Alberta Lipson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm an administrator who conducts educational research so I'm going highlight some relevant survey data and let students speak for themselves about features they value in an MIT residential system. The 1994 and 1998 Senior Surveys asked students about the living group characteristics they think are important and whether their living groups contained these characteristics. The results from both surveys show similar patterns. The ten living group characteristics that students value the most are: close friendships, a sense of community, a good social life, supportive upperclass students, a non-racist and non-sexist environment, adequate private living and common living spaces, good physical condition of the premises, and intellectual stimulation. As one might expect, there are some differences between FSILG and dormitory residents. Higher percentages of FSILG residents said certain social characteristics were important ( e.g., supportive upperclass students, alumni who are considered friends or mentors, a sense of community, close friendships, a good social life, etc. ), while higher percentages of dormitory residents said adequate private living spaces and a non-sexist environment were important. Yet, the similarities are stronger than the differences since FSILG and dormitory residents put the same nine features in their top ten. What came out clearly in both surveys is the fact that the majority of students are satisfied with their living group experience -- in both surveys over 80 percent said they were "very satisfied" or "satisfied." However, students from FSILG's more often tended to be "very satisfied' than those living in residence halls. Survey data give us some indications as to why this is so. Significantly higher percentages of FSILG than dormitory residents said their living group provided 6 of the 10 living group qualities that seniors value most -- supportive upperclass students, a sense of community, close friendships, a good social life, adequate common spaces, and intellectual stimulation. It should also be noted that higher percentages of dormitory residents said their living groups provided 2 of the 10 highly valued living group qualities -- namely adequate private living spaces and a non-sexist environment. One of the key questions these findings raise is how can the best characteristics of FSILG's be incorporated into the dormitory system and visa-versa so that in the future there will be no differences between these two groups in relation to the features that students value the most.
Another relevant issue that these surveys raise has to do with personal development. While, on the whole, seniors have been positive about their MIT experience, there has often been a caveat; many have indicated their academic/intellectual achievement came at the expense of their personal development. The Task Force report talks about the important inter-relationship of student life and learning and how the two cannot be separated. The report also defines learning very broadly to include more than formal in-class learning. The design of a new residential system should deal with the personal development issue in a serious way and incorporate features that encourage its improvement. This is not to say, however, that personal development is something that happens only outside the classroom. It is intricately tied to the formal academic experience as well as to the informal non-academic experience. Thus, it is not enough for a new residential system to promote the enhancement of personal development; faculty also need to consider how personal development can be promoted through the formal academic curriculum.