East Campus website offers glimpse into residential life

Over 160 people share thoughts on student life

Undergraduate students from the east side of campus have set up a website called “This is the East Side” that offers a glimpse into residential life at MIT. The project was prompted by a general “distrust that so many students have for the administration” and a community dinner with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 at East Campus, according to Jessica M. Parker ’15, the president of East Campus. Parker said that she and others involved in the project hope that it will narrow the “gap in perspective” between students and the administration.

Since its launch on Sept. 8, the website has received 167 submissions from students and alumni, most of whom are affiliated with the undergraduate dorms on the east side of campus: East Campus, Random Hall, Senior House, and the now-closed Bexley Hall.

In that time, the website has also seen “thousands of visitors from over thirty countries and nearly every state,” according to Parker. Parker was surprised to learn that a number of professors within the MIT community had heard of the site.

“I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned more in East Campus than in any academic building,” wrote Allan E. Sadun ’17 in his post titled “What makes our dorms great made MIT great.” An East Campus resident, Sadun recalled how residential life has allowed him to learn about “topics as diverse as the Riemann-Stieltjes integral, computer security, rope hauling systems, and the Freedom of Information Act.”

“To me, without friends to be excited with or residences to work on projects for, there would be no education — only problem sets and exams in a few narrow subjects,” he wrote.

In her post titled “When lightning strikes,” Emma L. Frank ’15 wrote about the initial skepticism she faced from her parents when wanting to switch to East Campus from Simmons. For her, it was the sense of family within East Campus that got her through the tough times at MIT.

“[N]owhere else do I think I could have found a family like I have here,” wrote Frank. Frank said she found a group of people that “encouraged [her] to learn to accept [herself]” and “let [her] know that it was okay to struggle.” Once her parents recognized this, they too accepted the East Campus community.

“This is the East Side” was started by several East Campus and Senior House residents in anticipation of a community dinner with Chancellor Barnhart at East Campus late last month. By sharing stories from students’ experiences in dorms, the team hoped to help the chancellor and the administration gain a better understanding of residential life.

Danny Ben-David ’15, an East Campus resident who developed the website, said they weren’t sure what to expect at first. As word spread and submissions started coming in, they were “overjoyed to see the outpouring current students, friends, alumni, faculty, and parents,” wrote Ben-David in an email to The Tech.

When Chancellor Barnhart visited East Campus for dinner at the end of last month, she was met by “sixty plus East Campus residents in the room,” according to Ben-David. The residents shared their stories and ideas for improving communication between students and the school.

“Hopefully the site will act as a primer for future visits by the Chancellor and other administrators who want to get to know East Campus better,” said Ben-David.

Sadun contributed his post in the hopes of helping reverse a “disturbing trend” he has noticed. “The fact that MIT’s culture of freedom, openness, close collaboration, and passion is so central to its research prowess seems to be sometimes forgotten when people look at our undergraduate housing,” wrote Sadun, “and I saw it as the mission of my post to make that connection and hammer it in repeatedly.”

Sadun said that it’s not only East Campus that defines the great parts of MIT’s culture. For him, it’s “the freedom to choose where you live, the freedom to be without a mandatory dining plan, the freedom to explore and experiment without fear of punishment, the freedom to find a group of people whose casual passions lead to amazing achievements that represent the greatest part of MIT’s culture.”

Ben-David and Parker also suggested that East Campus is not the only dorm with concerns to voice. After receiving interest in becoming involved from other groups on campus, the two are brainstorming on “how this concept of many, informal submissions could apply to the broader campus community,” said Parker.

The students behind “This is the East Side” are planning to launch a new site that will encompass the views of all dorms on campus. Parker emphasizes that they “want to make sure what [they] put together is actually useful to administrators.

They hope the new website will show the true range of MIT’s diversity. “That’s the wonderful nature of our housing system,” said Sadun. It is “that strong, vibrant cultures can develop and be different from each other, and that freshmen get to choose between a wide spectrum of options.”

In anticipation of the new website, submissions for “This is the East Side” are now closed. However, the archive can still be found Questions or comments should be sent to