Admins have not promised New that NH houses will stick together

About 70 percent of New House’s roughly 200 continuing residents hope to continue living with the members of their house when the dorm goes offline for an expected two years, a survey of residents found.

Jagruti Patel ’97 of the chancellor’s office shared the survey results with DormCon last Thursday. The 200 residents are made up of underclassmen who are not expected to move to an FSILG.

She also discussed some of the potential strategies for housing everyone despite the dorm’s being closed, and made clear that relaxing the policy that freshmen must live on campus will not be a part of that solution.

The survey students took is expected to help guide administrators as they work out the details of rehousing and rebuilding New House.

Patel did not make the data about each of New House’s nine individual houses available, but New House President Sarah Wharton ’17 said that a few of the houses “aren’t … as stubborn about staying together” and might be more willing to separate from the house, for example by splitting up into smaller groups.

If true, this would suggest that in some houses, significantly more than 70 percent of the residents want to stay together.  

The survey results also showed that 30 percent of New House residents are enrolled in a dining plan and that a fair number of students are interested in living in groups of six to eight people, whether on or off campus.

Because MIT requires that all first-year students must live in a dormitory, any groups — including entire houses — that decide to move off-campus will not be permitted to recruit freshmen.

“They can’t have freshmen,” Patel said. “That’s not changing.”

Wharton later told the rest of DormCon that she did not receive a promise from the administrators that “there will be a place in the new dorm … for the existing communities.”

She would hope, for example, that each of the existing houses could again have its own space within the new building.

Since Patel and Vice President for Student Life Suzy M. Nelson, also at the meeting, said they recognize that maintaining the existing communities is important to students, it was not immediately clear why an outright promise couldn’t be made. Some DormCon members suspected that Nelson is nervous about making any promise before funds for the new dorm are allocated by the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation.

DormCon members expressed that they think it is especially important that MIT maintain the New House communities that have historically been home to students in minority groups.

“There needs to be a space where the 28 of us can live together, for us to be most satisfied,” a resident of the all-male Chocolate City said.

That house’s website describes the house as “a brotherhood of MIT students and alumni who identify with urban culture.”

Patel and Nelson treated New House’s need to go offline as an urgent and special case of a situation they seemed to expect will become routine as Burton Conner, East Campus, and then other dorms are taken offline for repairs in future years.

“This will be the only time where we’re moving students into different residence halls [to complete planned renovations],” Nelson said.

In the case of New House, it’s likely that many of the the residents will be moving to other undergraduate dormitories, and potentially Tang Hall graduate dormitory which, Patel said, has a history of vacancies.

To build capacity for student housing and to ensure that swing space is available during future renovations, Nelson hopes to add 700 beds to the system, most likely across two dormitories. She said that plans to fund the necessary construction have not been finalized; funding for capital projects needs to be raised before these projects will be approved.

With something of this magnitude going on, one New House resident suggested that DormCon think carefully about preparing formal surveys with Institute research, so that students are able to express their thoughts on how this process and its decisions have affected them. He also said that working with Institutional Research to collect credible data might be something that DormCon should make a habit of doing in general.