The Educational Value of Community
Because students currently dominate community activities (or "student activities"), the Student Advisory Committee
has been asked to undertake a special study of the role of community in the educational system. This section
summarizes our findings in this regard. In emphasizing community activities, however, we do not mean to suggest that
our recommendations will neglect the Institute's academic and research programs.
The contribution of community activities to the educational mission can be divided into two major categories. The
first category consists of life and technical skills of general economic value to our society. MIT is generally
recognized for its achievement in this area. The second category consists of life skills that are primarily useful to
the individual in his or her contribution to and participation in the world community. These are the values, skills,
and responsibilities associated with citizenship in our increasingly interdependent world. The division between these
two categories is primarily useful for descriptive purposes; in practice, the skills used by MIT graduates in their
life work overlap with those used in their contributions to society as citizens. For simplicity's sake, we list the
educational contributions of community activities as follows:
Specific Professional Skills
Participants in many activities acquire skills in specific areas that may later be directly or indirectly applied in
their current or future professional fields. Many activities and living groups, for example, require technical
support for their computer systems. Other areas where specific skills are available through participation in
activities include business management, marketing, writing, journalism, and the arts.
Community participation often provides community members with life-long friendships that, aside from being rewarding
in and of themselves, may provide professional and/or life opportunities that would not otherwise be available.
Time and Stress Management Skills
In addition to providing a release for stress, activities themselves promote development of time and stress management
Personal Growth/Diversity of Life Experience
Activities provide a sense of a varied, multifaceted life. They may also relieve some of the stress and tension
related to academic or work-related activities. Many activities provide enrichment in the arts, culture, and
athletics not available in the classroom.
Activities and living arrangements provide an exceptional opportunity for interaction amongst students and between
students and faculty or staff. Through community activities, students learn interpersonal skills such as
conflict-resolution, civility and respect, and reap the rewards of social activities and community involvement.
Exposure to people with different interests and backgrounds gives students opportunities to learn about cultural and
aspirational diversity. In addition, male-female interaction provides perspective on gender issues at personal and
Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem, and General Emotional Health
Personal and intellectual interaction is essential to self-understanding and personal growth. The undergraduate
experience on campus in particular takes place at a formative time in most students' lives. During this critical
time, students begin to develop a sense of identity and what their role in the world will be. Interaction with peers
and mentors outside the classroom provides many students with the inestimably powerful and fulfilling learning
experience available at a university - namely, learning about self-awareness.
Participation in community activities often provides students with their first opportunities to develop leadership
skills (through positions or offices within an activity, living group, or program). The development of leadership
skills often occurs informally, through the direction of social or intellectual activity, in athletic activities, or
as part of group or team activities.
Self-Direction and a Sense of Citizenship
Through involvement in the MIT community, students often become more aware of what might be termed the skills of
citizens. First, a knowledge of government, voluntary associations, and participation in community affairs teaches
the value of participation on a global and life scale. Second, self-direction and cooperation with others helps
develop social capital among participants. Third, participants often come to understand the value of self-expression
through involvement in the community. The expression of one's self and/or one's values - whether through political,
artistic, or recreational activities - fulfills an essential human need. By expanding the scope of self-direction and
cooperation with others, one increases the likelihood that such expression will take place. Through these expressions,
members of the community may develop a sense of dignity and self-esteem not available through strictly academic or
While the above list may not be an all-inclusive description of the educational value of community participation,
it demonstrates summarily the overwhelming importance of this facet of MIT's educational product. There is no
question that community activities contribute substantively to the learning that takes place at MIT, at both graduate
and undergraduate levels. Clearly, community affairs should receive as much attention in the design of a model MIT as
the other two educational areas of academics and research.
What general or philosophical recommendations regarding community activities would be appropriate to the
development of a model MIT? While we will leave the specific recommendations to the reports that follow, it is clear
that the model MIT would contain the following two features:
MIT's physical environment and facilities would be designed with community interaction as a primary function, not as a
secondary or aesthetic consideration. Staff and faculty would be given ample incentives to engage in and support
community activities. The two other points of the Educational Triad - research and academics - would be designed with
a view toward supporting, adding to, and augmenting the educational experience obtained through community involvement.
- A range of fully-supported informal and formal administrative programs related to community activities
- Support for community involvement integrated into campus research and academic activities.