campus would have also been a good one, but very different. I even thought of a few things I’d miss when I moved back to Random.

When I walked back up the stairs to my floor for the first time after the end of the summer, I stood hugging the doorway for a few moments. When we left, there was still some doubt about whether we’d be able to go home in time. Now I had made it back, and everything was going to be okay.

These days I live in an apartment with a few other alumni, two from the east side and one from the west side who has close ties to the east side. It’s starting to feel like home, but it’s a very different kind of home, and I still go back to visit my old floor in Random when I want to be in the place where I feel the most comfortable.