Revision history:
Oct. 1, 1999 * Liana Lareau * Rough Draft
Oct. 4, 1999 * Christopher Beland * Addendum ("4.3.4 Easy Access to Community Facilities")
Oct. 5, 1999 * Christopher Beland * Document formatting and section numbering. Minor clarification in 4.3.4. Added "4.2.4 Resident-directed programming." Changes in green. Non-content comments in red.
Oct. 5, 1999 * Christopher Rezek * Added "4.1.4 Alumni Interaction" in purple.
Oct. 6, 1999 * Matt McGann * Added stuff in orange.
Oct. 6, 1999 * Shawn Kelly * Added stuff in blue.
Oct. 6, 1999 * Jeremy Sher * Added stuff in brown.
Oct. 7, 1999 * Jake Parrott * Copy-edited
Oct. 7, 1999 * John Hollywood * Additional final editing.

4. Community Interaction and Student Support

The current residential system fosters strong communities within the individual living groups. These communities provide a preliminary structure for campus wide interaction and a strong base of support for students. An ideal residence system -- house, home, and community -- ensures student happiness, and thus supports academic success. To this end, the system must contain both formal and informal advising and mentoring. The residence system also must encourage interaction between all members of the MIT community, including undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Interactions of this sort, while sometimes spontaneous in nature, often require an additional degree of organizational support. The idea is not to force interactions within and between communities, but to break down the barriers that may prevent these interactions and increase the total number of possibilities.

4.1 Faculty-student Interaction

Many documents have established the need for a stronger commitment to faculty-student interaction. MIT students are surrounded by some of the world's most prestigious and enthusiastic professors, yet some students have never even spoken personally with a member of the faculty. In turn, the faculty wonder why they are so distant from the students whom they see each day in class, but who rarely approach them with questions. Currently, MIT has implemented a few programs to improve the situation, but more and better support is needed. The House Fellows program has brought a handful of faculty in contact with undergraduate residential life; the housemasters of dormitories provide another handful of involved faculty. However, both of these programs are undersupported by the administration.

4.1.1. Recognition of the Value of the Residence System

The basis of faculty-student interaction within the residence system must be a general understanding that participating in the residence system (and other student life activities) is a valued activity in keeping with MIT's educational mission, and that the community should explicitly make time to do so.

This understanding implies that faculty and staff must ensure that students have enough time to particpate in the residence system. Consequently, existing academic regulations must be rigorously enforced, and departments should carefully consider the content and instruction quality of their subjects to ensure that students are not doing work that requires substantial time for little intellectual gain.

Similarly, faculty and staff should not be penalized for spending time on student interaction, but should be encouraged to do so. Indeed, contributions to student life should be considered in the tenure process for junior faculty; participants in programs should be able to submit recommendations testifying to their commitment in this area.

4.1.2 House Fellows

The House Fellow program needs to provide incentives and means for faculty to get involved. The program coordinator for residence life should work hand in hand with students to seek appropriate house fellows for the individual cultures of each residence. Faculty who volunteer for this program should be compensated in a manner similar to freshman advisors; that is, they should receive on the order of $1500 in research grants. Ideally, the number of house fellows should be approximately the same as the number of GRTs in the dorms and FSILGs. The administration must provide more financial support for programs and events sponsored by the house fellows, both because of the increased participation, and to allow more significant programming. The programming should range from practical to cultural, from social to intellectual. Faculty could arrange trips to Red Sox games, the Boston Pops, hiking, service days, or even just study breaks or house activities, like installing a hammock.

4.1.3 House Masters

Currently, House Masters have severe constraints on their schedule, including teaching, research, and family. To facilitate residential programming and faculty-student interaction, the administration should provide staff support for housemasters. These support staff could assist faculty in the day-to-day dealings of the residence, and in planning student events for the residence, leaving the faculty with more time to interact with students. This support should be in the form of one half-time assistant for each housemaster; seven full-time or fourteen half-time staff members would be required for the current system, at a cost of approximately $250,000 per year.

The current event funding level for housemasters is inadequate, and should be greatly increased. Also, that housemasters must share one small pot of money with their GRTs is unacceptable.

4.1.4 Additional Programs

The Subcommittee on Residential Programming of the Student Life Council should be responsible for events and programs to encourage student-faculty interaction. By sponsoring events and by facilitating student-run events, the subcommittee can generate interaction between students and faculty, both inside and outside of the residences. Promising events include student-faculty gatherings in the Bush Room, faculty invited to dinners or study breaks at living groups, and family-friendly events such as carnivals or picnics. The Subcommittee should have a budget of $25,000 - 50,000 per year for such event grants.

4.1.5 Alumni Interaction

Alumni/ae are one of the most valuable yet often overlooked community group at MIT. They combine the wisdom of age and experience with an intimate knowledge of the MIT experience. Incorporating the larger body of alumni into the MIT community will benefit both alumni and students.

Alumni interaction can be accomplished in many ways. The same programs described above for faculty would also be effective for alumni, especially those residing in the greater Boston area.

We especially encourage a further rollout of the student-alumni advising matched program. This program, piloted with European students and alumni, matched students one-on-one with alumni who shared a common academic/professional interest in a similar geographic location. This program should include all students, beginning with the first year.

If treated in these ways, alumni would be utilized as more than simply potential donors, but rather important contributors to the MIT community. This may in the end be cause for alumni to be more active donors, among other benefits already listed.

4.2 Student Support and Development

4.2.1 The Impact of Academics

Much has recently been made of the emergence of the residential communities as a haven of sorts from the harshness of MIT. Many community members feel that this "sanctuary" dynamic of the residences works against the development of Institute-wide community. We agree. However, in the rush to place blame for this dynamic, we believe the residential system has been unfairly accused. We agree that there is at least something of a "fortress mentality" in the residence halls, expressed most often in the form of a vehement and near-unanimous opposition to the idea of academic classes encroaching into the residences. However, we believe that this "fortress" feeling is an effect rather than a cause of the problem.

We believe that the "freshman malaise" (as the familiar first-year loss of enthusiasm has come to be called) is primarily due to the quality and quantity of academic work during the freshman year. Indeed, not much has changed about the freshman year since ODSUE's 1994 student survey, which ranked the least-liked aspects of the freshman year as quality of instruction, relevance of instructional material to students' interests, and quality of advising. When first-year students, bright with ideas and the spirit of innovation, are forced to spend their first year drudging away at uninteresting problem sets, memorizing material that they know they will not need in the future, cramming for exams that are meaningless and dry, is it any wonder that they turn to the home for refuge? Add to this the Physics Department's questionable practice of failing a large percentage of students taking 8.01, and the Writing Requirement's policy of giving 5/6 of the freshman class a taste of failure (in the Freshman Essay Evaluation) as soon as they arrive, and you have a much more plausible candidate for the cause of the "freshman malaise" than any story about poor advising by upperclassmen.

Moreover, we do not believe that this "fortress" mentality is particularly self-perpetuating. In contrast to some who have recently argued that the advice of upperclassmen -- an entrenched factor -- is to blame for freshman cynicism, we believe that upperclass advice amounts to commiseration rather than corruption. The freshmen are already disappointed with MIT by the time they go to upperclassmen to complain. If the cause for this disappointment were removed, so, we believe, would be the commiseration dynamic. The fact is that most students are deeply disappointed with MIT's first-year academic offerings. If their love for learning erodes during freshman year, we, as students, submit that this disappointment is why.

4.2.2 Peer Advising and Support

MIT is a stressful and difficult place to live, and the emotional wellbeing of students is crucial to their academic success. Currently, the residence system provides informal mentoring and support by upperclass students in living groups. While this is one of the successes of the current residence system, the system could benefit from a more established support framework. MIT should support the development of an informal peer support network throughout the living groups (both graduate and undergraduate residences). This network would comprise students trained in each of the following areas: MedLinks, Student Resource Serivce, Mediation, RCC, Associate Advising, JudComm, Nightline counselling, and other studens with valuable knowledge of support skills. The network would help provide publicity and training to its members, support peer advising and support events, and compile a database of members that would be made available to all students.

One of the recent recommendations in this area has been to create undergraduate Residence Advisors. While we support the desire to improve student life, we disagree with the creation of an undergraduate RA program for the following reasons:

Social stratification. An awkward social dynamic may emerge from placing undergraduates in positions of responsibility over their peers. This dynamic occurs at other institutions which use undergraduate residential advisors, where RA policing of rules divides the community.

Numbers. Implementing an undergraduate RA network of one for every ten undergraduates requires 400 students who will devote some amount of their time to the RA program. RA program requirements will limit the other activities in which these 400 RAs may participate, and deplete the leadership of student activities.

Liability. The issue of liability when an accident occurs under the watch of an undergraduate RA is a difficult one. MIT should not hold undergraduate RAs liable in cases where one of their advisees engages in inappropriate behavior.

Informal counselling. As stated, the residence system naturally maintains a network of informal peer advising and counselling. Improvements should build upon the existing network.

Training. Sufficient training of 400 undergraduate RAs would be a substantial enterprise. The training should be more substantial than the current GRT training.

4.2.3 GRTs

The few days of training given to GRTs is inadequate, and should be augmented with substantial training in peer counselling and conflict resolution. They should also receive training in programming within the living group, as well as a substantial increase in funding for programming.

In addition to their current student support role within the living groups, the GRTs and FSILG resident advisors should plan and implement residence-wide and campus-wide events. Each tutor should be responsible for one dorm-wide social or educational event per term. In addition, the tutors of each dorm should collectively be responsible for one campus-wide event, held outside of the residence hall. The ORLSLP will provide appropriate funds for GRT events.

4.2.4 Resident-Directed Programming

Residence hall programming seems to have been generally successful, though the results of a recent Planning Office survey of Housemasters [1] very neatly summarizes a number of areas that could use improvement. We would like to underscore the need to provide highly customized programming to each residence hall, based on the needs and wants of the residents. Once again, additional funding and administrative support are also required, especially for those programs which successfully engage the participants of residents and other members of the MIT community.

4.2.5 Professional Development

The need for leadership / professional devlelopment programs has been much discussed at the Institute, from sources ranging from Institute efforts to look at leadership development to requests from companies seeking students with superior managerial skills. Consequently, MIT should support a 'Student Development Program' (SDP) which help students develop non-classwork competencies that will serve the student well in future career positions. This program will provide instruction in the following areas: teamwork, communications skills, leadership, service, self-management, and inter-personal relationships. Particular classes and experiences would be developed and controlled by individuals and groups, with MIT providing funding and coordination. Participation should be voluntary, but should be well-integrated into the residential (and academic) experience.

As part of the SDP, students should have the opportunity to participate in internships that build SDP competencies such as leadership. MIT, through ORLSLP should actively create, and solicit for the creation, of these internships, would publicize their existence and coordinate hiring, and sponsor concurrent seminars that would allow participants to share their experiences and trade suggestions.

4.3 Community Events

Building community requires interaction between individuals in a social setting. In the ideal case, faculty, staff, alumni, undergraduate and graduate students, would spontaneously plan lunches and outings in order to better understand one another and develop a strong sense of community. In reality, opportunities and incentives are required. Specific events designed for the entire community will provide opportunities to talk with people previously thought inaccessible. Improvements to the dining system will allow all members of the MIT community to interact with one another over a meal in a relaxed setting. As an incentive, students, faculty and staff should be rewarded and recognized for their contributions to the development and improvement of MIT's educational community. Finally, members of the MIT community should be encouraged to use spaces designated for the community, and should have easy access to these spaces.

4.3.1 Campus-wide events

Regular campus-wide events maintain and foster campus-wide community. To this end, living groups shall be responsible for one event per year which is open to the community and held outside of the living group. These events need not be large enough to accomodate the entire community, but should be of interest to a variety of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Various events of this sort exist currently; the new "Tuesday Nights at Baker," although not sponsored by Baker House itself, program is an excellent example. Occasional larger events may be co-sponsored by several living groups. To facilitate planning of these events, MIT needs to reorganize its administrative structure to engender cooperation amongst the various program coordinators, including CAC, athletics, departments, living groups and ORLSLP.

On a broader level, one very common solution to the problem of a weak "campus-wide community" has been to propose various campus-wide events. Some events, like the Infinite Buffet[1] have been wildly successful (if judged by attendance) but resource-intensive. Others, like concerts, debates, or traditional "school spirit" events, do not necessarily appeal to a cross-section of campus denizens. Programs meant to engage the attention of the whole MIT community should appeal to some fundamental common interest of the population of the Institute. For example, 6.270 robotics design contest is very popular among mechanical engineering and EECS students, but the showmanship of the final contest also appeals to a much broader audience.

If the Institute is interested in facilitating faculty-student interaction, it must not merely provide a room and label it "interaction space." Instead, it must either provide a new or utilize an existing real-world motivation. For instance, an organized MIT-wide "Find a UROP Day" would almost certainly draw considerable interest, while simultaneously fostering research opportunities and communication - communication with a purpose. Careful advertising to area alumni could also bring increased participation and valuable perspective to campus-wide events. Adequate funding and support for large events is also critical to their success.

[1] MIT News Office article:; Tech news article:; Tech column:; video:

4.3.2 Dining

A crucial aspect of residential programming is a residential dining system.

"The dining system is another setting in which community is created and sustained. Yet much of the dining system at MIT has been allowed to languish." [1]

It is crucial to support dining halls as well as personal cooking. As was noted by this Committee in the community-based planning phase of Residence2001, the two most successful community dining programs in the current system are Baker Dining and Random Hall's floor kitchens. [2]

[1] Task Force on Student Life and Learning, Chapter 4

Much thought needed to be put into designing a first-rate residential dining system. Luckily, a thoughtful design was done by the Food Services Working Group (FSWG), concluding in its 1998 Institute Dining Review (IDR). Unfortunately, only a small subset of the IDR's recommendations have been implemented. MIT must make dining a central piece of its residence system. The senior administration must allocate resources to run a first-rate system (see Chapter 5, Capital Expenditures).

The following recommendations are taken directly from the IDR. We endorse them in full.

In general. The campus dining system will (a) provide students with a nutritious, high quality diet in a convenient manner and at reasonable cost; (b) provide opportunities for students to meet and dine with each other and other members of the MIT community; and (c) provide opportunities for students to develop leadership and citizenship skills through their dining program.

The Review recognizes the value that our unique student residence have for the student body and the MIT community. Therefore, the dining program in each residence hall should be structured in cooperation with the residents of that hall to ensure that the dining program is consistent with the hall's particular characteristics and culture.

The Review recognizes that students' freedom of choice is an important aspect of the undergraduate experience at MIT that must be maintained. However, it is neither practical nor feasible to provide all dining options in all halls at all times. Therefore, a full range of residential dining options will be provided system-wide, allowing students freedom to choose a dining program that best meets their particular needs.

Management of Residential Dining. Each residence hall will have a local oversight group. The groups will assist in developing dining programs for their respective houses. In houses centered around personal cooking, the oversight groups will arrange cooking and food purchasing programs, as well as plan catered meals and other related special events for the house. In houses with dining halls, the oversight groups will help the vendor with menu selection, relations with the house, and planning programs and events around the dining hall.

Dining Halls. The following houses will have dining halls: Ashdown House, Baker House, Burton-Conner, MacGregor House, McCormick Hall, and Next House. Baker and Next currently have operating dining halls. McCormick's hall should be reopened by the Fall of 1999, and the hall will be a pilot program for the new dining system. MacGregor's hall should also be reopened as soon as possible. Reopening Ashdown and Burton will require substantial renovations, making these longer-term projects.

Dining hall hours will be changed. In general, the halls will serve dinner seven nights a week during 2.5-3 hour time blocks, including during IAP (a few halls would be kept open during the summer, as well). However, dinner will be eliminated in Lobdell to encourage dining in the halls and through community meals. Improvements to Networks and the dining halls will satisfy the remaining need for "quick dinners."

A convenience store (like the one currently operating in MacGregor) will remain open. However, the store probably will be moved to Burton-Conner, since MacGregor probably will not have enough space to accommodate the convenience store and full kitchen facilities.

Finally, Pritchett serve as a dining hall- like facility, providing dinner to residents of East Campus and Senior House. Pritchett is already hosting community meals for East Campus residents.

All dining halls will be open to all students. We realize that issues of security are of serious concern, but we believe that the Office of Campus Dining can work with the dining halls to establish proper security programs.

Support for Personal Cooking. Dining programs will be centered around personal cooking in the following houses: Random, Bexley, East Campus, Senior House, New House, Eastgate, Westgate, Green Hall, Edgerton, and Tang. (Ashdown and Burton will be cooking houses in the short term, as well.) These houses will provide appropriate support for individual cooking, as well as run regular community meals.

Residents in all halls will be provided with convenient and secure kitchens (including some convenience kitchens provided in houses with dining halls). MIT will provide for basic kitchen maintenance in all halls. Day-to-day cleaning tasks will be required, but will vary by house. Halls may choose to have cleaning services contracted out (the cost added to house rents), form a cleaning schedule for students to share cleaning duties, or some combination thereof. The House Managers will be charged with the enforcement of the sanitation and maintenance standards.

Meal Plans. Meal plans will be made available to the MIT community. These plans will offer packages of meals at significant savings over the regular a la carte prices.

To further relieve financial burdens on students, vendors will be required to offer low-priced "value meals." These meals will include an entree, side dishes, and a beverage. They will be full, healthy meals (not "junk food") and will cost under $5.00.

Mandatory, system-wide meal plans will not be implemented. The residents of a house certainly may require meal plans to build a house dining program, however.

4.3.3 Rewards and Recognition

"If participation in the community is to become an integral part of the MIT experience, in accordance with the principle of the educational triad, the Institute must explore ways to recognize participation in the community appropriate to its educational role." [1]

MIT needs to provide a variety of rewards and recognition for people participating in the residence system. These awards should range from recognition of one-time efforts to sustained contributions over periods of time.

One easy example would be to have a column in each issue of Tech Talk highlighting community-building accomplishments of MIT faculty, students, and staff.

A more substantial example would be to give greater consideration to a faculty member's community involvement as part of the tenure, promotion and performance review process. [2]

Another substantial example would be to provide academic credit for student leadership in the community, in conjunction with a faculty member's guidance. One way to provide this credit would be to expand classes such as 17.903, Community Service: Experience and Reflection. In this class, students receive credit (units arranged) for traditional community service, in combination with related reading and writing assignments and a seminar. The Management, Urban Studies, and Political Science department curricula would be natural homes for such a venture.

Further examples of community rewards and recognition are outlined in chapter 6, Governance and Management.

[1] Task Force on Student Life & Learning, Chapter 4
[2] Ibid.

4.3.4 Easy Access to Community Facilities

Many dormitories have spaces which are intended for use by the entire MIT community - Baker Dining and MacGregor Convenience, for example. The current arrangements in many dormitories often either prevent easy and convenient access to these spaces by the public, compromises the security of private areas, or both.

Currently, for example, residents have also often become dangerously accustomed to opening doors for anyone who requests entry, on the assumption that they are on their way to a community area visiting a friend. Visitors also often find explaining themselves to desk workers to be a hassle, which discourages them from visiting friends at other dormitories, or eating in another in-dorm dining hall. On the other hand, due to the high volume of legitimate traffic in many entryways, desk workers are not always diligent about questioning every person who wanders by. To take one concrete example in particular, there is currently nothing to stop a student visiting Baker Dining from wandering the entirety of the dormitory.

MIT should conduct a comprehensive review of physical security in its residence halls, with aim of accomplishing all of the following goals:

  • Allow members of the MIT community easy and convenient access to those areas of the building which residents designate as "public"
  • Effectively restrict access into areas designated by residents as "private" to current residents and their guests
  • Allow residents creative flexibility in designing access restrictions to the facilities of their dormitory.

    MIT must implement the changes requested as a result of this review process. This implementation will require a minor but important commitment of Institute funds toward updating the physical security infrastructure of its residence system.

    In a dormitory with a dining hall, event space, or similar common areas, residents may opt to give 24-hour (or limited-hour) open access to all members of the MIT community in order to promote inter-residence interaction. Weight room, music practice rooms, and similar facilities might be allocated by a reservation mechanism controlled by the front desk, with priority given to residents of that dormitory. Additional card readers or key locks might be requested on entries to private hallways from public areas. Additional security "checkpoints" would allow different access policies to be enforced for different areas in a given building.

    Students in many floors and entries enjoy the social and physical benefits they get from being able to leave their doors open all of the time. In other places, students would prefer ease of public access to common hallways. Taking into account these differing preferences is important, and under no circumstances should the security policies of a building be changed against the wishes of the majority of the residents.


    [1] "Residence Hall Programming: Summary of Responses to Housemaster Query." Draft, July 13, 1998. Available at