Freshmen in Senior House: Pilot 2021

A new first-year program including meal kits, career exploration coming to E2

This coming academic year, Senior House will host Pilot 2021, a freshmen-focused community that will have access to features such as meal kits for $2,500 a year, in-house exercise classes, and “career exploration” programming with faculty participation.

Senior House will continue to be a cook-for-yourself dorm with no form of mandatory dining plan involved. Residents will have the option to buy the meal kit plan, buy food from a community pantry, or opt into the standard dining hall plan.  

“From rock climbing, to meditating, to rolling maki sushi or baking bread — you can do it all in this new residential program that is designed to support your inquisitiveness by offering you a spectrum of opportunities,” said Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life, in an email describing Pilot 2021 to freshmen.

Students on the ec-discuss mailing list pointed out that these are things that students can do and already do in existing communities.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said that Pilot 2021’s features were decided by considering desires that freshmen have previously expressed, such as career exploration and faculty connections, and also by incorporating freshman programming that exists in other MIT dorms such as peer mentoring, which “has been well received” in Baker, Simmons, and Maseeh.

Some of the new dining additions to the dorm such as the community pantry were informed by the Campus Dining Survey sent out this past spring, Barnhart said.

Sarah Melvin ’18, a current Senior House resident and president of the UA, asserted in an interview with The Tech that while principles such as career exploration and healthy eating were valuable, they are not values that an organic community can be built around. Other residents of Senior House, which is presently the oldest MIT dorm, have expressed similar reservations.

Whether members of the Class of 2021 who live in Senior House this fall will be able to continue living there in subsequent years is undecided as of now, the chancellor said.

“An important thing to point out here is that this is a year's solution,” the chancellor said, explaining that Pilot 2021 is an interim solution to the housing challenges resulting from moving current Senior House residents out of E2.  

“What to do with the dorm is something that we are literally at the very early stages of thinking about. We believe we need a deliberative process that engages everyone to think long-term, and we need a year to do that. But because of the need to use the beds, we have a few months to come up with a plan for next year,” the chancellor said.

“I’ll dispel this rumor: this is not about creating a mostly freshman dorm or a freshman dorm. This is about thinking about how can we create opportunities for a really good MIT residential life experience,” the chancellor said.

Barnhart said that over the course of the coming year, she will engage with students and faculty to discuss what the long term future of Senior House should be.

The freshman housing lottery has been extended to 5 p.m. June 20 so freshmen have additional time to evaluate whether they want to join the Pilot 2021 community. In 2016, before freshmen were banned from living in Senior House, six freshmen ranked Senior House as their top choice living group, according to Barnhart. Senior House currently has a capacity of 130 students.

Allie Stanton ’18, vice president of DormCon, told The Tech that DormCon was not aware that a freshman-focused community was being considered for Senior House.

Stanton said that many of the proposed elements of Pilot 2021 were “related, tangentially or otherwise” to suggestions brought up in DormCon meetings and committees with administrators and students but that DormCon was not directly involved in planning or developing the Pilot 2021 programming. DormCon was never told “when, where, or how” any of those ideas would be implemented.