News reporter’s notebook

Students protest Senior House ‘depopulation,’ new freshman program

Hundreds of students turn up for sit-in outside chancellor’s office

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Protesters march list of demands on their way to the chancellor’s office.
Karleigh Moore–The Tech
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Students gather in Lobby 7, making signs to protest Senior House decisions
Karleigh Moore–The Tech
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Students and alums give speeches outside chancellor's office.
Karleigh Moore–The Tech
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Students gather with signs outside chancellor's office protesting Senior House decisions
Karleigh Moore–The Tech
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Students make signs in Lobby 7 protesting Senior House decisions.
Karleigh Moore–The Tech
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Students begin to gather in Lobby 7, making signs to protest Senior House decisions
Karleigh Moore–The Tech
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Students gathered around the chancellor's office in protest
Olivia Brode-Roger–The Tech

Students protested MIT’s decision to “depopulate” Senior House Friday. The protest started with a sign-making session in Lobby 7, followed by a march to the chancellor’s office and a series of speeches from protesters.

The Tech estimates the turnout to be around 100 to 200.

This protest was organized through the mailing list pilot-2021 as well as on Facebook, with an event created by Anya Quenon ’20, a Burton Conner resident. Quenon could not attend the start of the protest, due to a work conflict, according to emails sent to the list.

Although the list pilot-2021 was initially public, it was made private late Wednesday night due to concerns that administrators had added themselves.

It was only after asking multiple protesters that The Tech was able to locate a current Senior House resident. To the best of our knowledge, the vast majority of participants were residents of East Campus, Random, or Senior House alums. Residents of other dorms were also present, but in less noticeable numbers.

The students’ demands were laid out on a large white poster as well as in flyers distributed to passersby. The five demands were: to let Senior House residents stay without having to apply; to increase transparency and include students in decisions; to keep Senior House accessible to low-income students; “No RAs: All dorms >50% upperclassmen;” and “Cats, Murals, Gays!”

The decision to make the dorm smoke-free did not seem contested at the protest.

Daniel Clavijo ’18, an East Campus resident, described himself in an interview with The Tech as one of the people helping with the protest. Clavijo said that a big issue was how the decision was communicated: Clavijo wanted to know what the dangerous behavior referred to by the administration was, and that these decisions should not have been made after all the students had gone from campus.

Clavijo also said that he did not know what Senior House residents were, or were not, told.

Allie Stanton ’18, DormCon vice president and East Campus president, commented in an post-protest email interview with The Tech that the protest reflects a high level of emotions and that she is hoping for a more level-headed dialogue. Stanton also stated that not all of the demands were necessarily feasible.

Stanton had previously replied to a thread organizing the protest on pilot-2021 stating “we want the protest to make us (ua/dormcon) look reasonable in comparison,” an apparent attempt to construct the situation to the benefit of student leaders.

When contacted about this email, Stanton only commented that she did not coordinate the statement with DormCon or the UA.

Another member of the pilot-2021 mailing list also reported a student government officer stating “I just want to say that strategically, I think it would be good for the ‘demonstrators’ to be more ‘radical’ (not really more so than this list you’ve compiled) so student leaders can compromise from these points if need be.” The name of the officer was not shared.

It is unclear how much these statements influenced the protesters’ demands.

At the time of writing, the mailing list contained almost 400 members including Stanton, Sarah Melvin ’18, UA president; Alexa Martin ’19, UA vice president; and Yuge Ji ’18, DormCon president. None of them replied to Stanton’s email. It is not clear to The Tech if any of them were members of the list when Stanton sent her email Thursday.

At 4 p.m. the protesters made their way to the Barnhart’s office, chanting and drumming. The procession measured a few hundred feet in length. One of the most memorable moments was when the protesters  loudly chanted “Not my chancellor!”

Once at the chancellor’s office, the protesters began to give speeches. It is not clear whether they were waiting for the chancellor to come out and listen. Barnhart was not on campus that day.

Many Senior House alums and East Campus residents turned out to speak. Many recounted inspirational tales of how their times in their living communities affected them in positive and transformative ways; some offered criticism of the MIT administration and the recent decisions surrounding Senior House, and spoke of community solidarity.

Some of the protesters’ demands seemed to contradict the explicit wishes of Senior House community members. For example, one of the first speakers, a 2018 who lives in East Campus, demanded administrators make “any data that is used to make decisions about student housing” publically available, something that then Senior House president Sarah Melvin, told The Tech last summer she wanted to avoid, concerned that it could “be used to draw false conclusions about individual residents.” Last summer, the chancellor's office did release statistics related to graduation rates across undergraduate dorms, but declined to release data concerning drug use, citing privacy concerns.

And yet a few moments later, the speaker went on to criticize administrators for not responding “to actual student concerns” instead of focusing on “what [administrators] believe to be in [students’] best interests” — it seemed that students and administrators alike are out of touch with what some students want.

Notable amongst the speakers was Massachusetts State Representative Mike Connolly. In an interview with The Tech, he said that he learned of the protest that morning while visiting MIT to talk about affordable graduate housing and that he supports any organized community effort to defend their own interests.

Connolly also noted that he was moved by the large turnout given that MIT is in the middle of its summer break.

Connolly did not want to comment on MIT’s claim of widespread dangerous behavior we know now is drug-related. He hopes that “MIT will work with and respond to concerns voiced by the community.”

Karleigh Moore contributed reporting.

6/18/17: The article was updated to reflect that Quenon was not present at the start of the protest due to a work conflict. The previous version remarked on the fact that reporters could not locate Quenon, given this information, this occurrence is not newsworthy.

6/19/17:  The paragraphs addressing apparent contradictions in student demands were lightly edited to better conform to The Tech’s journalistic standards.