Unified Student Response
17 May 1999
to the RSSC Phase II Status Report
William Dichtel, Interfraternity Council
Jennifer Frank, Dormitory Council
Matthew McGann, Undergraduate Association
Luis Ortiz, Graduate Student Council
Jocelyn Wiese, Association of Student Activities
Direct comments on this report to email@example.com
In the spirit of community participation in the decision-making
process, we, the Undergraduate Association (UA), Graduate Student
Council (GSC), Dormitory Council (DormCon), Interfraternity Council
(IFC), and Association of Student Activities (ASA), offer the
following response to the Phase II Status Report of the Residence
System Steering Committee (RSSC). Though this document takes the form
of a response, it should be noted that this proposal also works as a
coherent system. Through our extensive collaborative efforts, we feel
that this design is both representative and in the best interests of
the MIT student body.
We began our process by establishing a set of common values. We were
encouraged to note that our values were, by and large, in accordance
with those presented by the RSSC, as well as those presented in such
documents as the Clay Report and the Task Force Report. Realizing
that merely stating values does not tell a complete story, we
generated statements derived from our values that relate more
specifically to the residence system. These statements not only give
context to our values, but they also demonstrate how our values
interact. The final step in our three-tiered process was a
point-by-point analysis of the RSSC proposal with comments and
suggestions for improvement.
Each of our respective organizations could have responded individually
and provided such feedback. However, we chose to come together to
create a more informed and representative response. In so doing, we
feel we are performing a service to the community by synthesizing the
opinions of groups whose views may have otherwise remained in
The reinvention of the residence system provides an opportunity to
greatly improve the MIT community. Our respective groups share
concern for the residence system at MIT. We applaud the RSSC for
taking on this challenge. The following report is our contribution to
2. Values and Key Statements
It is crucial that any process begin with a statement of common
values. We developed ten values that we believe should be at the core
of MIT's new residence system.
1. Diversity of housing options within the MIT residence system is
important for all students.
2. The opportunity to make choices for oneself is an important part of
the MIT educational experience.
3. The residence system must be first rate and must be funded as such.
This requires sustained support.
4. The system must support cross-community interaction between all
groups of the MIT community, including freshmen, upperclassmen,
graduate students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
5. Informal interactions among residents create more permanent and
meaningful bonds than programmed interactions.
6. FSILGs provide a valuable living option that should be preserved.
7. The MIT residence system should promote excellence. Periodic
experiments are necessary to try new ideas and adapt to the changing
needs of the MIT community.
8. The residence system should foster graduate student community while
simultaneously meeting their diverse housing preferences.
9. The residential system should promote responsible community governance
as a means of developing leadership skills, building self-esteem, and
fostering self-reliance and civic responsibility.
10. The MIT residence system is one natural and appropriate home of the
community dimension of the educational triad.
After establishing our common values, we compared them with the values
identified by the RSSC. Many values overlapped. However, several of
our values were not contained within the RSSC values. Our values 2,
3, 4, 5, and 9 appear to be unaddressed. We were especially surprised
that cross-community interactions were never addressed as a value, an
ideal at the core of the Task Force report.
These statements serve to bridge the gap between general values and
specific recommendations. They demonstrate how our values are
inherently interconnected. Numbers in brackets following each
statement refer to the value(s) from which they were derived.
The diversity of the residence system is in the character of its
living options, and not in the homogenization of living
Choice should be informed through recognition of such qualities as
personality, character, support structures, culture, and interaction.
These characteristics are best assessed in person, but can be assisted
though supplemental, second hand information. 
Formal programs for cross-community interactions are an important and
necessary part of the residence system. However, informal
interactions play a greater role in building community, particularly
in mentoring and advising. [4,5,10]
FSILGs provide support structures for freshmen, service to the greater
community in the residence system, leadership experience, and alumni
Opportunities to move within the residence system are beneficial to the
individual experience. [1,2,3]
Graduate students have acute needs for safe, attractive and affordable
housing. These needs are diverse. Characteristics of desirable
housing vary across the population, and these desires cannot be
completely met with additional campus housing. [1,8]
The overall residence system needs to contain features that encourage
membership and eventual residence in FSILGs. Such features will
ideally enhance, rather than detract from, the experience and range of
choices for dormitory residents. [1,6]
Experiments need to have a clear, committed assessment plan,
completion date, and success criteria. 
Residence halls should maintain control over internal affairs,
including rooming assignments. 
Graduate student involvement in the residence system should be more
than just as tenants or employees; peer relationships with other
groups, particularly undergraduates, should be enhanced and
FSILGs should receive adequate and previously promised financial
support for the four-year transition period beginning in the fall of
As the Task Force Report defines, "'Community' refers to students,
faculty, staff, and alumni who have come together for a common purpose
of developing the qualities that define the educated individual." A
greater campus-wide community is best constructed with interconnected
smaller communities as its base. [all]
Natural homes of the "community" aspect of the Educational Triad
include the residence system, activities, athletics, and dining. 
3.1.1 The Freshman Year
We believe that unique qualities of the first-year experience extend
to not only freshman, but also to graduate students, transfer
students, and others. MIT should make efforts to address the special
needs of all first-year students in the residence system.
188.8.131.52 Resident Advisors
We generally support the idea of resident advisors (RAs). We do worry
about overreliance on this system to provide the necessary mentoring
and advising to freshman. We also fear liability issues surrounding
the RAs; they should be friends and not authority figures. They
should not be held liable for disciplinary infractions of their
freshmen, nor should they be required to testify against their
advisees in such a situation.
184.108.40.206 Clustering of freshmen
We believe that clustering freshmen and RAs within their resident
advising group may be beneficial. However, we believe that dorms
should retain control over internal room assignments. Also, such
clustering should not inhibit informal interactions with other members
of the living group.
220.127.116.11 Freshman Hall
In the spirit of experimentation, we believe that adding a mostly
freshman living option is a valid experiment. We do have significant
concerns. This must be an experiment, with a clear assessment plan,
success criteria, and an assessment date.
We agree that freshman programming should be increased. We are,
however, concerned with focusing the programming in the freshman hall.
All living options should be first-rate, and programming should be
spread throughout the residence system in order to encourage
interaction between living groups.
We believe that people who move from the Primarily Freshman Dorm (PFD)
into FSILGs will adapt well because of strong new member education
programs and the small, tight-knit nature of their communities.
Currently, there is no program to help those who move into residence
halls adapt to a new culture. We would like to see support for such a
Intellectual opportunities in the PFD, as with all of MIT's living
options, should be available, for seminars, intellectual discussions,
and the like. However, required first year classes should not be
conducted here. While we aspire to an integration of residential and
academic experiences, the first year is very academically intense.
Freshmen need space to explore options outside the General Institute
We believe that Ashdown House and MacGregor House are unique living
options for their respective residents. MIT's residence system should
provide a diversity of options at both the undergraduate and graduate
levels. Ashdown House, which was noted by the Task Force as being a
model for building "a strong sense of community among graduate
students," provides a supportive community for first-year and
international graduate students. MacGregor House allows students,
both freshmen and upperclassmen, to live in a residence hall where
private space is readily available, while maintaining the highest
ratio of community space to private space of all of MIT's residence
halls. A reduction in the number of beds for graduate students is
also completely inappropriate. For these reasons, we oppose the
switching of Ashdown and MacGregor to accommodate the PFD.
There are several alternatives for the location of the PFD. One is
Baker House. Its community spaces are ample, it has a dining hall,
and it is close to central campus. It also has a floor plan amenable
to clustering. A second option would be the new residence hall being
constructed on Vassar Street. However, if this is the committee's
choice, the RSSC must begin discussions immediately with the Founders
Group such that it be designed appropriately. A third and more
radical possibility would be to reconsider the location of the new
residence hall. A long-considered development site is the area behind
Kresge Auditorium, including its parking lot. Given the impending
renovations to the Omniturf field, space may be negotiated to
accommodate this. This option would be attractive because of its
central location on campus. Additional savings may be garnered
through eliminating the need to extend utilities to the end of the
Vassar Street corridor at this time.
18.104.22.168 Selection of residence halls by freshmen
We believe that allowing freshman to select a temporary residence hall
over the summer through literature and other information would
decrease the stress of the first days at MIT. This process, however,
should not allocate a permanent room or roommate. This task would be
left to the individual residence halls.
Choosing a quasi-permanent room over the summer is problematic. A
choice through literature, CD-ROMs, videos or other virtual means is
not a wholly informed choice. These forms of communication would
provide a less than total picture of the residence hall. As a result,
selection would more likely be based on superficial rather than
substantive factors. A more complete picture is only provided
through personal interaction.
We believe that FSILG Rush should happen concurrently with a dormitory
rush during Orientation [see section 3.3.1]. A dormitory lottery
should be conducted with mandatory participation from all freshmen,
though freshmen who choose to remain in their temporary dorm will be
guaranteed space. Dormitories will then begin internal housing
Following rush, new non-residential FSILG member classes may staple
together in the dormitory lottery. Individual dormitories would be at
their liberty to assign the stapled FSILG members as they see fit.
This expanded stapling would have many benefits. It would create
strong FSILG-dormitory interaction. FSILGs would have a positive
incentive to socialize and assist in programming in the residence
halls. Over time, specific FSILGs and dormitories may develop strong
relationships, creating a culture of cooperation. We also do not want
to see the strong upperclass mentorship provided by the FSILGs
Expanded stapling, as opposed to having a house's members scattered across
several dormitories, would especially promote FSILG interaction in
residence halls. Dispersion would only encourage freshman to
congregate together in their affiliated FSILG, and not on campus.
Finally, expanded stapling would also promote sophomore residence in
FSILGs: moving out of a residence hall with a group of member friends
makes the transition from dormitory to FSILG less intimidating.
22.214.171.124 "Sophomore Shuffle"
We believe that a lottery which would allow rising sophomores and
upperclassmen to move to a different residence hall would help to
change the current culture where moving is not the norm. The lottery
will also allow students to select the culture that best suits their
current desires, enhancing residence hall cultures. The existing
housing confirmation process can be folded into this lottery
system. All students will have the option to squat in their current
dorm, at no penalty. It is important not to punish people who are
happy with their original choice, nor to punish those who enter the
lottery. No additional distinction should be made between returning
and incoming residents in room selection.
3.1.2 An Entrepreneurial Spirit in the Residence Halls
We agree that students, faculty, and other community members who
develop unique ideas should receive financial and administrative
support. The Institute should also recognize and reward them for
these important contributions.
3.1.3 Academic/Community Interface
We agree that the Institute should place an increased importance on
integrating residential and academic life. The proposed "House
Professors" program should be available to all of MIT's living
options, not just the undergraduate residence halls. This program
should have financial rewards -- perhaps research funds -- for
participation. MIT should also take steps to increase faculty housing
in close proximity to campus.
3.1.4. Community Spaces for each Class
Given the current lack of sufficient community area, we feel that
setting aside precious space for each class would not be the optimal
use of real estate. There is little justification for
the prioritization of this project.
3.2 Theme Houses
MIT should provide housing options that will best support its diverse
community. To this end, a limited number of theme houses would be
beneficial to students. Approval for houses should necessarily
require that it add to a diversity of options in the residence system,
and not compete with existing student groups or living options. Theme
houses must be able to defend the necessity of being a residential
group as opposed to a non-residential student activity. Approval
should also require that the theme reinforce MIT's educational
mission. "Fly fishing house," by the above criteria, should not be
It is crucial that the theme houses maintain character through some
sort of selection process. Applications relating to the house's theme
may be a good compromise between theme house needs and freshman equal
3.3.1 FSILG Recruitment/Rush
After considering many options, placements, and permutations of FSILG
rush, including those put forth by the RSSC, we feel that the best
strategy would contain a pre-term rush combined with the
aforementioned clustering system [see section 126.96.36.199]. We believe
that a later rush would allow for only a slightly more informed
choice. Furthermore, we feel that the advantages of an early rush
coupled with expanded stapling far outweigh this benefit. In addition
to benefits derived from stapled communities, the freshmen will
receive the benefits of FSILG membership, including support and
leadership opportunities, from the beginning of their time at MIT.
One way to allow freshmen to make a more informed choice with an early
rush is to provide opportunities for incoming freshmen and FSILG
members to meet and interact. This contact during the summer can
dramatically reduce stress felt by incoming freshmen about the rushing
process and about the transition to MIT. The current summer rush
framework is one central reason why high satisfaction with early FSILG
selection has been reported in many MIT statistical documents.
In examining the RSSC recommendations regarding FSILG rush, we
developed several concerns. January's Independent Activities Period
(IAP) is a time for educational endeavors. A rush in IAP, however,
would detract from such endeavors not only for freshmen, but for the
entire MIT community. Preparation for a January rush would severely
limit the opportunities for employment or education of FSILG members
during IAP. Another worry is that the relationship between residence
halls and FSILGs would become extremely tense for the duration of the
fall term, as FSILG members would inevitably use this time to
informally rush. We have many of the same concerns, to a slightly
lesser extent, about an October rush.
An early rush in a non-residential system eliminates many of the
features that have been criticized in the current system.
Particularly, our proposed system helps to unify the residential
community at MIT, by actively cultivating relationships between FSILGs
and residence halls. Our strategy overcomes the often voiced
criticism that early rush unnecessarily divides the community. By
housing new members in residence halls, early FSILG membership does
not dominate the many communities in which the freshmen take part.
Critics also cite the intense pace of rush as detrimental. However,
changes to the current rush process can be implemented to lessen the
Such changes could include limitations in the current rules regarding
activities outside of a house. Also, restrictions could be placed on
the timing and number of phone calls and personal visits by an FSILG
to a freshman currently rushing another FSILG. These are currently
the most hectic factors facing rushing freshmen.
3.3.2 FSILG/Freshman Programming
We agree with the RSSC that freshmen would benefit greatly from
mentoring and advising from FSILG members. However, we feel our
proposed system of an orientation rush [see 3.3.1] and clustering [see
188.8.131.52] is the best incentive for FSILGs to provide programming and
guidance in the residence halls. FSILGs are much more likely to be
excited and willing to create programming for residence halls in which
their new members live, and all of the freshmen in a
particular residence hall would benefit from such programs.
3.3.3 Transition Support
While we agree that two of the biggest problems that will face the MIT
housing system over the next few years are FSILG support and graduate
housing, we have concerns with the RSSC solution linking the two.
This is not a comprehensive solution to graduate housing needs, nor is
it necessarily the optimal path to cross-community relationships for
all. This program should be strictly voluntary, and financial support
in the transition period should not rely on such a program.
The lessor/lessee relationship between houses and graduate students
could prove to be problematic. One very important issue that has not
been addressed is liability for both groups. It is clear that FSILGs
will remain liable for all activity in their houses, whether
undertaken by members or tenants. Distrust stemming from policing
tenants would be detrimental to the residential experience of both
parties. Conversely, the liability facing graduate students shown to
be knowledgable of potential dangerous or illegal activities in an
FSILG might be such to strain relationships further.
While this graduate student housing program might be an integral part
of long-term FSILG survival, transition funding already promised
should come without strings attached. We feel that it is fair for MIT
to completely subsidize empty beds during the four-year transition
period beginning in the fall of 2001. Contrary to many arguments,
such a plan would not be a disincentive to having a strong rush.
FSILGs are very aware that the strength of their communities and the
future of their organizations are dependent on a strong rush. Such
financial support plans could be based on several criteria, such as
house capacity or the number of empty beds.
We applaud the RSSC for recognizing that transitional support is not
solely financial. An expansion of SafeRide, for example, is an
excellent idea which will improve access to and from the campus and
FSILGs by all members of the MIT community.
3.3.4 Cambridge-based FSILG system
We support the option for FSILGs to relocate to Cambridge on a
voluntary basis with the institutional support of MIT. We feel that
this would likely be a very long-term plan that will have little
bearing on the transitional period or current neighborhood
3.4 Graduate Housing
Graduate students, who represent more than half of the student body,
have the most diverse housing preferences of any sector of the
residential community. Because of the restrictive metropolitan
housing market, the availability of safe and affordable housing is of
prime importance for graduate students. We agree with the RSSC's
recognition of housing as a competitive force in graduate recruiting.
We recommend an increase in the amount of on-campus housing for
graduate students, and also call for an increase in institutional
support and assistance in finding safe and affordable housing off
In many respects, the demands graduate students place on the residence
system and expectations of things provided complement those of
undergraduate students. Graduate students are not only a valuable
resource, but are also denizens of the oft touted "candy store" of
MIT. Rather than viewing the impact of graduate students in the
residence system solely as graduate resident tutors, they ought to be
viewed as contributors to and consumers of the residence system's
educational experience. New spaces on campus for graduate students
should be attractive to the residents but as much as possible designed
to promote the educational goals of MIT's residence system.
We are heartened by the call for integration of student life and
learning. We feel that the change expectations outlined for faculty
and staff in the RSSC proposal represent a step in the right
direction. We urge that the expectations be formalized, and that the
Institute take all necessary to see that these expectations are met.
We agree that expectations for all students are centered on the
individual. Students must take an active role in their education,
including its residential component. The Institute must allow
students this freedom and recognize choice and its value as an
educational experience in and of itself.
We share the vision for the professional roles set forth by the RSSC.
However, we reject the statement that the faculty are the sole "body
responsible for the complete educational experience of MIT's
students." It is not that we are rejecting the faculty's enormous
contributions in education, but rather suggesting that they should not
carry the burden alone. We strongly believe that students should take
an active role in their educational experience.
A clear assessment plan must accompany the adopted design. It is
wholly inappropriate, however, for the Residence System Steering
Committee to be responsible for this assessment. We encourage the
RSSC to develop a strong assessment plan, and to set up a framework
for a separate body to carry out the assessment.