Opinion

An open letter from a graduating senior

Lessons on community from Bexley

Last Thursday, I had the immense honor of receiving the Compton prize, which is awarded to students for work that supports the welfare of the MIT community. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the people who have supported me throughout my time at MIT, as well as to the people who took the time to write letters nominating me for the award. However, something that President Reif said in his remarks, quoting one of these letters, gave me a pause. I want to briefly respond to it here.

The comment in question was from a former Bexley resident, who wrote to thank me for making sure that the students who were forced to leave Bexley would find a home in a different dorm.

I want to emphasize that my role in the Bexley closing story was trivial. I just did my job as room assignment chair of my own dorm. The real praise unequivocally belongs to those individuals who stepped up to help their community. They were unelected and anonymous residents of Bexley, and to this day their efforts remain largely unrecognized. They answered the call to help their community when it needed them most. In doing so, they did the entire Institute proud. If there is any serious example of true leadership at MIT, that was certainly it.

So that’s the first reason I’m writing this letter. I want to make sure that credit goes where it’s due.

But there’s more to it than that. I remember the night we first learned Bexley was closing. It was in the Bexley basement (the “Bexment” to anyone who has spent time there), where some folks from other dorms came to join Bexley residents writing letters to the Chancellor. It was about two weeks before the end of the semester, so people were taking turns writing and working on school work. But every so often the Bexley folks would suddenly leave the room. I asked them why. They explained that they were checking up on someone lying in bed upstairs. He was not feeling well, and they were making sure he was okay.

Bexley was a family in the most fundamental sense of the word. Its members cared about each other as people, and their dedication to one another was human, flawed, complex, and spontaneous. If most of us feel support from our communities, the residents of Bexley felt genuine love. The dorm, in other words, was a home. Once you joined, no matter who you were, you were always taken in.

The cruel reality of Bexley’s insularity was that its successes were private and hidden; only when something went wrong did the dorm catch the public eye. Now more than ever, it is important for other dorms to explain why they care so much about the battles they fight. Luckily, they can take inspiration from a beautiful section of this year’s Technique, which published photographs and heart-wrenching poems and letters about Bexley. I urge everyone, especially administrators who spend time working with students, to spend a few minutes and read those memories too. If you ever find yourself wondering why students care so much, I am confident that those pages will be enough to explain.

As I graduate, I am confident that MIT will continue the dialogue about how to support communities that flourish on autonomy and free expression. Of course, such communities can be scary; they are closed off, unpredictable, almost structurally unaccountable. But there is clear evidence that they work for some students, and for them, they mean the world. And the twist, of course, is that once a community is gone, it’s gone for good.

So I just want to end this letter with a simple appeal. To all those future student leaders and administrators working on issues that impact student life, try and take the position of the weird dorms seriously. It may seem like senseless complaining, but I swear it’s coming from a good place. As Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

With that, thanks to everyone who spends their time working on improving student life — be they administrators or student leaders, with a title or without. It is your dedication that makes this place so remarkable for all of us. And thanks to all the family, friends, and strangers who in one way or another helped me personally over these past four years. It has been an incredible journey, and I couldn’t have done it without you.

Leonid Grinberg is a member of the Class of 2014. He lived in East Campus for all four years and was EC Vice President in 2013.

4 Comments
1
Anonymous almost 4 years ago

Beautifully written. Thank you for articulating so clearly and succinctly what can be so hard to convey - the immense value of having a home here at MIT. That our dorms foster such intense love and mutual support is not something that we, or that MIT, can take for granted.

This is not something that every school has. Especially for marginalized groups (but really for everyone), having a true home here can be so important to mental health and happiness. Despite the (legitimate) challenges that such communities sometimes present to the administration and to MIT's lawyers, you articulate very well why we should dialogue carefully, deliberately, and inclusively before making major changes to the system.

2
Anonymous almost 4 years ago

Leonid,

Thanks for sharing. While your role in the Bexley situation may have been "trivial," your role in fostering these wonderful communities at MIT and especially at East Campus has most certainly not been. Your award was beyond well-deserved and your tireless work as EC Vice President and a member of the community has made it possible for 350 proud residents to call this wonderful place home. Your dedication is so inspiring, and for this, I know I speak for more than just myself in thanking you.

Sincerely,

An EC resident ('15)

3
Anonymous over 3 years ago

Typically operating through Puppets--including puppets in the judiciary--the right wing has for decades been committing crimes and trying to classify them to cover them up, a move explicitly forbidden by the Code of Federal Regulations. The right has accomplished its political objectives by presenting a fraction of the evidence to judicial officials who, having seen the pattern dozens of times before, could not help but realize that they were being presented with incomplete and inaccurate information.

If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth, right? the Democrats' great accomplishment is producing the political equivalent of a Rodney King video, clearly demonstrating the lies of the right, the right Hilary Clinton correctly identified as a vast conspiracy. Confirm by examining Central District of California Cases, 01-4340, 03-9097, 08-5515, 10-5193, US Tax Court 12000-07L --though I think you want to view my US Tax Court Appeal to the 9th Circuit for a good account of their day to day assaults, a few month time slice indicative of a decade of assault, and 9th Circuit case 11-56043.

4
glen broemer over 3 years ago

With either the willfully blind approval or the willful ignorance of the judiciary the right has killed stolen several of my pets and routinely shoot energy weaponry at me and my pets. Recent harm to animals include: two kittens from a pregnant stray i took in were killed a few days ago. The remaining two, just 3 weeks old, shake their head as government operatives shoot them with energy weaponry. They shot the eye out or removed the eye of a large really good natured stray at the port, hobbled another cat at the port, shooting it with energy weaponry, and routinely kill and leave dead animals in my path. A few years ago one of them threatened, prophetic, 'we'll just kill a cat every so often', in so many words. This has continued despite my calls to the police, the FBI, Congress, and my petitions in court. In the usual case, it appears that the right goes to a judicial crony for a ruling permitting them to harm animals to retaliate against me for my free speech. There's no serious argument but that they interfered with my personal life and economic options for 3 decades, so their solution to my noting it is to kill animals. Makes perfect sense right? It does if you're a sociopathic criminal, criminally stupid, and hawkish. Invariably their lies are exposed and the wrongfulness of the harm is clear to everyone, though not until the animals have been maimed or killed. There is really only one solution, and that's to disempower them politically.