The Massachusetts Institute of Technology encompasses a wide variety of people: distinguished professors and faculty dedicated administrators, successful alumni and passionate students. The general goal of this proposal is to promote the unity of the MIT community using various educational, social and awareness programs, while taking heed of the current traditions and values that work. This redesign project is not limited to any one area of the MIT community; rather it aims for a positive makeover of nearly every aspect of Residential Life.
After assessing the problems that the MIT community has The Optimizers
propose the following:
The Optimizers expect that through the terms of these goals the MIT
residential system will be vastly improved and it will provide for a sense
of overall community.
Our team has designed a proposal that will promote the unity of the MIT community using various educational, social and awareness programs, while taking heed of the current tradition and values that work. Having this general purpose in mind, it is necessary to delineate the problems and needs of this community that is being redesigned. In order to better grasp the problems facing the MIT community, an exhaustive review of the cross section of the university was conducted. From these discussions several problems and needs emerged as follows:
One of MIT's greatest weaknesses, in regards to residential life, is the
lack of unity on campus. However, one of MIT's greatest strengths is the
individuality and plethora of options that each student has. Therefore, the
goal of this proposal is to describe a way to promote unity in the MIT
community without sacrificing MIT's intrinsic tradition of choice. This
goal is one that may seem too ideal to become a practical solution, but
through subtle yet powerful changes, and innovative additions in conjunction
with cooperation on all levels, it is not only possible, but also probable.
The details of this proposal are outlined in the following sections; it is
necessary to keep in mind that these elements all promote the aforementioned
goal and are inherently consistent with this main idea.
The new pre-orientations will be similar to those offered at the University of Maine, in that they will be described as wilderness orientations. At least three to five upperclassmen and at least one faculty/staff member will lead a moderately sized group of students, numbering approximately thirty to forty. These new programs will be held at the same time as the Freshman Leadership Program, the Freshman Service Program, and the Discovering Ocean Engineering Program. In time, prospective students will have a wide array of options among these different pre-orientation programs. The wilderness orientations could include but are in no way limited to canoeing trips, hiking/camping trips, rock-climbing trips and potentially spelunking trips. These types of activities build bonds between the students involved because they necessitate interaction and teamwork. Students will be allowed to rank order their choice of pre-orientation programs and almost definitely be placed in one of them, no matter the number enrolled.
To further ease the transition from high school to college, freshmen will be
assigned to an undergraduate resident advisor (RA) who would live in close
proximity to the freshmen. The details of this RA system will be further
explained in the section entitled "Integrating All Freshmen into
In an intimate group setting as such, freshmen will be able to find support in as well as grow closer to others in their cluster, which, on a small scale, fosters a sense of class unity. Ideally, class unity and spirit can be accomplished through housing all freshmen together in close quarters. However, MIT cannot physically and architecturally satisfy that objective, and segregating all freshmen from upperclassmen would strip away the long-cherished value of intermingling among the four classes. There are physical limitations in terms of distance, and distributions of rooms are different for every dorm. Baker House, for example, has distinct sections where only freshmen are housed in triples and quads, and McCormick has a separate section of singles exclusively for upperclassmen.
Since every dormitory has a unique setup, every freshman cluster will have to be arranged according to the individual residence hall, whether that is suites, entries, floors, or wings. This allows minimal disruption of highly cherished values such as dormitory personalities and accessibility of upperclassmen, but students will still maintain a certain degree of choice, in keeping with MIT tradition. Overall, benefits along the way would include noise reduction in upperclassmen areas, class unity, and upperclassmen interaction.
As yet another part of integrating freshmen into the college community, the
continuation of the Freshman Advisor Seminar (FAS) program is vital in order
to foster a connection between incoming freshmen and the faculty. However,
these seminars should not only be offered during the first semester but
during the second semester as well. If these second-term FAS courses are
worth only three credits and meet every other week, they would complement
the freshmen's schedules much more realistically than they currently do.
Extending seminars for the entire year is important because it allows even
more time for the student to get to know a faculty member and it allows
freshmen the chance to converse with other freshmen with whom they may not
normally socialize. These qualities of the freshmen advising seminars make
freshmen more aware of the opportunities at MIT and beyond.
One possible problem that MIT might encounter in the year 2001 would be providing enough incentive for upperclassmen to move into the new residence hall. Sure enough, the brand new facilities and comfortable living arrangements will attract a reasonable number of returning students. Less crowding, new dining hall, lower student-to-bathroom ratio, social dorm interaction, and possibly a new Athena cluster are all favorable aspects of this new addition to the MIT dorms. If, however, there is still a lack of upperclassmen, MIT could reduce the housing bill cost the first year, either by percentage or a flat rate, as an added incentive.
Out of all the residence halls, the setup of this new dorm with entire
floors of freshmen lends itself most easily to fostering a sense of class
unity. In addition, being the only one with that large of a scale of
freshmen living together, it may appeal to certain students and therefore
add to the abundance of options that the Institute affords its people.
Keeping Fall Rush:
Like many other chapters of various FSILGs throughout the country, rush occurs in the fall of freshman year. Appealing to newly arrived freshmen over a period of one week will generate much better results than over a term or later in their college years. Freshmen are most willing to meet people at the beginning of the fall semester, and students tend to become too preoccupied with work during the term to worry about becoming part of an independent living group. If rush is not presented as an option at the very beginning of the college career, students, especially ones at MIT, will settle and never realize what opportunities lie out there for them. They end up never taking advantage of the closeness and support that an FSILG provides.
The premium way to keep the best of both worlds is to have non-residential rush for first-year students. New pledges can benefit from utilizing the full year to meet the various members of the house and complete the pledge program. Though they would not pay for house bills, all pledges would be expected to pay for nationals, similar to how the sororities function on campus. By paying for their own membership fee, the pledges would help FSILGs offset their bill to their nationals.
The final step to completion of the pledge program is moving into each respective house at the beginning of sophomore year. If a pledge decides after one year that (s)he still wants to be part of an FSILG, (s)he will be initiated upon completion of the pledge program. Any pledges that do not move into FSILGs will either have to depledge or continue paying dues as a pledge until they live in the house. This does not affect sorority houses though, as they are too small to accommodate all sisters. Requiring all pledges to move in their sophomore year will make sure that the number of students housed on campus is manageable and that there will be open slots for incoming freshmen every year.
Houses would also be expected to rush harder than usual to account for both the fact that each house will mainly be supported financially by three classes instead of four from now on and that there will be potential depledges throughout the year. During this period of transition of three to five years, each individual FSILG will have to determine how best to manage the number of pledges versus brothers. In the long run, each class will be larger in number than it currently is.
Allocation of funds:
All throughout the transition period, MIT should grant subsidies to each FSILG to help offset some of the financial losses experienced by the houses. Without support from MIT, the FSILG community will not be able to survive; the result could eventually be gradual dying out of some fraternities and independent living groups. Each year, the FSILG will submit an application and financial report to MIT to request money. The amount that each house will receive from MIT should be determined by the number of freshmen that would have lived in the house, and the previous house bill. At the end of the school year in 2001, each house will file their house bill and how much each member paid for the house in the past five years. MIT will average the five and pay each fraternity accordingly to offset all potential losses. The allocation of funds would be short term, as the transition period for all houses will last only a couple of years.
Spring rush should be open to any house that chooses to rush again in the spring. The best time to conduct this rush would be during IAP. Not all houses would be obligated to participate, only those houses that find it necessary to rush in order to sustain.
1) Since freshmen will be obligated to live on campus, rush must start
solely with dormitory rush. In previous years, dormitory rush has been
drowned out by the excitement of FSILG rush; therefore, not many freshmen
have the opportunity to make a well-informed decision about their residence
hall for the following year. To avoid that problem, an entire day must be
devoted to visiting the different residence halls only; FSILG rush will
start the next day.
2) FSILG rush will be the same as previous years, but the number of days until FSILGs give a bid to a given freshman will be extended by one day. This gives the chance to both the prospective pledges and the brothers of a house to get to know each other better and to make more accurate judgments when offering and accepting bids. Increasing this period decreases the chances of houses giving bids to the "wrong" freshmen, and freshmen rashly accepting bids from potentially "wrong" houses. Certainty in choosing FSILGs will ultimately ensure survival of the house.
3) The dorm lottery will occur at the end of the week, after bids are given out and after most bids have been accepted. This gives freshmen and new pledges an opportunity to live together with new friends that they may have acquired during rush.
4) In order to maintain the same number of days for Orientation and to compensate for the additional rush day, "Dead Week" will be one day shorter.
F. Returning Students
This proposal does not recommend that any changes be made to the current
methods for housing returning students; dormitories should continue with
their existing policies and procedures regarding non-first year students.
This allows the dormitories to preserve their identities and the sovereignty
of their internal governments. In the new dormitory, whichever body is
initially in charge will be responsible for deciding how to house returning
students that choose to move into the new dormitory.
G. Graduate Students
This proposal enthusiastically supports the current plans for the
construction of a new residence hall for graduate students, planned for
completion in 2002. It is well recognized that there is not currently
enough graduate housing; increasing the availability of graduate housing has
been one of MIT's goals for a long time.
Over the years, the Institute has conducted many studies on dining that come
to a very similar conclusion: "the dining system at MIT has always been
viewed as an important part of the educational experience of the student."
(Institute Dining Review Final Report). Dining should not be merely viewed
in terms of physical health; the social and educational aspects of dining
should be considered along with the nutritional. Currently, the system of
dining does not allow for the building of communities because it is far too
dependent on "operational and financial issues" (Institute Dining Review
The Institute Dining Review Committee's Final Report states that residential dining must be greatly strengthened in order for dining to support "the educational mission of MIT and provide opportunities for development of socialization, citizenship, and leadership skills." The recommendation by the committee addresses the issue of building a residential community through dining. This is in perfect accordance with the main goal of this proposal, which is to promote unity in the MIT community while keeping the best traditions and values of the current system alive. The dining system that would optimize interaction of all facets of the MIT community would be one in which the emphasis would be placed on residence hall dining; that is what both this proposal and the Institute Dining Review Committee's final report explicitly state.
"Gracious, pleasant, and relaxed dining in a house dining room can be a significant part of the educational experience. Very few other occasions can so profitably be utilized for the interchange of ideas and information between students and between students and elders. At present, at hurried and noisy meals, this benefit is not being realized. This is a serious loss. In an atmosphere of pleasant communal dining, great strides can be taken toward creation of patterns of happy, productive, and generous life." (Institute Dining Review Final Report)
The Committee on Student Housing noted this in 1956, and it still very much applies to the MIT community today.
In order to remedy this problem, all residence dining hall facilities should be reopened, as recommended by the Food Service Working Group in the Institute Dining Review final report. Such an increase in the availability of nearby dining to students would make it easier for students to eat as parts of communities and give students more opportunities to grow and learn from his/her surrounding community. In addition to being able to eat in one's own residence hall, students will have the option of eating in many other distinct communities. This option is ideal because it allows students the choice of where to eat, and it guarantees a social, educational, nutritional, and, preferably, tasteful experience.
Students, with this proposed system, would not only be able to dine in a
more intellectually stimulating and social setting, but they would also have
the potential to dine more frequently with faculty. With the faculty
representative system in place, whereby approximately 26 faculty are
assigned to each residence hall, faculty could get in greater touch with the
students by voluntarily dining with them at any point of the year. This
idea would not only nurture a better dining atmosphere, but it would also
increase the amount of faculty/student interaction and inevitably enhance
the educational experience of the student body.
An immediate link between the two communities would be formed if the Institute could introduce a system in which students and faculty could informally meet and socialize on a daily basis. Each faculty member would, on his assigned day depending on his/her department, meet potentially seven or eight undergraduates on a rotating cycle of lunch meetings. These would be open to all students, but announced primarily to the dorms to which the faculty member is assigned. The following figure explains in more detail how this would work:
Schedule Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Course # -- 8 9 10 11 12 --In all, the aforementioned faculty would actually only host about 3 informal lunch meetings per semester. The idea behind this is that everyone has to set aside some time each day to eat lunch. Informal lunch meetings in a dining hall would allow students and faculty members to get to know each other in a relaxed setting without going out of their way or disrupting the rest of their daily schedule. Students would be able to attend these meetings at their leisure, but they would sign up ahead of time to avoid the possibility of having lunch sessions with no attendees.
Faculty assigned to the dorm, and their families, would be invited on, and
encouraged to attend, dorm field trips such as apple picking, skiing, and
the like. The cost for the faculty member attending, and potentially their
family, would be subsidized by the dorm hosting the field trip. Again, this
would permit faculty and students to get to know one another better in a
more relaxed environment. They would also find they have common interests
outside of academia, which is an important realization in order for well-
balanced relationships between the faculty and students. In addition to
having faculty attend dorm trips, the faculty members in general could be
encouraged to host field trips of their own. The faculty-sponsored field
trips would be to points of interest in that faculty member's field. As
well as providing a good means of meeting students, this also provides
hands-on insight into particular fields. Implementing this idea will aid in
recruiting students to undersubscribed majors.
J. Class Spirit
Fostering a sense of class spirit is yet another beneficial feature of a
college community. In addition to the loyalty one would have to a specific
living group, feelings of class pride can only shed a positive light on the
"MIT experience." Pre-orientation programs and freshman clusters are only
freshly planted seeds to bring freshmen into a world of camaraderie and
friendship. Preserving existing programs, such as Freshmen Advising
Seminars, Concourse, ISP, and ESG, is a crucial step in bringing each class
closer together. MIT should encourage class events planned by each class
council such as formals, trips, and other social events.
Instilling this sense of pride in such a divided community will indeed be
difficult at first, but through an intricate web of connections and
acquaintances within each class, a more dynamic community will eventually,
though gradually, result.
K. Promote a Sense of Belonging to the MIT Community:
The MIT community is one that constitutes a wide array of backgrounds,
personalities, ages, and most other categories. In a community as diverse
as this one, it may at times seem daunting to acquire a sense of belonging
to this community as a whole, and not just to a small faction. The best way
to greater foster this sense of togetherness and cohesiveness in the MIT
community, taking the physical limitations under consideration, is to attack
this problem programmatically.
One major way to cause the community to come together is to increase large event funding for campus wide events. Currently, MIT devotes $50,000 annually to large event funding; this includes both the fall and spring term and all events occurring during this time. The spring term has seen the allocation of $30,100 to the spring fling and $1,900 to MIT Live. We need to increase this amount. Campus wide events bring all facets of MIT together, including undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni and in some instances parents. In order for events such as the Fall and Spring Flings to become more successful, the events need to have a premier band that will have a large drawing power; this requires money. Funding for these student activities needs to come from the institute but also the students themselves. One way to receive money from students is to charge a student activities fee in the amount of $10 per semester to all undergraduate students. This would create a sum of approximately $80,000 per year; if the institute were to match that amount and add that to the current $200,000 allocation to student activities there would be a total of $360,000 towards all student activities. This would allow the institute to give more money to large event funding and all other student activities.
A promotion of the Fine Arts is something that has the potential to bring the entire community together. Events such as a capella concerts in actual performance areas, choral performances, and other musical performances would give faculty and students a reason to interact. In addition, bringing in highly talented professional performers, such as world class pianists and violinists, will cause a stir on campus. Universities such as Yale and Harvard have done this very successfully, and with such a well-informed population at MIT there is every reason to believe that the results will be the same at this institution. Another way to promote a sense of belonging is to have campus wide barbecues in fair weather along. All of this will be made possible by inducing an effort on both the students and administration's part to supply more funding.
A further sense of undergraduate community is inherent to the freshman pre-orientations and "cluster" programs that are elements of our design. By creating a strong freshman class, that feeling of togetherness will after a period of three to five years spread throughout the entire undergraduate group. The resident advisors that are present will have meetings and training programs that will bring all the unique dormitories together through these representatives. The faculty/student interaction proposals will bring the students and faculty closer together, thereby further connecting the community.
The main element in bringing the MIT community together is through all of
the programs and initiatives that are described above. When all these ideas
are put in motion, the MIT community will gradually but powerfully become a
cohesive unit of which the members will be proud to be a part.
IV. Conclusion/Next Step
This proposal is one of interwoven programs that serve not for one purpose
but for many. To see the visual representation of this idea please see
table in Appendix C. This graph is an overview of the proposal and it shows
which programs (on the x-axis) help to solve which problems (y-axis). As
one can see, the network of programs creates a web through which the
community is deeply connected. This connection is what will create the type
of unified community that would benefit the students, the faculty and the
Institution itself. Students will leave the institution with a feeling of
belonging and could possibly return that feeling in the manner of alumni
funds and donations.
In order to get this system up and running there are many programs and ideas that will start well before the new dorm is built and the freshmen move on campus in the 2001-02 school year. (please see Appendix D: Timeline). Starting in the fall of 1999 the Residential Advisor selection process followed by training will occur. In addition, Faculty will be polled and requests for faculty to join the dormitory communities will go out. By the end of the year, the faculty system must be organized. The following year, 2000-2001, the new pre-orientation programs will begin. The freshman-clustering program will start, with the freshmen that live on campus, and the RAs will take effect. In addition, most if not all the faculty programs outlined will commence and FSILGs will apply for Institute subsidies. This year will be one of the most important in the implementation because all of the major programs will begin. The final step of the implementation procedure will be the incorporation of all freshmen on campus and the introduction of the new dorm. This will also begin the first year of the new Rush and Pledge programs.
Any time that a change is in order all parties involved must do the
necessary work to ensure success. The subtle changes that are introduced by
this proposal, coupled with the more aggressive ideas, will create an
intriguingly powerful system of programs that will undoubtedly shape MIT's
residential life into a more inviting and endearing community.