Why Pilot 2021 is everyone’s problem
More than Senior House is at stake
When I visited MIT during CPW, I was confused by the students’ usage of the word “culture,” especially with respect to dorms. To me, a dorm was nothing more than a residence, a space where there were twin size beds your feet would hang off the end of, where you wore slippers in the showers. I especially did not understand places like East Campus and Senior House, where there were murals and dyed hair and loud music blaring in the courtyard. These people all seemed to be trying too hard to be scary and weird (and it worked, I was pretty scared), and I had simply wanted to live somewhere clean and mildly friendly. Whatever this “culture” thing entailed, I did not want to be a part of it. I ended up living in Next for all four years of MIT; I lived there because it seemed clean and mildly friendly.
I came out of college a very different person from the person coming in. Next House definitely became more than just a residence for me. Whenever someone asks me about what MIT was like, I will happily talk how important dorm culture was for my transition into adulthood. Helping Next Big Thing build ziplines and slides in the courtyard not only taught me how to use a power drill, but it also taught me that, with enough initiative, you can make things that you thought were silly ideas into tangible things. While pushing through safety proposals and designs, I learned how to negotiate with people whom I thought had complete control of the situation. I also learned, both from Next House and from friends living in other places (especially my East Side ones), how to accept myself and my queerness, how to live life differently than what my parents had intended for me. I learned how to deal with my own freedom and the responsibility that came with it. From these experiences, I got a taste of what life was like after MIT, better than I did from the toughest project classes, and I was lucky to have those experiences from the relative safety and stability of a dorm.
What makes MIT great is that these sorts of important formative experiences aren’t limited to one dorm or living group. They can be found all over campus, each with their own unique perspectives and philosophies to offer. And this is why I’m angry and frightened at the sanitization of Senior House and the Pilot 2021 Program, despite the fact that I never lived there. When I talk to my friends from Senior House, their experiences differ wildly from the ones I had at Next, yet the fundamental lessons we learned are often the same: to be comfortable with one's self and to never be intimidated by circumstances. Every person is different and thus requires a different environment to flourish and grow in — to learn how to express themselves as a person beyond their college degree. I am angry because MIT is killing off yet another vibrant home that had added a great deal of color to the campus ecosystem. I am angry that Senior House is being replaced with Pilot 2021, a program that represents the dismantling of student autonomy, of top-down hand-holding from the administration. Pilot 2021, however well-intentioned, is outright gentrification, and it stands in direct opposition to the organic grit and individualism that Senior House brought.
What’s more, I am frightened by the word “Pilot.” I am afraid that, despite what the administration is trying to say to reassure us, that this is the vision for all residencies in the future. I am afraid that the spectrum of places ranging from the counter-cultural to the conservative will be wiped out into a bland sameness. There are not many colleges in the world where people can feel completely comfortable with expressing themselves and all of their rough edges, and if MIT keeps on going in this direction, there will be even fewer spaces where that is possible.
I am afraid of the apathy that comes once the initial flames of rage die down, especially on part of the West Campus dorms, the fraternities, and the sororities, so this is why I write this. This is not just a problem for the East Side. If you care about your residence and the ability for it to offer things that no other place can, then the attack on Senior House is also an attack on your home. Reach further than posting on Facebook and mailings lists, reach out to DormCon and to the UA and ask how you can help. Write the Alumni Association and to the Division of Student Life. Make your discontent heard by those who need to hear it.
I hope that, perhaps ironically, you guys will be able to come together to fight for the diversity of experiences and identities that are possible at MIT. Please don’t just stand by and watch. I truly wish for the students that will come after us to be blessed with the same wonderful homes we have been afforded. Sport Death, sport it from every corner of campus, sport it for years to come.
Eurah J. Ko is a member of the MIT Class of 2016.