Opinion letter to the editor

Senior Haus needs to change

“If you flirt with the idea that maybe something isn’t right in Haus, you‘re likely to be put down and suppressed.”

I can’t sit back and continue to let East Side students and alumni speak on our behalf. While still respecting the privacy of Senior Haus, I will speak only for myself, a current Class of 2019 Senior Haus resident.

Despite the consistent talking points to the contrary, there are real problems in Senior Haus. For the sake of privacy of Senior Haus residents, I will not go into specifics. These problems aren’t necessarily a couple of people making poor decisions for themselves; everyone makes poor decisions sometimes, and in Haus we try to support each other. But that support can be abused to the point where it becomes enabling. The Senior Haus culture of acceptance and openness has continued to be abused, and it has become too easy for us to allow and even justify someone putting oneself or others in harm’s way.

Maybe this is what begets the unspoken, unwritten law within Senior Haus: Thou shalt say the right thing or nothing at all. To say the wrong thing to residents is to risk being ostracized, or worse, to say the wrong thing to admins is to risk depopulation and the wholesale destruction of 100 years of culture. If you flirt with the idea that maybe something isn’t right in Haus, you’re likely to be put down and suppressed. We’ve normalized the idea that when we say “in Senior Haus, you can be whomever you want,” we sometimes neglect the vital clause “as long as it doesn’t harm you or others.”  

I do not believe that these parts of Senior Haus are worth saving. I do not believe that a culture of enabling, of turning a blind eye to others’ problems is worth saving. I do not believe that a community that thinks information is currency to be bartered and exploited is worth defending. I do not believe that a culture that spawns alumni who force ideas upon current residents and propagate a hivemind is worth preserving. I don’t want my home to welcome only a select few while dismissing and excluding others for not being “Senior Haus” enough.

This time last year, I wrote an essay about my experience as a freshman in Senior Haus. I was joining a chorus of voices expressing their love for the Senior Haus community and their concern that the MIT Administration was actively working to push out our home. Back then, I had begun to convince myself that these bad parts of my community were just manifestations of my own social anxiety. Despite those worries, I knew I loved Senior Haus. I had never experienced a community that seemed so perfect in their imperfections, a community that would accept me for the short, ambiguously ethnic, queer kid I am.

That fall, the Senior Haus population went from 142 students to under 100. Student rooms were gutted to make space for more administrators, a study space, a yoga room. A small subsection of our emaciated, frosh-less Senior Haus community threw ourselves into the “Turnaround Team” with various goals — getting freshman back in Haus was central. For me, as a part of the Personal and Academic Subcommittee, this Turnaround was an opportunity for us to be intentional with our community. It was an opportunity to prove that, more than just a dorm, we are students who take care of each other, who welcome each other’s differences, and who will keep each other accountable. These are what we advertise as our community values. This was our chance to prove — to ourselves and everyone else — who we are and what we care about.

Since then, I’ve continued to find friends and support within Senior Haus in ways I was not able to find anywhere else at MIT. After spending the entire year working on the Turnaround Team, we have implemented Student Support Services (S^3) and Mental Health and Counselling offices within Senior Haus — something extremely helpful and completely unique to Haus; we have taken tentative steps to understand the thoughts of our community in its entirety and our drug use habits; we’ve reorganized ourselves and our spaces to best support each other.

This past year, on the Turnaround Team and in Senior House as a whole, we have sacrificed a lot academically, personally, and socially in order to deal with the Turnaround Team and all its ramifications — but we have done so much good! I think we’ve taken many important steps in moving our community forward. Before the Chancellor’s decision was made, I felt we were even more aligned with our declared values. We found a way to be intentional in our support for people who have struggled to find acceptance and respect in openness and vulnerability elsewhere.

In spite of this progress, many people did not take the Turnaround seriously, and I’ve seen how the abuse of Senior Haus’s accepting culture has forced the MIT Administration to choose between one of two options: complete depopulation of Senior Haus or a Turnaround 2.0 of which students could not opt out. And so, what was once Senior Haus will become “Pilot 2021 (in Senior Haus).”

I don’t want to see the (admittedly yuppie) “three dimensions” of the Pilot 2021 program as the death of the Senior Haus community. I don’t agree with much of the Pilot 2021 platform. It’s hard for me to trust the Administration after everything they’ve done over the last year. At best, the one-email worth of information on the Pilot 2021 program seems to hint at a lack of understanding about how to foster a community whose members’ demographics align with those of Senior Haus; at worst, it betrays an intentional step to prevent the people who would have benefitted from living in Haus from participating in the community. Nonetheless, I want to see it as a rough draft along the path of understanding just what it is we care about and how we can get there. If we abandon Senior Haus now, we will not be able to give anyone the experience of Senior Haus that we hold so dear.

To the current residents of Senior Haus and the members of the Class of 2021 who are afraid that the open, accepting home that they hoped to find will no longer exist, please know that, although there will be many more eyes on us next year, we can decide who we are and what we care about — but only if we give it a chance. We can shape this community.

First published on Medium.com