An Unofficial Report on Dorm Rush 2002

Jeff Roberts
DormCon Rush Chair 2001-2002
July 16, 2001

So it seems there's been some apprehension within the dorm community regarding the transition to freshmen on campus. Lately I've had many people ask me things like, "Jeff, what's going to happen to dorm rush in 2002?" Usually I don't have enough time to give an answer on the spot. But I realize that a lot of the planning for this hasn't been very well publicized, and there are lots of people interested in helping who haven't had the chance to do so. Those of us who have been working on this issue for the past few years would like to have the community at large more involved in this process, since it's the community that ultimately has to make it all work. So I wrote this to quickly summarize what's been going on and serve as a starting point for a more involved preparation process that will take place all throughout next year.

1. Background.

Lots of work has been done on this already, so before getting involved you'll have to do your homework. The model we're currently working with is the one outlined in Chancellor Larry Bacow's Design of the New Residence System (released December 1999), which you all can (and should) read at http://web.mit.edu/residence/systemdesign.

Most (but not all) of the elements of this model were taken from the recommendations of the student Strategic Advisory Committee to the Chancellor, whose report (October 1999) you can (and should) read at http://web.mit.edu/advise/unifiedproposal.

Some additional work on this model was done by a student residence implementation team (May 2000), the results of which can be seen at http://implement.mit.edu.

You should pull up all of these documents and at least read the sections on Residence Selection and Orientation, if not the entire documents.

2. Residence Selection.

What's the current working model for residence selection in 2002?

This is the quick summary. Read the above documents for the full story.

Residence selection will still occur by a lottery, and students will still make their own preferences. The difference in the new model is timing (which, of course, is not trivial). Instead of making a one-time-only lottery selection shortly after arriving on campus, students will participate in a series of lotteries. The first will occur over the summer, when freshmen will use information from CPW, campus visits, mailings, the web, student contacts, &c. to enter a preference of dorms. The lottery will be run, and room assignment chairs will assign rooms. Freshmen will get to campus for orientation and move into those rooms. Then, near the end of orientation, there will be a second lottery. In this lottery, students will have the choice of staying in their current dorm or preferencing others (some of the specifics of this lottery process are still in question). According to the current working model, freshmen who have opted to stay in the same dorm may also opt to stay in the same room (this point is still under some debate). Otherwise, freshmen go through the internal rooming process, hall or entry rush in some dorms, as usual.

An interesting new addition to the residence selection system will be the fall/spring lotteries. At the end of the term, when students would normally confirm their housing, they would also have the choice to enter a lottery preferencing other dorms. This would take the place of the special change requests, which are processed on a one-by-one basis. Most of the work on these lotteries has yet to be done.

Why this new model?

The administration would like incoming freshmen to be able to know where they are living before arriving on campus. This would help alleviate the feeling of insecurity experienced by many MIT students (along with their parents) after arriving at college for the first time. Students, on the other hand, would rather place the emphasis on informed choice, and let students make their selection after seeing their options in person. The dual-lottery freshman housing system was developed as a compromise.

The fall/spring lotteries were actually an idea suggested by students (most recently in the SAC report), who felt that MIT discourages movement by making the process for moving tedious, cumbersome and often difficult by treating students who prefer to move as special cases. Students should instead be encouraged to change their living environment if they so prefer.

Altogether, the significance of this change is that the choice of living environment will be broken into phases spread out over time instead of being concentrated into one short time period. The benefits and drawbacks of this new model can be debated, however, at the present time, this is the model officially supported by the administration.

What progress has been made in developing this new system?

The incoming Class of 2004 was sent, along with the Guide to First Year Student Residences, a card on which they could indicate their preferences for temporary housing. Temp dorm assignments were made through a lottery using these cards. Temp housing in this case was treated as in the past, and temp assignments had no influence on permanent assignments. The purpose of this was to compare students' preferences before arriving on campus with their final living group choices made after rush.

A similar lottery will be run with the Class of 2005, with the lottery entered via the web, and with temporary room assignments being made by room assignment chairs. Again, temp assignments will be treated only as temp assignments. The results from these studies will be tabulated and released in the fall.

Development of the fall/spring lotteries is just beginning. They could possibly be implemented as soon as next year, but at this point no one knows.

Finally, there was a preliminary release of the Interactive Introduction to the Institute, a multimedia guide to living groups at MIT, which was sent to the Class of 2005 and will continue to be developed for the Class of 2006. The effects of this product will be judged by surveying the incoming freshman class.

Oh, and as a final note, some may be wondering if anything will change as a result of the departure of Chancellor Bacow and the appointment of Chancellor Clay. We've yet to know.

3. Dorm Rush/Residence Orientation.

It's been tough lately talking about dorm rush just because of the language. Dorm rush is something that dorm residents value very highly, and the term itself has become sacred among students. However, "rush" is also a targeted word these days. The MIT administration doesn't seem to like it, nor does the city government, nor the public at large. Even the IFC has moved away from it, changing the name of their selection process to "recruitment". Of course, dorm rush isn't really a "rush" at all. We invented it to go along with FSILG rush, and so we borrowed the name, but dorms don't actively select members as do FSILGs. But since we do use the word "rush", some seem to have the impression that upperclassmen in dorms are surreptitiously deciding where freshmen are going to live. These issues, while they don't have much to do with the realities of dorm rush, still deserve consideration because they affect the way it is perceived.

Ignoring the subtleties of the name for a while, let's think about what dorm rush really is. It's not about selecting new members, which dorms can't and don't do. But it is about letting dorm communities rally together, showcase their personalities, and have fun. In this respect, it is vital in supporting dorm individuality, culture and community. That's not to say that it has nothing to do with the freshmen. It's important to freshmen because it helps them get to know the campus and think about their living options. Also, in trying to draw freshmen to their events, dorms make use of the competitive spirit to energize the events and make them more fun for freshmen and upperclassmen alike. Finally, it's worth noting that, on a campus starved for social activity, it is the single biggest campus-wide social event of the year. I think it says a lot about MIT that we welcome our freshmen to campus with a gigantic block party.

Most recently, I've been discussing the issue of dorm rush with Larry Bacow, Larry Benedict and other administrators. The administration decided long ago that the rush period as we now know it would be eliminated in 2002. This was meant to apply to FSILG rush and dorm rush alike. Administrators explained to me that the main reason for this is the idea that rush is a period in which incoming students are choosed over by upperclassmen and selected or rejected as members of a living group, and that no student should face rejection as one's first experience at MIT.

The counter-argument I presented is that given all freshmen will be living in dorms, an introduction to the dorm communities should be a vital part of orientation. First of all, freshmen should know about the dorm in which they're living initially to understand the personalities of the residents and the expectations of the community; if they don't like it, they should consider moving. Moreover, they have to learn about the dorm system at large, not only to see if they'd prefer to live someplace else, but also to understand the diversity among the dorms and hopefully to meet more people and feel more comfortable in places where they don't live. If one of MIT's goals in housing all freshmen on campus is truly to create a sense of campus-wide community, then freshmen have to be allowed and encouraged to experience other living groups.

Eventually this point was accepted, and it was decided that there would be a residence component to orientation. This will include student-driven open houses and events as currently occur during dorm rush. The caveat is that the choice of residence must be left to the incoming freshmen, and that this period must not be about selecting and rejecting students as members.

This is where we are now. There will be dorm events during orientation. What kind of events will they be? How will they be scheduled? How much will they resemble dorm rush? So far, these are questions I can't answer. One thing I can say is that it's not entirely up to the administration to decide. Remember that dorm rush wasn't given to us from heaven. It's something unique to MIT that students invented and decided they wanted to have. And I think that in the end, it's going to be up to the students to decide what they want to do in the future. In 2002 there is no official rush period and no official rush rules. Without this structure, we'll now have to construct something ourselves. If we want to allow freshmen to make an informed choice of living environment, dorms to showcase their individuality, and freshmen and upperclassmen alike to have fun, we'll have to keep those benefits in mind while inventing something new, just as our forefathers did when they invented dorm rush.

4. Involvement.

It's going to take a good deal of student involvement to make this work. Altogether, I can't tell you whether or not there'll be something like dorm rush in 2002, because you have to tell me. And you have to tell me what you need from MIT in order to do it.

How can students get involved?

We want to hear from all students on this, so speak up. Here are some important venues for discussion.

1. DormCon. This is the forum for discussion of issues in dorm life and all dorm residents are invited to attend. Ask your dorm president or officers for the meeting schedule. You might also look at this on a smaller scale by talking about it with people in your dorm. Your official link to DormCon is through your dorm government, so discussion internal to your house can lead to a more forceful statement from your house to DormCon.

2. Subscribe to the public list housing-talk@mit.edu and start conversations over e-mail. I'll be reading that list, along with a large section of the MIT community. As a side note, avoid posting this stuff only to mit-talk@mit.edu, because I may not be reading that list as closely.

3. Join the UA's Committee on Housing and Orientation (UA-CHO), a weekly meeting where we talk about exactly this kind of stuff. You can e-mail ua-cho-chairs@mit.edu to find out more. Also, look for open forums hosted by CHO throughout the year on this topic. The first such forum should occur early in the fall, a week or so after rush.

That's all. Take some time to think about what all this means, and think about what you, based on your knowledge and experience, might be able to add to the conversation. Let the madness begin.