Proposal for second-semester freshmen to live in FSILGs

The following petition was posted online at http://fsilg-housing.org/ on January 1, 2010. As of January 28, it has been signed by 697 members of the MIT community, according to the organizers.

We, the undersigned members of the MIT community, urge the MIT administration to allow undergraduates to live off campus during the second semester of their freshman year. This proposal is made in consideration of:

1. The lifelong academic, leadership, and service opportunities provided to freshmen by residence-based advising such as is found in FSILGs.

2. The resolution of safety and risk management concerns which were the original justification for requiring freshmen to live in dormitories.

3. The improvements to mental health and academic outcomes that are the result of being allowed to live with one’s chosen support community during the challenging experience of taking MIT courses on grades for the first time.

4. The superiority of utilizing existing housing capacity in FSILGs in the face of rising enrollment, particularly as compared to decreasing graduate housing, removing undergraduate housing guarantees, or building redundant housing.

For over a century, the Fraternity, Sorority, and Independent Living Group (FSILG) system at MIT has represented an unparalleled opportunity for leadership education, independence, and community service in a residential setting which continues to provide opportunities for a lifetime. Since 2002, first year students have been required to live in dormitories in order to address concerns about safety and risk management with the FSILG system circa 1997. Even if we concede that the FSILG system of 1997 had safety concerns, it is undeniable that the FSILG system of 2009 is more responsible, more attentive to risk management issues, and has significantly more direct oversight from alumni and MIT than the FSILG system of 1997. Specifically:

1. The FSILG system of 2009 has a decade-old comprehensive risk management and alcohol policy designed to protect students from dangerous situations.

2. The FSILG system of 2009 has responsive governing bodies with a long track record of strongly sanctioning any FSILG found to violate those risk management policies.

3. The Association of Independent Living Groups (AILG), an alumni organization, works with individual FSILGs to ensure that they are operating in a safe and sustainable manner. The AILG also oversees the FSILG accreditation process and creates RA policies.

FSILGs are as safe of a living environment as dormitories, and they can often provide better community support due to their small, close-knit communities. Allowing freshmen to move into the FSILGs during the second semester strikes the right balance of adequate time to choose an appropriate support community, and the benefits of living with that community during the challenging experience of taking MIT courses on grades for the first time. Housing first year students within the FSILGs can also be a key contributor to efforts to focus on the freshman year. FSILGs have over a century worth of experience in residence-based advising, with upperclassmen and alumni actively taking an interest in and responsibility for the well-being and success of the younger members in their communities.

Allowing second semester freshmen to live in the underutilized capacity of the FSILGs would alleviate dormitory crowding. Dormitory crowding is already an issue, and the crowding problems will become only more pronounced if the Institute moves forward with plans to increase enrollment as outlined in the Institute-wide Budget Planning Task Force Report. The alternative options for alleviating crowding in dormitories outlined in the Report, namely:

1. to no longer guarantee 4-year on-campus housing and force already stressed upperclassmen to brave the Cambridge/Somerville housing markets,

2. to build new undergraduate dormitories using scarce funding in these hard financial times, or

3. to further reduce graduate housing options by converting even more graduate housing to undergraduate use

are manifestly less desirable than simply utilizing the currently existing, underutilized, and free-to-MIT off-campus capacity happily provided by the FSILG system.

The benefits of FSILG residence during the first year are compelling academically, socially, and with respect to mental health. FSILG residence is practical because it utilizes existing housing which is both safe and appropriate in price and environment for undergraduates. We encourage MIT to favorably consider this proposal as an option that can be implemented very rapidly and at no significant cost to MIT as they consider so many other major changes to the MIT system to improve efficiency, culture, and the strength of an MIT education.