‘Boston ban’ imposed on Boston FSILGs

Social gatherings effectively banned, assembly limits set at residency limit

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An 18-year-old MIT student fell four stories through a skylight at fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa shortly after 11:30 p.m. on Sep. 11. The student did not sustain any life-threatening injuries.
Tami Forrester—The Tech

In late October, the Boston Licensing Board (BLB) put assembly limits in place for MIT’s Boston-based fraternities, sororities, and living groups (FSILGs), effectively restricting social gatherings by setting the assembly limit equal to the residency limit. These limits have continued into IAP. There are hopes for Boston to approve the licenses by the beginning of the Spring semester. The restriction continues to impact all FSILGs on the Boston side, including 19 of MIT’s 27 fraternities, 3 of the 6 sororities, and 2 of the 6 independent living groups.

The Boston licensing issue came right after an incident at Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, in which a pledge member fell four stories through their roof skylight. According to the Boston police, at the time, the student was witnessed “jumping up and down” on the plexiglass skylight when it broke. While the student was not hurt, the Boston Inspectional Department followed up on the incident, citing illegally knocked down walls, constructing an unsafe and illegal roof deck, and not installing rails or any other protection on the roof. MIT administration, however, stated that the Phi Sigma Kappa incident was not the sole reason for the licensing issue. In a previous interview with The Tech, Henry J. Humphreys, Senior Associate Dean for Residential Life & Dining maintained, “the concerns around assembly numbers are not related to a particular incident, but rather a number of FSILG-related issues.”

The Phi Sigma Kappa incident occurred after rush and recruitment period ended, on Sept. 11, 2013. Shortly thereafter, the Boston Licensing Board (BLB), an arm of the City of Boston municipal government in charge of licensing dormitories in Boston, including fraternities, issued a hearing in which the FSILG Office and BLB came to an agreement on limiting assembly, or the maximum number of people in a house at a given time, to three times the occupancy, or the number of people that could reside in the house.

Soon after, when nine MIT houses submitted a routine yearly re-inspection application, the BLB conducted a second hearing in which all the assembly licenses were revoked from all MIT FSILGs on the Boston side of Charles. According to Brian L. Alvarez ’15, former Vice President of MIT’s IFC, in a comment to The Tech: “Many years ago the assembly limit calculation transitioned from a formula based on square footage of the assembly spaces to a limit based on the emergency exit capabilities of each house. When this permitting code changed, however, Boston FSILG assembly limits were not updated.” This brought about what was informally known on campus as the “Boston ban.” From then on, the assembly limit conservatively equaled the occupancy number for those FSILGs in Boston. The FSILG Office first notified the MIT IFC Executive Board of the news when the initial email was sent out on Oct. 18, 2013.

In response to the license revocation, the MIT administration offered to help with the required renovations by hiring two architects to help with the inspection process of the FSILGs in question. Thus, for the past semester, these architects, along with the Boston Inspectional Department toured the FSILGs in Boston to evaluate the capacity limits of each of the houses. Further, not only did some fraternities have to reapply for licenses, other fraternities who use sleeping lofts had to ensure they were up to regulation standard, which entailed creating 36-inch wide stairs with handrails to reach up to any loft that was physically attached to the building structure.

The licensing issue also created a host of problems for social life at MIT, in which most Boston fraternities hosted a number of large social gatherings when allowed. In the wake of this social turmoil, Marlena Martinez Love, Assistant Director of FSILGs, stated soon after the ban, “[Dean Chris Colombo] has already asked his leadership team to work with the AILG and our student leaders to find solutions to allow Boston FSILG social events to proceed in compliance with the ISD restriction, including working to provide space on campus to host events.” Despite this, a number of students remained unsure about the possibility of having large social events. USA Today quotes Alex G. Heifetz ’16 in saying “It’s having a huge impact… Since there are so few houses in Cambridge, there could end up being too few social events to satisfy student demand.”

In hindsight, the Boston bans took a toll on the social aspect of MIT life. “The limitations have made it difficult to have social events on the Boston side of campus, whereas fraternities in Brookline and Cambridge have remained largely unaffected”, states Haldun Anil ’15.

Looking forward, MIT still has not heard back from the BLB, as of the time of publishing. Haldun Anil ’15, current IFC president, said, “We are hoping for a response by the end of IAP/beginning of the spring semester.”