Appendix B

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 skills.

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.

Social Skills

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 professional levels.

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 work-related activities.

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:

  1. A range of fully-supported informal and formal administrative programs related to community activities
  2. Support for community involvement integrated into campus research and academic activities.
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.

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Updated 2/12/98