Inverse curling and Sunday tea
Building community and making a home
Alison Olechowski, Simmons Hall
I came home to Simmons one day and saw a group of my residents huddled around a window on the 9th floor. With complete sincerity and transparency, one turned to me and said, “We froze a water balloon, and we think it’d be cool to throw it out the window!” A conversation followed on why throwing a heavy chunk of ice onto a public sidewalk might not be the best idea. Nevertheless, there was still some fun to be had: those students discovered that ice slides around the Simmons hallways in a really satisfying way.
A few weeks later, the Winter Olympics came around, and a fellow GRT and I brainstormed some themed study breaks we could do. That moment was the invention of a legacy: Inverse Curling. Rather than curling rocks on ice like the Olympians do, we would curl rocks of ice (frozen into the perfect size via water balloon molds) on the “rock” floor. We even gave the students mops to sweep the path (this looked funny but probably did nothing). It was unbelievably fun; my section lost in a nail-biter.
I think all GRTs like to talk about the cool study breaks they’ve done. I won’t miss out on this chance to do so publically: scootah hockey, Bubbles^5, human hungry-hungry hippos, lots of Team Fortress 2, the Fruit Olympics… the list goes on. But let me be clear, the importance of the GRT role is not hosting study breaks. It’s most important to be a present and integrated member of the undergraduate community — to be a trusted mentor, a reliable supporter, a keen observer, and a role model of inclusion.
I will be on the GRT hiring committee this year to recruit and champion candidates who match the diversity of students at Simmons. A core responsibility of supporting the students as a housteam is empathizing with the broad range of student experiences, and I think we can do better to see under-represented minority members join our team as GRT's.
Being a GRT has profoundly impacted my MIT experience for the better. Simmons students have let me into their lives and made mine more full. Without being a GRT, I would have never known how creative, thoughtful, funny, and snapchat-masterful MIT undergrads are. I’ve been so fortunate to have played a minor role in the lives of so many unique and passionate individuals. I’ve made what I hope will be life-long friends with my houseteam and students. Additionally, with four years of elevator and dining hall practice, no small talk situation intimidates me anymore. Though it may be difficult at times, I’ve been able to balance being a GRT and a doctoral researcher. I’m lucky to have a supportive advisor who understands my commitment to the GRT role and the very rare instances where I have to tend to a crisis at the dorm instead of my research.
In June, I’ll graduate in the same ceremony as my first class of freshmen residents. I’ve seen them through four years of ups and downs at MIT. I can’t think of a more fitting way to say goodbye to my beloved home of four years, Simmons Hall, and the friends I’ve made there.
Alex Creely, MacGregor
MacGregor House is located at 450 Memorial Drive and one of many MIT dorms. It is a place to eat, to sleep, and to do problem sets. The dorm is a collection of personal rooms and kitchens and lounges. Most importantly, MacGregor is home.
What makes it home? Sure, a few hundred MIT students cook their meals there during the day and sleep there at night. But that just makes it a place to live. What really makes MacGregor home for all of these students is the community: a group of amazing people who share a common culture and care about one another. When one returns to MacGregor, it isn’t just a place to sleep, but a place where one truly feels comfortable and content. In other words, where one feels at home.
This past August, I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the MacGregor community as the new GRT for F Entry (otherwise known as Fentry), one of nine sections of the building. It has already been an amazing semester, and I only anticipate the best in the coming years.
I was initially apprehensive about my role as GRT. I didn’t really know who my students were or how I would interact with them. Would they view me as some aloof authority figure, the “bad guy” who’s just there to enforce the rules? Would I be able to connect with my students on a personal level? Most importantly, would anyone come to my study breaks?
I had my answers before the academic year even officially began. Before orientation, during my first week at MacGregor, I wanted to try to meet some of my upperclassmen residents who were around over the summer, as well as to help out with the new students. I sent out a last minute email on a Friday evening advertising a movie night in the F Entry lounge (a.k.a. the Flounge), movie TBD.
I was expecting maybe three or four people, since it was still early in the year, so I was really excited when nearly fifteen showed up. Now for movie selection. First choice by unanimous vote was Beauty and the Beast. This was going to be a good year, I thought. Anyone who loves Disney is good by me, and I knew I’d found my home.
Over the past few months, I have been both witness to and part of a tight-knit community of incredible students who never cease to impress. I’ve put on study breaks ranging from movie nights to afternoon tea on Sundays to sushi. Sometimes, though, my students are so active in planning their own events that it’s tough to schedule my own study breaks. And that is exactly the sort of problem that I want to have.
Moving forward, I can’t wait to watch the Fentry community grow and flourish even more than I’ve already seen. Even now, writing this, I look forward to heading back to MacGregor this evening. To the place where I sleep and eat. To the place where I see my students and ask them about their day.
And most importantly, to my home.
Editor’s note: this is a series of articles written by various MIT Graduate Resident Tutors (GRTs) about their experiences.
For more information about becoming a GRT, visit beagrt.mit.edu.