Stuck in a Rut — RBA Housing

As a graduate school-bound college senior, I’m being reminded of some of the fresh new hells I experienced as a college-bound high school senior. In particular, choosing a dormitory is one of the scariest and most important decisions one can make. Experiencing a system less open and welcoming than MIT’s makes me appreciate ours all the more.

Mandatory Residence Based Advising strikes me as a black mark in an otherwise warm and sunny orientation system. There’s more to housing than advising, yes, but when advising limits one’s ability to explore the rest of the system, it becomes a problem. Put yourself back a few years (or more) and pretend you’re a doe-eyed freshmen trying to find your niche at MIT.

While what the rooms look like, the person/bathroom ratio, and cleanliness are important factors to take into account, they all pale in comparison to how one relates to the people who live there. The UA Orientation Report outlines three surveys that back this up, as will almost any survey of anybody on campus (dormitory, FSILG, apartment, whatever). Basic physical descriptions and statistics can be conveyed by a Web site or summer mailing. This is how other schools get information across. But one can’t get a clear sense of their potential neighbors without visiting campus: hence CPW and Orientation. Even now, with the limited number of early returns available during Orientation, the dorms don’t manage to fully convey the kind of experience they provide until classes start (but that’s an issue for another day).

So now, doe-eyed freshman you is running around campus, trying to find your niche. You know this will be a challenge, so why commit yourself early? Why, before visiting campus, would you want to get stuck in a dorm you can’t lottery back out of if you find something you like better?

That’s what is asked of Next and McCormick residents. Being RBA dorms, their freshmen are assigned RBA advisors and not allowed to enter the Housing Readjustment Lottery.

Unfortunately, doe-eyed freshman you got put into one of these dorms. While your friends in other dorms experience all that Orientation has to offer, the parties and tours seem moot and pointless — they’re not for you.

This isn’t the message we want to send anyone, least of all first-week freshmen.

Given this, our pre-frosh are pretty quick, and they rank RBA dorms a little lower than the others. Inevitably, a higher number of third-choices go into RBA housing (62 of 75 last year, to be precise).

The only thing worse than being forced to live somewhere you don’t want to, is actually liking where you live, and having people who don’t want to live there being forced to live with you.

I understand there are a number of technical hurdles to reassigning freshmen in Residence Based Advising. But in all seriousness, this is MIT. If anyone can figure this out, it’s someone at this school, and administrative difficulty is no excuse for giving 62 freshmen their third-choice dorm with no opportunity to leave.

If someone chooses to move out of an RBA dorm, she’s acknowledging that proximity to advising is not the most important factor in their life, and that she is probably capable of dealing with an advisor switch during Orientation. If someone moves into an RBA dorm, he may be acknowledging a desire for a stronger advising climate, and after the transitional lag he’ll be receiving more advising than before the switch. A week without advising is surely better than an entire year of sub-optimal housing.MIT is fortunate to have excellent faculty and staff advisors, and I have no doubt they’ll be able to welcome their new advisees and help them prepare for classes. Giving incoming students the opportunity to find their place at MIT is just a matter of Institute will. Our spirit of inclusion and cooperation is the warmest welcome one can hope for as a freshman, and why many students choose to attend MIT at all.

Ruth Miller is Vice President of the Undergraduate Association.