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Lured in part by the free room and board and in some cases by a belief that the Greek system makes a major contribution to college life, the first group of resident advisors has moved into MIT's fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs).
All 36 FSILGs are required to have resident advisors starting this semester. The residence halls already had faculty residents and graduate resident tutors.
The new resident advisors underwent three days of intensive training from August 30-September 1 along with 70 graduate resident tutors assigned to the residence halls on campus.
According to the job description, they are expected to be mentors, guides and resources for students and to serve as liaisons between the living groups and the Institution. Appointed for a year, they report to the living group and its alumni/ae board.
Training sessions covered conflict resolution, communication, relationships, community building, safety, gender issues and expectations. The group also viewed and discussed the film "Skin Deep," in which students talk about race issues at MIT.
Taking part in the sessions were Dean of Student Life Margaret Bates, Assistant Dean Neal Dorow, Campus Police Chief Anne Glavin, Associate Dean Leo Osgood of the Office of Minority Education, counselors, housemasters, ombudsmen, mediators, doctors, a health educator and a social worker from the Medical Department. The training program was organized and coordinated by Assistant Dean Carol Orme-Johnson, MIT's director of mediation.
Many of the resident advisors attended MIT as undergraduates and some belonged to FSILGs themselves -- a few to the houses for which they are now advisors. A three-year waiting period precludes RAs from acting as role models for students with whom they lived as peers.
Others attended Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, Bowdoin, Emory, Colgate, Ohio State, Kentucky, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Stevens Technical Institute, among others. Many are pursuing graduate degrees at MIT and elsewhere. Some are attending law school, or already embarked upon careers. None is married. Some of the new advisors are profiled below.
Alpha Epsilon Pi (155 Bay State Rd., Boston)
Jonathan Cohen, a member of Phi Delta Theta, worked as a live-in academic advisor in a freshman dormitory when he was a senior at Stanford and is doing graduate work at the Operations Research Center. He learned that MIT was looking for resident advisors through Hillel and believed his background made him an ideal candidate.
"Fraternities and sororities can play an important, positive role in college life," said Mr. Cohen, whose own fraternity experience was mixed. "Frankly, although my fraternity provided me with a supportive and enjoyable living environment, it also sapped some of my academic motivation and curiosity."
He believes that many fraternities provide supportive environments and foster intellectual curiosity, excellence and philanthropic activity, including tutoring programs and volunteer projects. "My first impression is that AEPi is definitely one of these fraternities," Mr. Cohen said.
Beta Theta Pi (119 Bay State Rd., Boston)
Stephanie Gagne, the only woman advisor to a fraternity, was well aware of Beta Theta Pi's recent notoriety when she applied for the position. Recruited by friends who are alumni of the MIT chapter, she hopes to help Beta regain its reputation as a responsible group involved in community service, student leadership and academic achievement.
"What happened was a lapse in risk management with their summer residents for which they are receiving a lot of unwarranted negative attention," said Ms. Gagne, a graduate of Worcester Polytech who is working as a structural engineer in Boston. "These are good guys and this is a reputable fraternity. I hope to be a voice of reason for them and help them gain the respect they deserve from MIT and the local Boston community."
Ms. Gagne, who belonged to Alpha Gamma Delta as an undergraduate but lived in a dormitory as a freshman and an off-campus apartment afterward, is a strong advocate of fraternities and sororities. Besides helping a person develop life skills "from how to hang wallpaper to learning financial responsibility," she said, "the house is also a support group for freshmen who will become the best group of friends you will ever have. People fail to realize that there are positive aspects of Greek life."
Pi Lambda Phi (450 Beacon St., Boston)
Bryan J. Greiner, an optical engineer and secretary of the New England Fiberoptic Council, was a member of Pi Lam as a student at Stevens Tech in New Jersey from 1986-91. He has fond recollections of community service projects and charity work organized by his chapter. He has remained active in the fraternity.
"Our chapter motto is 'Not four years, but a lifetime,'" he said. "When I pledged Pi Lam, I understood this and I meant it."
Mr. Greiner, who moved to New England in 1991 to work for Lockheed Sanders, has been involved with the MIT chapter for the past year. "This [resident advisor] position will allow me to pass on what I've learned and to become a positive role model for the new students," he said. "I don't look at this as a police job. This is a chance to help out the chapter to be better in many ways. I don't want to give away too much of the farm, but I'll say that fraternities can build an improved relationship with the school, the local community and industry. I know that application of the right effort can bring this about."
Phi Kappa Sigma (530 Beacon St., Boston)
Raymond L. Goldsworthy, a physics major at Rhodes College and the University of Kentucky, is a PhD candidate at MIT's Whitaker College of Health Science and Technology. He is impressed with the sense of community and respect that PKS members have for each other. "I will try to be a friend," he said.
Although he did not belong to a fraternity himself, Mr. Goldsworthy appreciates the role one might play in helping a young person make the transition from high school to college life. "The members should be open-minded and supportive," he said. "They should allow for diversity and individualism. From what I've seen at MIT, they live up to this standard."
Zeta Beta Tau (58 Manchester Rd., Brookline)
Brad Pistorio, a Bowdoin College graduate who belonged to a fraternity for a short time, is doing graduate work in inorganic chemistry at MIT and hopes to go on to law school and specialize in patent law. He plans to tutor members of Zeta Beta Tau in chemistry and develop friendships with them. He believes freshmen should not rush fraternities during their first semester.
"They should mingle freely and get to know one another," Mr. Pistorio said. "If they join a frat immediately, they may fail to explore other options, whether they be living or social situations."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 2, 1998.