Residents speak out on FSILG village proposal

Proponents say Boston fraternities should end up in Cambridge, but residents differ

MIT 2030, a plan to restructure much of MIT within the next 15 years, has a significant portion devoted to changing west campus. One of these changes stands out: the FSILG village.

The proposal for the opt-in village aims to move multiple FSILGs into one location on campus. Assuming it’s accepted, there are several possibilities for locations and structures. Stephen Baker ’84, an alumnus of the Theta Xi fraternity and current president of the Association of Independent Living Groups (AILG), suggested a unit on west campus with “some shared common space and shared community facilities, shared not just by the FSILGs but by the larger community.”

His goal is a “new model” that improves efficiency — “we don’t need eight cooks or eight major kitchens” — and integrates FSILGs with each other and with the surrounding community. Baker believes that “a bunch of individual little buildings,” like an apartment complex, would be unnecessarily divided.

“We definitely would opt for separate buildings, at least having some sense of individuality,” said Gregory Hui ’18, a brother of Kappa Sigma, an on-campus fraternity. “The building is a big part of our fraternity.”

Stephen Yearwood ’18, a brother of the Boston fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said that fraternities should be able to “maintain whatever traditions they have without being disrupted.” Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s alumni representative was one of the few to support the proposal in a survey,

“[A house] on dorm row, well, that defeats the purpose,” said Micah Nishigaki ’15, a member of the Women’s Independent Living Group. “One idea of ILGs in general is having that home away from home.”

“At WILG, it looks like a home,” Nishigaki said, doubting whether she could say the same about a collection of FSILGs sharing facilities on campus.

Where Baker and the AILG are thinking about efficiency and infrastructure, students seem to care about one thing: the culture they joined FSILGs for.

Baker’s proposal is an attempt to take advantage of west campus’s state of metamorphosis and streamline parts of the FSILG system.

One of the AILG’s major issues is cleanliness and maintenance of houses. But Alexander Lim ’16, a brother of the Theta Xi fraternity, which is housed in a brownstone in Boston, not only believes that his fraternity’s house is clean, but also that relocating to campus “would not help with my personal cleanliness.” Houses will be equally clean wherever they are — it’s up to the people living in them, he suggested.

Elizabeth DeLaittre ’15, summer house manager and alumna of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, said that while the house may not be as “sterile” as a dorm, it is clean enough to live in, pointing out that residents take on routine cleaning jobs. “Your mom doesn’t wipe tables down with bleach every day,” she said.

Maintenance is a more complex issue, with the AILG arguing that many Boston brownstones are aging and that renovation codes add accessibility measures that are difficult to keep up with financially. “Modern buildings are way more complicated” to maintain, Baker said.

DeLaittre suggested that FSILGs are already dealing with their own maintenance. “Dorms have maintenance crews, we have a contractor,” she said. Many houses also have elevators and ramps for accessibility.

Though FSILGs are generally not as well-kept as dorms, there are exceptions. Jin Woo Kim ’18, a brother of the Phi Beta Epsilon fraternity, which has a recently renovated house on dorm row, said that “PBE tends to be clean” and has amenities like central air conditioning that his former dorm did not have.

When it comes to house finances, Baker agreed with most students that alumni donations are an ample resource for house maintenance. However, financial strain can also come from a decrease in the number of people in an FSILG.

According to the AILG, the fraternity system is “weakening” and the number of potential brothers is decreasing.

As the fraction of undergraduates who are women approaches 50 percent, AILG reports say that fraternities will suffer from a smaller pool of men.

Hui of Kappa Sigma said he would “like to see some evidence” of such a trend, noting that using an increased proportion of women to justify an FSLIG village would only breed resentment.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Yearwood pointed out that his pledge class was especially large, and said that SAE has “potential for growth.”

Lim said that the problem isn’t the number of men at all — it’s exposure. “As a prefrosh I was temped at a frat … I would walk across the bridge” and enjoy experiencing CPW in Boston. Today, CPW participants get little more than a “Greek griller,” a poor representation of Greek life, according to Lim.

Even if the pool were smaller, “when you have less and less guys, you lose how strong your culture was,” Lim said. “Bringing them into one area makes it even harder to hold on.”

This points to another issue: proximity to campus. The AILG cites an increase in freshmen and parents wanting residences closer to campus, and that supervision and reduced liability have become more important to both parents and MIT than distance and independence.

“In today’s society, parents exert more influence over their children,” Baker said. “If Mom says, ‘Gee, living across the river seems kind of far,’ I think that is going to be a more successful argument with students today than it would be 30 years ago.”

Lim said that MIT shouldn’t endorse that type of parenting, and that he enjoyed leaving campus to go to his fraternity.

Yearwood admitted that “walking back across the bridge is tough” but said he believes that the proximity to other similar groups that the FSILG Village entails would be worse.

FSILG residents said that they did not generally have problems with their neighbors. “SAE fits in well” with Back Bay, Yearwood said, and DeLaittre said that sororities in particular are never a problem for the surrounding community.

But tensions have grown between MIT FSILGs and the city of Boston in recent years, and Baker has highlighted alarming complaints from city officials.

Henry Humphreys, Dean of Residential Life and Dining and the primary administrator involved with the FSILG Village, said that the proposal will always be presented to FSILGs as a choice: “Would you be interested in being a part of it?”

Baker said that it may be a place for new or currently unhoused FSILGs (by far the most interested parties, according to a survey) to establish themselves, and recognized that some FSILGs would be happy in their off-campus location.

“For many groups — not all — their better long-term solution is to be on the Cambridge side of the river,” Baker said. In the end, however, both administrators and the AILG present this proposal as opt-in.

“As a student,” Baker acknowledged, “I would have said no thank you, not interested.”