Opinion letter to the editor

Pilot 2021 threatens the LGBTQ community at MIT

Three presidents of MIT’s LGBTQ organizations respond to Pilot 2021

As the presidents of MIT’s three undergraduate LGBTQ organizations, we feel compelled to advocate against the dispersion of one of MIT’s largest LGBTQ communities and the destruction of one of its vibrant queer-affirming spaces that has existed for decades in Senior House.

Removing the majority of current residents from Senior House eliminates one of the few visibly queer spaces on campus. Senior House has historically been home to many LGBTQ students, and over 40% of current Senior House residents identify as LGBTQ, according to the Chancellor’s office. Eradicating such a living community is not only a tragic loss to current Senior House residents. It is harmful to LGBTQ-identifying students across campus for whom the existence of such spaces indicates safety. It hurts those who chose MIT, as MIT has historically hosted multiple vibrant and openly queer communities. And it threatens that which makes MIT unique and successful: a campus that not only tolerates, but celebrates diversity of all kinds, including that brought by the queer community.

These spaces empower the LGBTQ community to mitigate problems that disproportionately affect LGBTQ students. Nationally, LGBTQ students are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment and/or assault. According to a national study by the Association of American Universities, three out of four LGBTQ students report experiencing sexual harassment. Studies also show that LGBTQ students have lower graduation rates and are more likely to experience mental health issues. These statistics underscore the importance of a community that actively supports queer students. Furthermore, such queer living spaces usually develop organically, and trying to recreate one artificially elsewhere will be difficult, if not impossible.

We have been contacted by a dozen incoming first-years who valued the LGBTQ community in Senior House. Many were worried about living in Senior House if it was not the same queer-friendly space they visited in the spring. Many told us that the presence of such a space would help them feel welcome at MIT, even if they choose not to live in Senior House.

We also worry about the implications for current LGBTQ Senior House residents. These residents have previously decided that living in a vibrant LGBTQ community is the best choice for them. Forcing many of them to move to  environments where they might not find the same freedom to be themselves, might be removed from former peer support systems, and might find themselves isolated and without a community, could have significant negative effects on their academics and mental health.  

We have expressed our concerns to the administration regarding the consequences of their plans to repopulate Senior House and adopt the new Pilot 2021 program. We met with Chancellor Barnhart and Dean Nelson to voice our fears that their vision for a  “new community” will not preserve the queer-affirming space that has existed in Senior House, and will scatter its LGBTQ population across campus.

We have never argued for the end of the reapplication process, nor the end of Pilot 2021 in our letters or meetings with administrators. We are not arguing for it here, either. At first we felt hopeful that the administration shared our goal of preserving Senior House as an LGBTQ space, and keeping the “positive aspects” of its culture in the new community. However, we are troubled to say that meetings between student leaders and administrators in the past week have made it more and more clear that the administration has no intention to preserve Senior House as an accepting and affirming space for LGBTQ students.

They have told us their concerns that maintaining Senior House as a queer-affirming space will unfairly pressure the new community into adopting values of the old. The number of upperclassmen who want to return to Senior House to maintain a queer-affirming community and the interest expressed by many first-years toward such a space leads us to believe that this concern is mostly unfounded. We feel the overwhelming positive contributions of the LGBTQ community in Senior House are being unappreciated and undervalued, and that administration is ignoring a demonstrable demand from incoming and current students to uphold a queer-affirming environment in Senior House.

We believe that what we are asking for is not unreasonable. We are not here to promote drug use and “unsafe behavior.” We are asking for the return of a critical mass of Senior House upperclassmen through the reapplication process so that the organic queer community and LGBTQ-affirming space that has historically existed in Senior House can be preserved. We want to be able to tell LGBTQ students on our campus that they are not losing a place where being LGBTQ is not stigmatized, marginalized, or merely tolerated, but celebrated and welcomed. We want to be able to tell incoming first-years who are looking for, or coming for, such a place in Senior House, that it will still exist in Pilot 2021. And we want to be able to say that MIT has not become less than it was before this Fall.

Abraham Bauer ’17, President of Queer West

Anna Kazlauskas ’19, President of G@MIT

Szabolcs Kiss ’18, President of Affiliated