"Housing policy at MIT has established clear principles which have directed the type of housing the Institution has built and the living environment it has created for members of its community and their families. Over time this policy has evolved to respond to and meet the changing needs and direction of the Institution....Today, MIT is at the crossroads of another important evolution in its consideration about the type of housing and residential experience to provide for its members."
Opening Statement, HOUSING AT MIT: Background and Challenge
(MIT Planning Office, 1997)
In the past year, MIT announced major changes in both its residential system and its mission as an educational institution. Plans for a new residence hall that will open in the fall of 2001 have already begun, and a new set of principles governing student life and learning were published this past September. An IAP residential system redesign contest, for which this proposal is an entry, has been implemented to provide the entire MIT community with a chance to further shape the future.
MIT's residential system presently consists of sixteen undergraduate and graduate residence halls and thirty-eight fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups (FSILGs). (Clay Committee, 1998) Incoming undergraduate students participate in a short but intense period of housing selection during the fall orientation periods. Student surveys show that the current system elicits both positive and negative responses. The surveys indicate a high level of satisfaction with this system in that it provides a high degree of variety and choice, upperclassmen/freshmen mentoring, and student autonomy. The 1994 Senior Survey indicated that over 82 percent of respondents felt either "very satisfied" or "generally satisfied" with their living group experiences and that only 6 percent were dissatisfied. However, surveys have also revealed deep concerns about the lack of diversity and tolerance across the residential system, the absence of faculty involvement, and overcrowding in residences. (http://web.mit.edu/residence/systemdesign/stats/index.html) Therefore, the challenge that the residential redesign contest poses is to develop a residence system that retains a high degree of choice and autonomy, formally encourages and facilitates thoughtful, informed decisions, and effectively addresses the issues of diversity and faculty involvement.
This proposal covers specific changes to the policies and procedures of housing undergraduates, with an emphasis on those concerning Rush. It does not suggest any major changes to graduate student housing.
This proposal is an entry in the IAP design contest entitled, "A Community Shapes Its Future: Designing the New Residence System at MIT," sponsored by the Residence System Steering Committee (William Hecht, `61, chair).
2 Design Criteria
The stated objective of the residence design contest is to "design a residential system for MIT that is consistent with the principles described in the reports of a working group chaired by Associate Provost Clay and of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning." Those principles have therefore significantly helped to shape and structure our design and are briefly listed below:
Principles for the MIT Residential System (Clay Committee, 1998):
1. Promote Excellence in Our Residential System
2. Develop the Whole Student
3. Build Supportive Communities
4. Promote Community Self-Governance
5. Provide for Thoughtful and Well-Informed Choices Within the
6. The Institute Should Support the Implementation of These
Eleven Principles That Define MIT, Report of the Presidential Task
Force on Student Life and Learning (1998):
1. The educational value of useful knowledge
2. Societal responsibility
4. Combining a liberal education with a professional education
5. Education as preparation for life
6. The value of fundamentals
7. Excellence and limited objectives
8. Unity of the Faculty
9. An integrated triad of academics, research, and community
10. Intensity, curiosity, and excitement
11. The Importance of Diversity
In addition, we assume that all incoming students will be housed in dormitories in the fall of 2001 (http://web.mit.edu/president/communications/rpt97-98.html), and that a new dormitory located on Vassar Street (across Briggs Field from Next House) will be open at that time. This dormitory will house approximately 320 undergraduates, 20 graduate students, 10 Graduate Resident Advisors (GRTs), and 7 faculty members. (http://web.mit.edu/residence/systemdesign/newhousing.html)
The primary inhabitants of the MIT residential system are the students, and their needs should be considered with particular care. The 1994 Senior Survey and the 1994-5 and 1995-6 Freshman Year Reports contain listings of living group features that respondents found most important. With those in mind, the team chose to focus upon the following needs:
* The need for opportunities to practice responsible decision-
making and other life skills
* The need for mental health and happiness -- This encompasses
needs for self-esteem, stability, social interaction and
healthy relationships, as well as for a sense of belonging to
a community, a strong support system that provides guidance
regarding personal issues/problems, and an environment of
diversity and tolerance (without racism or sexism).
* The need for physical health, safety, and comfort -- This
encompasses needs for well-designed and well-maintained
structures, dining facilities, and adequate amounts of space,
both private and common.
* The need for mentoring, both academic and non-academic
In addition, parents and faculty have needs that should be considered. Parents need assurance that their children's needs are reasonably accounted for. Faculty members need healthy students who are willing and able to learn from them. Both parties need to have a forum for voicing their opinions to Institute leaders.
Given the above needs, the team established the following goals:
* A system which accommodates a variety of different life-
styles and allows residential groups to determine key issues
for themselves (such as dining options and government within
* As much interaction as possible within the entire MIT
* Happy, healthy, involved students
* More intimate and supportive Freshman Advising Seminars that
address health/life topics in addition to their primary areas
* Trained freshman and departmental advisors who are
knowledgeable about Institute policies and procedures and are
able to direct students to the appropriate resources when
* Housemasters and graduate residence tutors who are familiar
with and attuned to the needs of all members of their living
* One new large-event space and additional office space for
* The same level of upperclassman mentoring that presently
* The establishment of various contact networks -- for example,
a system-wide network of parent contacts who would be willing
to speak with parents of incoming students; or a network of
advisors, housemasters/GRTs, and other individuals in close
contact with students who could confer with each other about
the best sort of guidance to offer a particular student
In developing this design, our team felt that a balance of choice and responsibility is crucial for individuals to live happily and healthily and therefore should be at the heart of MIT's new residential system. Important decisions should be made by those whom the decisions will most affect, but only after careful examination of all available options. We believe that students who thoughtfully examine and consider all possibilities open to them will consequently improve diversity and interaction within their communities
-- divisiveness and lack of interactions between groups are primarily the result of people staying with what they feel is safe instead of giving other options a chance.
If MIT wishes to "develop the whole student" as part of its educational mission, it is imperative that the Institute teach students how to make responsible decisions -- MIT should neither make decisions for its students nor should it expect that all entering students are capable of making important decisions without guidance. We feel that the best educational institutions are those who provide their students with as much information and guidance as possible, give their students the opportunity to make important choices, and then offer a strong support system to help individuals learn and recover from their mistakes. Residential life can and should serve as a classroom for teaching young adults skills that they can utilize for the rest of their lives.
This proposal also strives to ensure equality in the amounts of support and guidance that students receive. In the present system, the quality of student experiences with faculty can vary greatly, and there are few mechanisms to control the situation. We feel that it is the responsibility of the Institute to develop such mechanisms and make certain that they are effective.
3 Details of the Design
3.1 Overall Design Concept and High-level Trade-offs
This team's overall design concept is a choice-based residence system of both dormitories and FSILGs with a Rush period (for both) scheduled during the last week of IAP. Incoming students will be assigned dormitories during the summer through a lottery system, but will choose specific rooms/roommates during the orientation period. Orientation for new undergraduate students will begin on the Monday preceding Labor Day and end on the Friday of the same week. It will focus upon community building, student life/health issues and academics and will be declared a Greek letter-free period up until Friday. Students will be able to explore the residential system throughout the entire fall term. The design also includes proposals to improve the quality of the advising programs and the faculty resident programs at MIT, as well as a proposal of a parent contact network.
High-level trade-offs include:
* Relative financial efficiency and stability for FSILGs and the Institute,
for more time and information for undergraduates to make
* Some amount of freedom of choice in residence selection,
for improved guidance and more comprehensive information
about living groups
* On a similar note, the choice lost in housing students in dormitories
first semester, for the chance to explore housing options all term
* A relatively small chance of new students developing stereotypes about
living groups, for the opportunity to rush students all fall
3.2 Description of Design Elements
* Assignment of all incoming undergraduates to dormitories in Fall 2001
All incoming residents will receive a "Dorm Book" over the
summer. New policies need to be developed to ensure that Dorm
Books contain useful information that will provide freshmen and
transfer students with an accurate, detailed description of life in
each dormitory, as well as how individual dormitories handle
room allocation. (It is expected that returning students will determine
room selection much as they do now, before the end of the spring
term.) Freshmen will be asked to rank the dormitories on
a form that will be mailed back to MIT a sufficient amount of time
before the beginning of Orientation. A lottery system, like the one
presently used, will determine freshman assignments to dormitories.
(In the fall of 1997, 99.3 percent of freshmen received one of their
top three choices and 69 percent received their first choice; these
are relatively high numbers, compared with results from peer
institutions). Freshmen will subsequently receive assignments by
mail, along with contact information for the relevant housemasters,
GRTs, and perhaps willing student residents. During Orientation
Week, students will have the opportunity to determine where they
will live within each dormitory -- they will be able to move to
different rooms and to select roommates. (Note -- the exchange of
dormitory selection materials can be conducted simultaneously with
that of Freshman Advising Seminar, or FAS, materials; the Institute
will save on postage costs and incoming students can receive contact
information for both advisors and dormitory representatives at the
*Freshman Orientation with a focus on community-building and student
As all incoming undergraduates will live in dormitories, the
orientation period will not include residence-selection activities
other than the choice of rooms within each residence hall. Orientation
will primarily function to build community and encourage interaction:
among the freshman group as a whole, within FAS groups, within
living group units, and among new students and upperclassmen.
On a larger scale, events such as a large, relaxed social event on
Monday night (can take a variety of forms; one suggestion is a
Welcome Dinner similar to that of Orientation `98) will
function to introduce new students to one another, while
an afternoon of various planned activities on Wednesday
will include all members of the MIT community. Dormitory
Socials will bring together all members of each residence
hall for refreshments and socializing. Interaction on a more
intimate scale will take place within FAS groups and living group
units during the week; we hope that the nature of these groups will foster
mentoring relationships between the new students and the leaders of the
groups. FAS groups will meet at least three times in the course of the
week, including one introductory meeting, one meeting to
decide on the destination of an Orientation Trip around the Boston area,
and the actual Orientation trip itself. Living group units will meet
together at least twice during the week in order for residents to get to
know one another and also to discuss life/health issues (including alcohol)
and diversity. Both FASs and living group units will include
upperclassmen and at least one faculty member or graduate student
to provide leadership and guidance.
Orientation will also focus on providing new students with a
realistic introduction to life at MIT -- organized events (some of which
have been mentioned) will offer students information about
academics, athletics, activities, life/health issues, diversity, FSILGs
and the IAP Rush period, and living in the Cambridge/Boston area.
Upperclassmen will be permitted to return at the same time that
new students arrive, but the first four days of the five-day period will
be declared a Greek-letter-free time; members of FSILGs will be
permitted to display their group affiliations on the last day for
City Days activities.
An outline of the proposed Orientation Week can be found in Appendix A.
* Pre-Orientation Programs
Three pre-orientation programs will continue to prepare new
students for life at the Institute. Two of them, the Freshman Leadership
and Freshman Service Programs (FLP and FSP) will remain unchanged.
The application process for Interphase, previously limited to under-
represented minorities, will be opened to all incoming students that
feel as though they need extra assistance.
* Reform regarding Housemasters/GRTs and advisors
The roles of Housemasters, GRTs, Freshman Advisors, and
Departmental Advisors will continue to exist. This team does,
however, propose reform in the execution of these roles. Specific
guidelines and requirements for each role will be established,
as well as committees to supervise their implementation. Some
-- Housemasters and GRTs should be expected to meet the residents of
their living group units individually.
-- All advisors should be required to attend training sessions.
-- FASs should meet at least twice a week; perhaps once to discuss the
relevant topic, and once to eat and relax together
-- Freshman Advisors should receive extra funding for the
purpose of including FAS alumni in current FAS events.
-- Departmental Advisors should hold mid-term meetings.
-- Housemasters/GRTs, freshman advisors, and departmental advisors
should be able to network with each other in giving individual
-- Faculty members should be offered incentives to encourage
their participation in the Housemaster and advising programs..
* Parent/alumni contact system
All living groups will attempt to locate parents of their residents
who are willing to serve as contacts for the parents of incoming
students. The names and relevant information of these contacts
will be mailed to all parents of incoming undergraduate students.
Alumni may also serve as contacts, at the discretion of the living group.
* A deferred Rush during the last week of IAP
FSILG and dorm rush will be held during the last week of IAP.
The goal of moving Rush is to allow for more informed rushees
and eliminate a conflict of interest during orientation week.
Holding rush during January instead of the August prior to
sophomore year keeps Rush a freshman year event. Summer rush
will be eliminated completely.
Rush week will be held from the last monday of IAP (prior to
Registration Day) through the following Sunday. FSILG Rush will
be held in the evenings Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and full
days Thursday through Sunday. Bids may be extended beginning
at 8 a.m. Friday morning and accepted beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday.
No bids may be given out after 6 p.m. Sunday. Houses will be given the
option of allowing freshmen to move in second semester, as long
as these freshmen meet minimum academic standards the
first semester. Minimum academic standards will be set at passing
at least 30 units. Panhellenic rush would continue under current
rush rules, modified to fit the new schedule.
Because this process may result in some empty beds in fraternities
during the fall semester, it would likely result in a loss of
funds for the fraternities. To ensure that costs do not rise drastically for
fraternity members (thereby reducing diversity in fraternities)
and to promote a less extravagant rush, a spending limit will be
imposed on FSILGs. The limit will be based upon the capacity of each
house, capacity being defined as the number of living spaces in an
FSILG as determined by the local licensing board on the house's
certificate of occupancy. We propose that spending for each house be
limited to an amount equal to $150 times the capacity of the house.
Basing this amount on the number of beds provides
larger houses more funds to attract the larger pledge classes
needed to reach capacity. Money will also be saved by the removal
of summer rush. MIT will not provide financial help for FSILGs.
We feel that this limit will not overly restrict rush, because
freshmen will have had contact with upperclassmen throughout
the fall. Fall social events at which freshmen may be present will
not be included in the rush budget. For this reason, open events
during the fall will also be regulated to keep FSILGs from having
unfair advantages and to keep freshmen from becoming overwhelmed.
During the IAP rush period, dorms will also be encouraged
to hold rush events. This will allow freshmen to see all the dorms
and possibly move if dissatisfied with their original choices. This
will also provide on-campus events for those who choose not to rush
FSILGs and thereby contribute to the overall IAP festivities. In
general, freshman IAP classes will have ended at this point,
although there may be a conflict with 18.02A. We propose working
with the institute to require that all IAP classes end at least by the
Wednesday during Rush. This will ensure that freshmen are free
to rush, and will not prevent freshmen from taking advantage of
18.02A simply because they were planning on rushing.
We understand that dormitory space for the spring term will be freed as a
result of Rush, and propose that the then-available rooms be used to
alleviate crowds (at present the ~115 crowds would take care of
approximately one-third of the ~320 rooms available, assuming pledge
classes remain comparable to recent years), house undergraduate
and graduate students who only need one term of housing, and provide
private study space for dormitory residents and their friends.
Rules for Fall Events
Each FSILG or Dorm will be allowed a total of three advertised
events during the fall semester. Advertising refers to posters, flyers,
newspaper advertising and e-mail to public mailing lists. No closed
rush events may be held. Advertised events may include, but are
not limited to, parties, fund raisers, and community service events.
During the fall semester, dorm residents will be able to learn
about FSILGs through an event called FSILG.001. This program,
modeled after Washington University's Greek 101 program, will further
educate freshmen on rush and encourage them to rush in January.
Both the Rush process and the various house options will be addressed.
IFC and Panhel will be represented as a whole, but WILG, Pika,
Student House and Fenway will be presented separately. This program
will be presented during a study break at each of the dorms.
Implementation of Proposed Changes
Because houses must adjust to the timing of an IAP rush,
as well as the loss of freshmen during the fall semester, an
informal FSILG rush will be held during the IAP of 2000 and 2001.
This will be an informal process with no clearing house and a low
(less than $1000) budget. FSILGs that wish to give out bids
during this period must hold at least one open, advertised event.
IFC will oversee this process.
3.4 Description of Procedures for Assessing Outcomes
As recommended in the Clay Committee Report (1998), a Residence Council will be created to advise the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education. This Council will serve as a forum for discussing residence-related issues and will also serve to evaluate the operation of the residential system, in addition to other duties.
The residential system design described here retains the characteristics of variety, choice, and upperclassmen/freshmen mentoring that students have valued through the years. The major change that we have proposed to the current system is the idea of the IAP rush, which we strongly feel will provide new students with greater opportunity to meet others during their first months at MIT, in addition to giving them more time to decide among the many housing options available here. We have tried to include elements of choice wherever we feel it is possible to do so without sacrificing safety or responsibility, such as in our proposal to allow new students to choose their own rooms/roommates within the dormitories during Orientation. Other recommendations for that week transform a period previously characterized by intense activity and stress into a more relaxed time of forming relationships and preparing for the term ahead, both academically and socially. Freshman Advising Seminars and living unit groups are now more intimate than their previous forms and are intended to provide new students with both faculty interaction and at least two supportive arenas for voicing thoughts and concerns.