The president of the new graduate student residence at 224 Albany St. described an emerging sense of community among the residents at the opening celebration in the renovated warehouse Monday night.
"Many students not living on campus see MIT as simply a place of work, a place to go to lab all day," said Christina E. Silcox, a Ph.D. candidate in the medical engineering/medical physics program of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.
"But when students live on campus, MIT becomes a home," said Silcox, a Boston University graduate who serves on the Graduate Student Council. "MIT becomes a place where they connect, sharing their lives and ideas with people from all over the world studying all the academic disciplines.
"Within the first few weeks here, I've seen people barging into one another's rooms, excited about something that happened in lab or class, going out en masse to clubs and bars on the weekends, studying together in the floor study lounges, dragging chairs into each other's rooms to watch movies, supporting each other during the horror two weeks ago.
"Considering that most of the students here didn't know anyone when they moved in, the friendships already started are amazing. Not only that, but I'm lucky enough to be living next to my medical imaging TA. Office hours are every hour for me!"
In addition, said Silcox, "because of the community space in this residence, we're able to plan events that build community," including game and movie nights, Monday Night Football ("as long as you're willing to wear a big piece of cheese on your head") and weekly coffee hours, a tradition in all graduate residences.
President Charles M. Vest, housemasters Steven and Lori Lerman, Dean for Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert and Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict preceded Silcox at the podium.
Vest described the dormitory's 120 residents as "urban pioneers" and noted that 224 Albany St. and the graduate student residence hall scheduled to open next year at 70 Pacific St., which will house 600 to 700 students, represent a 50 percent increase in graduate housing on campus.
"Congratulations and thanks are due everyone whose vision, commitment and hard work has brought about this exciting new graduate residence," said Colbert. "It's a superb addition to the choices available to graduate students who enroll here."
The new residence, Building NW 30, "is a very visible symbol" of MIT's commitment to a vibrant student community on campus, said Benedict.
Lerman, the Class of 1922 Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives, said he and his wife welcomed the opportunity "to become deeply engaged" in campus life. "[This] is something we were always intrigued by," he said, noting that the Lermans had lived on campus when he was a graduate student. "I can assure you that while many things have changed since that distant time, there is still a wonderful sense of energy here."
As a faculty wife, said Lori Lerman, "the move to Cambridge represents an opportunity to become a bona fide member of the MIT community," promising that for the residents of 224 Albany St., "MIT will become more than just a place to go to school ... it will be their home."
The celebration included tours of the building and visits to some of the 120 single rooms. Visitors could see the obvious advantages of moving into a newly renovated space, including smooth, clean walls and new hardwood floors. But the new residents also appreciate some less obvious perks.
"They thought of everything: a towel rack, a very nice desk chair, a microwave that can record voice messages and has an appointment calendar," said Laura Anne Hardaker, a Ph.D. student in biology who came here from the University of California at San Diego. "We've played around with the voice message recorder. It basically records anything you say for 20 seconds and plays it back if you hit 'play.' There isn't much use for it here, but some of us have fun with it and record messages on other people's microwaves when they aren't in the room. Mainly it makes for a funny conversation piece."
While the singles provide privacy, students who want to socialize have plenty of opportunities.
"A number of us always keep our doors open and we go around visiting in the evenings," said Hardaker. "I've been to the Lermans' apartment four or five times for different building events and have also visited many of the residential assistants. I hang out with a mix of friends from my building and my department. I go dancing, to bars, have dinner parties, watch movies, exercise, go out to restaurants--normal kinds of stuff. The most surprising thing has been just how incredibly happy I am here and how social people at MIT can be."
Jennifer M. Farver of Ashdown House presented a gavel to Silcox as a housewarming gift, symbolizing the beginning of a "long friendship" between the two graduate student residences.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 3, 2001.