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Residence system ideas presented

Increasing the amount of time that upperclassmen spend mentoring freshmen and that faculty spend in the dorms were two of several recurring goals that turned up when 11 teams presented their proposals last Friday on how to redesign MIT's residence system. Maintaining students' ability to choose where and with whom they lived also was important to most of the presenters.

A first-of-its-kind IAP session called "A Community Shapes Its Future: Designing the New Residence System at MIT" ran from January 19-29. The teams, mostly made up of students, devoted dozens of daytime hours and even some all-nighters to the task of redesigning a system of living and learning at MIT.

William J. Hecht (SB 1961), Alumni/ae Association executive vice president and chair of the Residence System Steering Committee appointed by Chancellor Lawrence Bacow, pointed out that the current system was never really designed, but rather evolved to its present state over the past 40 years.

Up to six people from the team that comes up with the winning redesign of MIT's residence system will win a trip to England. The second-place team will win a trip to California. Mr. Hecht said that steering committee will choose a winner by March 1. The committee will generate a proposal for Chancellor Bacow by September 1.

"We would like to present the chancellor a proposal and have him just say yes," Mr. Hecht said. Outstanding designs will serve as the foundation for community discussion throughout the spring semester and the final proposal may incorporate ideas from several of the 11 teams, he said.

Mr. Hecht and other organizers of the two-week IAP session sought to elicit from the community a new approach to how first-year students select housing, how rush for dorms and fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs) is timed, and how faculty and students interact overall, among other issues.

The Beaver Dream Team, whose members made their presentation in matching white shirts and khaki pants, said that fostering a sense of belonging and class unity were among their goals. Their proposal suggested that first-year residences should have 75 percent freshmen and 25 percent upperclassmen and graduate-student mentors.

The team called the Optimizers proposed expanding pre-Orientation programming to include wilderness trips to Vermont, Maine or New Hampshire. They suggested that freshmen clusters with resident advisors would help freshmen integrate into the community, and faculty lunches at the dorms and faculty-led trips would increase faculty members' informal interactions with students.

Another team proposed a "Greek-free" orientation, which would allow students to "focus on educational priorities." This team also suggested that the new dorm, planned for completion by 2001, house all four classes, not just freshmen, and include a "ballroom-style" student activity space that would attract students from all over campus.

A maximum of six of the first-prize winners will get a chance to visit the model Cambridge University residence system in England andsecond-prize winners can choose to visit Stanford or Caltech.

The Residence System Steering Committee consists of Mr. Hecht and students Jennifer Berk, a sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science; Elisha Hopson, a junior in civil and environmental engineering; Eric Liu, a junior in mechanical engineering, and Abigail Pelcyger, a sophomore in chemical engineering; four faculty and staff representatives: Professors Paul Gray (SB 1954), Karen Gleason (SB 1982) and Anne McCants, and Dean Andrew Eisenmann (SB 1970); and alumni/ae members Erin Hester (SB 1982) and Steven Stuntz (SB 1967).


The fear that FSILGs will become "social clubs" instead of an integral part of the residence community was one of the forces behind a demonstration for freshman housing choice held in Lobby 7 on Monday, Feb. 1 (Registration Day).

Chris Rezek, a senior in linguistics and philosophy and a member of the Undergraduate Association Executive Committee, which organized the demonstration, said he opposes the decision to require all freshmen to live on campus because "the trust and respect that MIT has shown its students for the past 125 years sets it apart from peer institutions that have restricted freshmen to a single dormitory or have assigned them randomly to on-campus housing."

This was the second such demonstration; the first was on last semester's Registration Day (September 8, 1998).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 3, 1999.

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