Thank you for your patience.
As many of you now know, the Chancellor's office announced on Friday afternoon that the building formerly known as Senior House will open in the fall as a graduate-only residence.
As we understand it, the key point of reasoning for the administration was their perception that any undergraduate who would have lived in the building would have faced undue outside pressure from those who wished to preserve Senior House culture. There was a fear that residents of the dorm would be expected to do things such as add former Senior House residents and alumni to guest lists, help facilitate events Senior House formerly held, and otherwise work to preserve a culture that they did not necessarily identify with. We would like to emphasize that the administration's main concern was that outside pressure on residents, particularly if someone was in disagreement, would be inappropriate and would not result in a positive residential experience.
In their rationale for this decision, MIT administration cited personal attacks, such as a defamatory Google Ad when googling assistant professor Mike Short for his Op-Ed in The Tech. Additionally, former Senior House residents and alumni were in extensive contact with soon-to-be Senior House freshmen through a private Facebook group. These examples were two among a handful that were cited as the source of the Chancellor and senior administrators' belief that there would unavoidably be external pressure on undergraduate residents of the building. To clarify, the Chancellor stated that organized and peaceful student protests that put pressure on administrators rather than on other students did not contribute to the perceived external influence, and that those protests were a demonstration of healthy dissent (in fact, the Chancellor sent food to the protesters at the sleep-in).
Q: What about overcrowding?
Rising juniors and seniors will be given the option and incentives to move to graduate housing. An email with more information will be sent from Housing. This, combined with not placing transfer students from other universities in undergraduate housing, among other special exceptions, will hopefully lower the number of people who need undergraduate dormitory beds to a houseable number.
Q: When did you find out?
Beginning first thing Friday morning, Chancellor Barnhart began contacting students who had been meeting with her over the past weeks--UA, DormCon, and students from Senior House--to discuss the decision to prevent undergraduates from living in Senior House this coming year. We requested that the decision be delayed, but logistically, freshmen rooming assignments and graduate housing application deadlines could not be extended further. This decision was reached through back-and-forth conversations between senior administration, the Chancellor, Dean Nelson, and Heads of House, and it was unfortunately out of our control by the time it was shared with us.
Q: Where did we, collectively as an MIT community of students, faculty, and staff, go wrong?
This is a difficult question to answer. We believe that there is currently a gap in understanding between what we mean when we describe and express pride in our communities, and what the MIT administration thinks we mean. We need to acknowledge that there are differences in opinions, and be forthcoming about what those differences are, without ruling out the option that there is space for compromise between them.
Q: What are your student leaders doing next?
We too are disappointed that none of our efforts came to fruition, but that does not mean that we will stop trying to make the best of a difficult situation. In the short term, we are focusing on alleviating the issues that follow from the fact that Senior House is no longer an undergraduate dormitory. Managing the overcrowding that all dorms will experience as a result of the decision is a priority, as is accommodating the needs of displaced Senior House residents. Additionally, students are discussing with the Chancellor and Dean Nelson several ideas for improving and expanding inclusive and LGBTQ-affirming living spaces from the grassroots level with support from the administration.
In the long term, we must work on repairing the relationship between students and administrators. We will be documenting our efforts over the past year, reflecting on our successes and failures, and using those reflections to fill the toolbox of student leadership in years to come. However, better communication isn’t just a job for student leadership, it's for all of us--rather than build up walls between students and administrators, we must be ready to hear that some people fundamentally disagree with us, for entirely valid reasons, and still maintain our own strong conviction in our values so we can implement successful ways of working together to improve dorm life and all other areas of MIT together.
Q: What do we do now?
All students that feel affected or disheartened by this decision should continue to do what they have been doing--speaking openly and honestly about their thoughts and fears. If you are so inclined, we encourage you to diplomatically express your thoughts to administrators and join us in the effort to repair the bonds of trust that have been eroded. However, we think it would be unwise to lash out in anger at those who do not have malicious intent. We believe that the only constructive path forward is one of collaborative discussion and innovation, not one of infinitely escalating tension.
Sarah Melvin, UA President
Yuge Ji, DormCon President
Alexa Martin, UA Vice President
Allie Stanton, DormCon Vice President