Housing deliberations should involve student body, not just accept student input
Conversations in Dormcon and the UA have revealed that although the plans to turn the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse into a dorm by fall 2018 have fallen through, MIT is still planning to build an undergraduate dorm by fall 2019. In addition, as posts on MIT Confessions have hinted, the Chancellor’s Student Housing Advisory Committee (SHAC), made up of five to ten students, is planning some kind of experiment in alternative community structure for this dorm. SHAC has mountains of data about the ways in which different ideas succeed or fail at promoting diversity, community, and academic development, and although they’ve been secretive for the past half-year, we’ve been promised that they’re soon going to conduct more surveys, focus groups, and discussions to get student input.
Using us as guinea pigs, data points, and sources of personal experience to be mined can be advantageous. But we’re also stakeholders and analytical thinkers, and we should be more involved in the process of SHAC’s deliberations. SHAC is dealing with short-term issues (primarily, the coming dorm), not just the long-term deliberations listed on their website, and they should be open about that. They should be making the short-term issues clear by promptly posting meeting summaries to their website and bringing them up in townhalls and focus groups. In general, SHAC should be showing us data and walking us through their preliminary thoughts so that we can be a part of the back-and-forth conversation. I’m glad to hear SHAC has set up an email address and a discussion.mit.edu thread for suggestions, but I still worry that these will be ways for us to talk to SHAC, and that SHAC will mostly not talk to us.
Involving the broader student body is beneficial for two reasons. First, it helps avoid groupthink, hopefully leading to better results and vetted reasoning. And second, it ensures that if SHAC ends up deciding something controversial, we will be prepared and familiar with the reasons for it, and it will step outside the usual pattern of communication being “too little, too late.”
True involvement will be hard, but it will be worth it. I urge SHAC to give it a try. If they don’t think it’s possible, they should look up the Chancellor’s Strategic Advisory Committee of 1999, which did a great job of it.