Living Pink guide sheds light on LGBT views

At some point before arriving on campus, every incoming freshman wonders what his or her dormitory life is going to be like. Will I get along with my roommates? Will I like the people on my floor? What is the atmosphere of my dorm? Will I feel welcome?

The Living Pink guide is a resource designed to help students and their families to answer these questions. The guide, found at, is based on a survey distributed to MIT students in spring 2011. The questions asked of the living groups focused on issues pertaining to welcoming lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer individuals.

Cory D. Hernandez ’14 and Jenna G. Caldwell ’11 were responsible for reviving the survey, which was last conducted in 2005.

Their main goals were to increase response rates and to gather a variety of perspectives and personal stories by increasing anonymity for participants.

“The culture in MIT living groups is more constant than in other places, but people are always changing. There are completely different groups of people, and the information [from the last survey] didn’t match up with our knowledge of the groups,” said Caldwell.

The Living Pink survey was started in the early 2000s with the intention of being an annual publication. But the survey was not as successful as was hoped. According to Hernandez, the survey required MIT certificates from students who wished to participate. This requirement decreased particpants’ feeling of anonymity, which resulted in fewer responses from undergraduates.

The survey was also not widely advertised and did not garner significant participation from a number of living groups. Hernandez said that the previous creators did not make the results easily accessible to MIT students, which further decreased the its popularity.

Caldwell and Hernandez were pleased with this year’s response rate. Approximately 1,300 people responded — more than twice the number of subjects in the 2005 survey. That’s about 30 percent of the undergraduate population, Hernandez said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s better [than previous years],” he said.

Hernandez, with the help of Abigail Francis, head of LBGT@MIT, was able to share the results of the Living Pink Guide with housemasters, GRTs, and RAs when they went through training in the summer. House teams could use the information they learned to make the atmosphere of each living group as friendly as possible.

Of the 70 percent of students who did not fill out the survey, “I definitely think that was them choosing not to,” Hernandez said.

The survey team looked to reach out to people in different ways, he added. Living Pink used dorm lists, club members, friends, the Dormitory Council, the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Association, ILGs, and the Department of Residential Life. “Every time that we sent out the link, new responses came in,” he said.

“The results for the sororities were phenomenal,” said Hernandez. “The response rates for sororities was much higher than the campuswide average. They had great participation rates, they were very friendly.”

Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) was the only living group that had no responses to the survey, although a few other groups had only one or two people respond. Hernandez and Caldwell said they were not surprised, since these living groups tended to be smaller and possibly received less encouragement to fill out the survey.

The president of DKE said in an email, “I know firsthand DKE is an accepting group, and I hope that our lack of participation in the survey isn’t misinterpreted as hostility towards the LBGT community. When I received the survey I forwarded it to our house list, and apparently didn’t emphasize how important it was, and like most of the emails I send to the house list, it got ignored due to laziness. I can assure you that we plan on participating when the survey comes out again.”

Cooperation from various interest groups at MIT was vital for the distribution of the survey.

“We had a lot of help from administrators,” Caldwell said, “They were tremendously helpful, and it was gratifying because we weren’t just working on our own. It’s nice to know that [administrators] cared about these questions and making sure these places were safe for LGBT students.”

Hernandez also appreciated the publicity that the Living Pink survey received from the MIT News Office in early November. “I think that for the most part, it was accurate, but they did leave out the negatives,” said Hernandez. While the survey seems to show that, as a whole, MIT living groups are welcoming to LGBT students, not all the comments were friendly, Hernandez said.

“One of the most troubling things I saw was people’s lack of understanding of language use,” he said. “When a lot of people use [derogatory language] as a joke and one person is hurt by it, it’s troubling that they can’t stand up and say something about it.”

“Readers of the survey results have to keep in mind that these are opinions that may not necessarily reflect what incoming students’ experiences would be in that dorm,” Caldwell said. She noted that there was sometimes conflicting information from different students — one student would comment on how welcoming the community was, and another student would describe a situation where they felt uncomfortable.

The Living Pink survey will continue to be relevant to the MIT community. Henry J. Humphreys, dean of residential life and dining, plans to meet with other deans and directors to go over the details of the survey and discuss the possibility of its impact on the MIT community.

“I guess I have this curious streak … I want to know where we’re doing well, why are we doing well? Where we’re not doing well, how can we improve that?” Humphreys said.

There have also been questions about the future location of the Rainbow Lounge, a central meeting place for LGBT groups at MIT. The Rainbow Lounge is currently in the basement of Walker Memorial, but after potential renovations at Walker the lounge may be moved. Humphreys is not sure what will happen yet, but he acknowledges that there is a lot of restructuring that must be done to determine where the lounge will be in the future.

Hernandez has several changes in mind should he ever do the Living Pink guide again. Most importantly, he said, he would reword one question which was particularly confusing. To make sure the survey was completely clear, he would ask a small sample of students to take it before distributing it to all of MIT.

Hernandez hopes that, in the future, he can get the Living Pink survey endorsed by one of MIT’s top administrators — Dean Chris Colombo, Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80, or President Susan J. Hockfield — in the hopes that it would reach more students.

The detailed results from this year’s survey can be found online at