Magic Carpet Team Residence Design Proposal
January 29, 1999
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139
Table of Contents:
3. Importance of Dorm Rush
4. Dorm Rush
5. Importance of FSILGs
6. FSILG Rush
7. Subsidizing FSILGs
I. Executive Summary
MIT’s current residential system does not adequately meet the needs of its members. We recommend the following to help bring policy closer to the ideals laid down in the Task Force on Student Life and Learning:
The housing policy at MIT has undergone many changes since its creation in 1914. Every major alteration in its policy has been the direct result of the Institutes' changing needs (Housing at MIT). Once again, MIT's housing policy will be modified. Three major announcements were made within the past year that have necessitated this change in policy. The first announcement was President Vest's decision to house all freshmen on campus in the year 2001. Following this announcement, plans to build a new undergraduate dormitory were declared. Finally, the Task Force on Student Life and Learning (TFSLL) released their report, which called for modifications in the current residential system (System Design Homepage).
The Residence System Steering Committee has decided to direct an IAP design contest in order to find the best way to incorporate these changes into the new residential system. When examining the current residence system, it becomes clear that there are many problems that should be rectified. These problems include:
Because these are the major problems that have resulted from the current residence system at MIT, they will be the only ones addressed within this report.
The ideal residential system would allow us to maintain everything positive about our current system, while rectifying all its problems. Since ideal systems do not exist, MIT should choose a system that maintains the parts of its current system that it regards as the most important while attempting to solve the system's largest problems, without exceeding any of the residential system's boundaries. Thus, the boundaries of the residential system should be discussed. First and foremost, all freshmen must be housed on campus by the year 2001. With the completion
of the new dormitory in the summer of 2001, there will be about 3000 beds available for undergraduate housing, assuming that no crowding takes place (Statistics on the MIT Undergraduate Residential System). Furthermore, the new residence system must take into account the demand for potential housemasters and graduate resident tutors.
As the TFSLL's report states, residences "provide a strong academic and social support group"(34). One of the reasons that this is true is that students are allowed to choose where to live. Choice within the residence system is important because it allows students to choose a living environment where they feel comfortable, or at the very least one they feel is non-hostile. Thus, the new residence system should maintain both choice and support within residences. Considering all of these, the goals of the residence system should be to:
The method by which these goals will be accomplished can best be described by dividing the residence system into three parts: Rush and Orientation, Mentoring, and Residential/Facilities Programming. Orientation should be reorganized so that dormitory rush should take place before independent living group rush, which would include fraternity and sorority rush. Independent living groups may continue to do informal rush and extend bids throughout freshman year, but only sophomores would be allowed to live in an independent living group’s house. This will help maintain housing choice. To maintain support, or mentoring, the current level of interaction between upperclassmen and freshmen must also be maintained. In addition, interaction between faculty and students should be facilitated through organized activities and informal contact. Finally, programming should be improved through the creation of a Student Programming Office.
III. Rush and Orientation
Currently MIT hosts a few pre-orientation programs: Freshmen Leadership Program, Freshmen Service Program, and the Ocean Engineering Program. These programs have provided groups of freshmen an opportunity to meet many others and spend a few days away with each other. They later arrive on campus seeing familiar faces. This provides the freshmen with a more comfortable atmosphere to relieve the stress and to further interactions among the freshmen class.
Keeping the positive affects of FLP and FSP in mind, there should be more pre-orientation activities created for freshmen to meet their fellow classmates. Harvard University also has a variety of pre-orientation programs in which groups of freshmen participate in an activity for a few days and become familiarized with each other. Following that track, MIT should implement pre-orientation programs in which freshmen can travel together in a group along with upperclassmen leaders and "bond". Activities such as hiking, rafting, camping, are possible ideas for this program, but it definitely should not be limited to only outdoor activities. These programs should be held at various locations across United States and around the world, thus making the program more attractive for freshmen, making the program more accessible to all freshmen and providing more activity options.
Orientation is the first step incoming students take to acquaint themselves with their new environment. Within this short period, freshmen have to make decisions that will affect them for the next four years. To help with this decision, they should be provided with as much information as possible through organized events that lead them through their early decisions such as what classes to take and where to live.
So that the freshmen can make well-informed decisions about dormitory residence and FSILG affiliation, we propose separating dormitory rush and FSILG rush. Unlike the current system, dormitory residence and FSILG affiliation are two independent issues and should not be competing for time. By separating dormitory rush from FSILG rush, each group will receive full attention of the freshmen, while the information flow to the freshmen is spread out over a greater time. Thus, better, more informed decisions can be made.
A way to foster interaction between students during orientation is to promote social activities among the students. Reinstating Thursday Night Dinners so that freshmen can meet other upperclassmen and sponsoring more social activities are two ways for freshmen to meet others. Thursday Night Dinners are a comfortable way to meet other freshmen, meet upperclassmen and explore Boston. Many students use this time to have questions about the upcoming rush answered by upperclassmen. In our present system, the dinners also provide a way for the FSILGs to talk to the freshmen before Dorm Rush begins. Hopefully, this will make the freshmen aware that there are other options beyond the dorms, and should help encourage people to move off campus. In addition to Thursday Night Dinners there should be more Orientation activities centered around socializing, such as trips into Boston or Freshmen dinners. The point of Orientation should be to facilitate community formation.
Institute policy now states that by 2001 all freshmen will live on campus. This situation makes dormitory rush more important than ever. Every year, the MIT community presents the incoming students with various types of communities through rush activities. Rush is a time for freshmen not only to look at the facilities of a certain building, but also to learn about the character and the people that live there.
The characteristics of a dormitory are a significant part of an undergraduate’s career at MIT. Most students stay in the same dormitory for all four undergraduate years. The dormitory community becomes a second home for many students. Rush allows the students to choose the environment in which they feel most comfortable.
Dormitory Rush will begin with summer mailings, which consist of objective dormitory facility descriptions including, but not limited to, statistics and physical descriptions. In addition to that, each dormitory will also send information created by its current residents to the incoming students about the personality and traditions of the dormitory. When the freshmen arrive on campus for Orientation, rush will continue with the Residence Midway (set to be on the first Thursday of R/O). There, freshmen will be introduced to the various living options on campus through meeting each group briefly at the Residence Midway. After a brief introduction to the dormitory, the students will then proceed into a two day dormitory rush period in which the dormitories are allowed to host rush activities and the incoming students are encouraged to visit and participate in these activities. Dorm rush will end with the close of the housing lottery on the evening of the first Saturday.
From the 1994 Senior Survey and the 1995 Freshman Year Report, 93% of seniors and 90% of freshmen living in FSILGs were satisfied with their living group. In contrast, 80% of seniors and 74% of freshmen living in dormitories were satisfied. Significantly, more FSILG freshmen than dormitory residents reported having close friendships, a sense of community, supportive upper-class students, and intellectual stimulation, all of which are goals of the new residence system (Research on the MIT Residence System).
For years, FSILGs have provided an environment that teaches responsibility, encourages leadership, fosters communication, and aids the development of problem solving skills. For these reasons, it is imperative that the new residence system in 2001 encourage freshmen to become a part of the FSILG community.
The proposed rush of 2001 can be divided into two segments: fall and spring. Fall rush will begin at Orientation and it provides the first opportunity for freshmen to join the FSILG system. Spring rush will give a second opportunity for freshman to join an FSILG. By providing many sources of information at various times throughout the school year, MIT will be able to maintain FSILGs, which provide so many benefits for the student body.
Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday will be devoted to FSILG rush. The first opportunity to accept bids will be Wednesday. An early rush is necessary in order to maintain the diversity of the FSILG system. Many freshmen come to MIT ready to try new and different things. The more time they spend here, the more routine their life becomes and the more entrenched the stereotypes become. An early rush will make FSILG membership available for the open-minded freshmen, thus maintaining the diversity among the myriad living groups.
Another benefit from an early rush is that the FSILGs provide support and friendship for new students during their adjustment. MIT life can be taxing on its new students, but a group of 30 people looking after a freshman can relieve some stress. FSILGs will also promote a strong MIT community by providing a direct route for increased dormitory-FSILG interaction. Freshmen who have loyalty to both their dormitory and their FSILG will frequently travel between the two, bringing friends in each direction and encouraging unity among the upperclassmen.
During the fall term, the freshmen who join FSILGs will be introduced to a unique culture. The easiest way to adapt to a new culture is to immerse oneself among its members. Thus we propose that the residence system allow for the freshmen to spend one week during the fall term living at their FSILG. This week would provide an excellent opportunity for friendships to develop between the freshmen and upperclassmen without compromising the strong MIT community that will develop by having all freshmen on campus.
There will be some freshmen that arrive in the fall and are uncomfortable making the decision to join an FSILG so quickly. There will be others who do not fit in at their dormitory. For them, a spring rush would provide the chance to meet a new group of people and relieve some of the anxiety present when meeting new people. The IFC would determine the specifics of an informal or formal spring rush. In addition, we propose setting up an organization through which those interested in rushing can make their names available to the FSILGs. In addition, new spring FSILG members should also have the opportunity to spend one week living in their FSILG. Regardless of when bids are accepted, MIT’s Planning Office must have a semester’s notice before a student can move into an FSILG.
As explained in section 2.4, the FSILG system is a very positive aspect of the MIT environment. With all freshmen living on campus in 2001 however, the FSILG resident population will be reduced by at least 25% and many living groups will be in danger of going bankrupt. Therefore, to preserve as many FSILGs as possible, it is crucial that the new residence system provide a safety to give people a chance to adapt to the new system.
The proposed method for saving the FSILG system is to create a finance committee that delegates need-based money to living groups. By 2001 FSILGs will make clear to this committee how much money an incoming freshman class would bring into the house. An amount no greater then this would be given to the FSILG for each of the next five years. We realize that some community members are against subsidizing the FSILGs, since this will simply encourage them to be lax during the rush process. We ask that these members realize that if the FSILGs do not rush they will close. Despite the fact that we are subsidizing the houses for a freshmen class, they still need to gain a sophomore class. If they are incapable of doing this their house will die. After five years, the FSILGs will hopefully understand what is necessary for existence in the new residence system and be able to make the necessary changes to survive.
MIT is tough. There is no way around this simple fact. It partly explains why so many of our students fail to graduate within four, five, six, even seven years. We believe that so many of our students fail to graduate because there is not enough support in the system for struggling students. It is very easy to become lost under the amount of information at MIT. "Students should be inspired, not overwhelmed, by the opportunities presented to them."(Silbey et al., 36) The support system at MIT should be based on a triad system: The Undergraduate Support Network, The Graduate Resident System and Informal and Formal interaction between Faculty and Students. The key to relieving some of the pressure put on freshmen, and undergraduates, at MIT is a strong support system and a strong sense of community. These are steps in that direction.
Underclassmen and upperclassmen already frequently interact. Many MIT freshmen depend on their upperclass friends to guide them through the trials and tribulations of the first year. Yet, as has already been stated, surveys conducted during 1994-1996 showed that both seniors and freshmen felt that their residence system did not provide adequate opportunities for close friendships, despite the fact that many wanted them. The same surveys also show that the FSILGs are more conducive to creating these close bonds (Surveys). It is our belief that the new residence design should copy some of the programs currently employed by the ILGs to promote friendship in the dormitories. It is clear that these close friendships begin in the residence. It is also clear that the FSILGs are in some manner better at fostering these close ties between housemates. Since freshman will be housed on campus starting in 2001 it is more important than ever that they feel strong connections to upperclassmen and feel supported in the dormitory environment. Thus, those programs used in the FSILGs to promote friendships and support should be incorporated into the dormitory system.
The Big Brother/Big Sister program in particular seems to create a sense of belonging and support among the members in the ILGs. A Big Sibling from the freshman’s living group provides advice on both social and academic issues at MIT and is able to direct Little Siblings to those resources that may be useful at the Institute. When a Little Sibling is in academic trouble these upperclass fellows can either tutor or find help. When an underclassman feels overwhelmed by MIT’s lifestyle, an upperclassman can provide a welcome ‘ear’ to hear grievances and provide support and counsel. As freshmen, many students feel lost within the fire hydrant of information that is MIT. The Big Sibling can provide a lifeline that ties the freshmen not only to one person, the Sibling, but also to a support group already in existence, whether this be an entry, a floor or a house. Finally, as the program proceeds through classes, the generations of siblings begin to provide a sense of history and continuity within the living group.
In addition, the Big Siblings program fills a niche long missing in MIT residence life. While many of our fellow institutions have undergraduate advisors living on each floor, MIT does not,. Yale University already has a Big Sibling program in many of its dormitories.(Levit, Harry, webpage) The Graduate Resident Tutors (GRTs) are similar to Residential Advisors, yet too often the GRTs are seen as an outside, administrative influence on the lives of undergraduates. In addition, the GRTs are unable to provide adequate social and academic support. Big Siblings can not only help freshmen connect to GRTs, but they will also be better situated to provide academic aid.
Our current residential system provides a support network based around graduate students and faculty members. We propose that we need to include undergraduates as an official part of this support net. Each freshman will pick an undergraduate within the residence as a Big Sibling. We feel that such a program will foster closer friendships, better academic and social support, improve interactions among upperclassmen and underclassmen and finally, and perhaps most importantly, create a stronger sense of community. Since each dormitory is unique, they may each have a different way to select and implement the Big Sibling system. At no point should the administration become involved with the process. The decisions concerning this process should be between the dormitory and its residents.
Graduate Resident Tutor system is the most common method of interaction between undergraduate and graduate students. MIT uses the GRT system as a portion of the Housemaster/GRT team, where these ‘senior’ members of the dormitories help provide counsel and programming options to the undergraduates. The GRTs have been praised for their "personalities, special interests, talents and enthusiasm", and have been generally labeled as a positive asset to the current residential system.(Wilson et al., webpage)
Yet, in analyzing and improving on the current system we should look back on the original goal of the GRT system. In 1963 the Committee on Student Environment decided to copy the Tutor system used at Harvard and Yale and implement it in the MIT residence halls. The original system called for a 30 to 1 ratio of undergrads to grad students(Wilson et al., webpage). This brings to light one of the major flaws with the current GRT system. Graduate student at MIT have many burdens placed upon them. MIT expects each GRT to get to know every student on his/her entry or floor. Since the current ratio of GRT to undergraduate is about 1:50 this becomes a very difficult task. Building a rapport with the residents, the very first responsibility of all GRTs, is difficult at best under these circumstances (GRT Application). Interestingly, the Housemasters also feel that the student/tutor ratio is too high, since one of the recommendations they make is that the ratio should be dropped to 30:1(Residence Hall Programming). We propose that the ratio should be dropped to at least 30:1, if not lower. The GRTs are an important link in the MIT support system. Yet, like every other portion of the system, they are overworked. Lowering the ratio would not only increase interactions and communication but also lighten the workload on an individual tutor. This can only make the system stronger.
MIT currently offers very limited options for interactions between faculty and students. The 1997 Faculty Survey shows that only 4% of those surveyed said they had any informal conversation with students. Faculty feel that the lack of time to be the number one barrier between faculty and student interaction. There are very few ways that this proposal can solve that issue, since all members of the MIT community feel pressed for time. The second reason given for lack of interactions was a shortage of space for such conversations. The Dining Committee’s final report states that such communication could take place in a proposed Faculty Club lounge. We agree with this idea, but stress that such a club must be easily accessible by all members of the MIT community. Perhaps changing an existing Infinite Corridor space into such a lounge would better serve the purpose of causing student-faculty interaction.(Walsh et al., webpage)
Yet more formal interactions are necessary as well. In the 1987 Wilson Report, the Institute opened the door for the incorporation of Faculty Fellows into residential life. As of yet this program has not taken root. We strongly believe that the Fellow program should be incorporated into residence life. Housemasters and governments should ask 4 or 5 faculty members to become Fellows, and to participate in as many house events as possible. This would probably include eating with the house as often as feasible and giving an occasional lecture or seminar. Faculty Fellows can be one of the key ways to bring the elements of the Triad mentioned in the Task Force on Student Life and Learning’s report together. The research and academic study done by these Fellows now becomes available to the community.
Finally, an overhaul of the existing advising system needs to be done. The faculty advisors, along with the Housemaster, provide an essential link between the Institute and the student. Nevertheless, all too often the faculty advisor is seen by the student only three or four times a year, usually on Registration Day. In addition, the faculty advisor after freshman year is limited in scope to the major of the student. If a student wants advice in how to change majors, or in areas outside the major, it is difficult. Clearly, the existing system does not cover the students need for faculty support.
The freshman advising program works well as a system to cause interactions between freshman and faculty. We believe that this program should be extended to include people from all four years. While not mandatory after freshman year, students should be given the option of staying with the faculty advisor in the seminar each year. The reasons for this are clear. First, it forges another link between faculty and students. Second, this advising system will hopefully cause a cycle of students where each class has representatives in the seminar. Ideally, there would 10 members of the freshmen class and 2 or 3 members of each other class. Thus, there is support provided to students through an additional faculty resource and through a group of upperclassmen.
V. Residential / Facility Programming
Student programming on the MIT campus should reflect the educational and social goals of the Institute. MIT should provide the residential community with the resources to improve student programming. This programming includes development of non-academic skills in addition to further supplementing the academic curriculum. These resources should be consolidated under one office, the Student Programming Office. In addition planning should begin for the construction of new facilities that would consolidate the activity offices and some activity space on campus in a new center.
MIT should provide staff support to the housemasters and student body by creating a Student Programming Office. This office would have the task of creating, developing, implementing, and finally, overseeing the myriad of student programs and events which have been proposed throughout the past decades (Residence Hall Programming). The permanence of such a station would add to Institute memory and provide stability in opportunities given to students. The office would also set a standard, or threshold of quality, for programming across campus both within the dormitories and the FSILGs. More to incite leadership and creativity rather than restrict or place rules upon the residential community, the Student Programming Office would become the primary resource for students and faculty interested in starting their own MIT activities, events, and traditions.
For example, the dormitory president of New House would like to hold a rape prevention awareness study break because students in New House 3 have expressed interest in learning more about this subject. He could request help from the new Programming Office and, as this type of study break had probably been done before, they could very easily set it up for him. In addition, the Programming office would contact the other dormitories to let them know that this event was to take place. The office would also be able to tailor the study break to fit New House’s needs (size of study break, target audience, etc.). The dormitory president would now be left with a much less daunting task of publicizing the event, getting pizza...and finishing his own 6.111 problem set.
The Task Force Report on Student Life and Learning said that one of the weaknesses of MIT is that student and faculty academic commitments prevent them from planning effective programming(36). The Student Programming Office would relieve some of the stress associated with organizing events. Current resources such as the CAC and MITAC provide reservations and information; the new SPO would facilitate effective use of these resources by assisting with program execution. These organizations may eventually merge, but
The Student Programming Office should also take a direct role in organizing campus-wide non-academic events. In fact, a large part of the duties of the office would be to create formal programming. This programming would be of a type available to the residential community as a whole, both FSILG and dormitory, and thus will hopefully gather people from all sections of campus. These could include concerts by popular artists, noted guest speakers or campus-wide community service projects. These will hopefully create a sense of community in the larger sense. Expansion of the Student Programming Office could eventually lead to staff programming representatives for groups of dormitories.
The Student Programming Office would require a working budget with significant discretionary funds. Currently, no money is earmarked specifically for student programming. Operating as part of the MIT administration, the Student Programming Office would have the financial resources to contribute significantly to the campus community. In addition to adequate financial resources, the office should have a clear mission and function to create programs. The primary goal of the office should be to develop programs and then proceed to find funding from MIT, as opposed to acquiring a large budget without explicit programs. In general, our suggestion is to increase the current program spending per student from its current level ($32.74) to a level that matches our peer institutions.
Effective programs cannot proceed without sufficient and accessible space. Space is needed for meetings, events, performing arts, and student activity offices and storage. It is readily apparent that additional space, is necessary. The planned renovation of Walker Memorial would be a step in the right direction, but as the cost is prohibitive, a new building should be built. A key element of this new building would be office space for most if not all student activities as well as convenient meeting space for said activities. Performing art space is also an issue, as current space is consistently overbooked and unable to accommodate potential audience sizes. Finally, we also believe that the Housemaster residences should be expanded to accommodate visiting faculty and speakers.
A Permanent MIT Executive Council consisting of the various heads of administration, faculty, graduate and undergraduate populations should be set up. These members may include the President, Chancellor, the Deans, housemasters, representatives from MIT Residence Office, representatives from the new student programming office and undergraduate and graduate student leaders. The purpose of this council would be to continually evaluate and critique the residence system and to discuss other issues of importance to the MIT community, such as curriculum or activities issues.
In conclusion, dormitory rush and independent living group rush will take place at different times, with dormitory rush occurring first. This will allow freshmen to decide upon their first year residence before having to concern themselves with independent living groups. Fraternity, sorority and independent living group rush will be open to both freshmen and sophomores, but sophomores must inform the Housing Office that they are moving out of their dormitory at least a semester prior to doing so. To promote mentoring, all dormitories should initiate Big Sibling programs that would pair willing upperclassmen to serve as mentors to freshmen. The ratio of graduate resident tutors to students should be lowered to at least 1:30 so that tutors can get to know their students better. Also, faculty and students should interact more, both formally and informally. Finally, a Student Programming Office should be created to facilitate programming throughout campus and reduce the workload of overburdened students and faculty. According to the Task Force Report on Student Life and Learning, the educational goal of MIT should be to "bring about a coherent integration of community with research and academics" (42). It is our feelings that the recommendations in this report will best accomplish this.
We would like to thank Phil Clay, Bob Simha, and Margaret Bates for their assistance in writing this proposal.
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