The Senior House decision: Chancellor Barnhart responds
In the two weeks since we shared with Senior House students our plan for next year, I have received many messages from the MIT community, and stayed in regular contact with student leaders from Senior House, Dormcon, and the UA. I am listening, as I have tried to do throughout this entire process. And I am grateful to everyone for keeping the lines of communication open.
I’m writing because many of the concerns people are bringing to me are based on inaccurate information and a misunderstanding of what brought us to this point. What I find most troubling are the accusations that this is somehow intended as an attack on vulnerable populations or on students’ ability to self-govern. This decision is about one thing: providing every MIT student with a safe environment.
I want to be clear about a few more things:
- Our June 12 decision was not about graduation rates, and it was not about survey results. It was about the specific actions and behaviors of Senior House residents at a time when they were ostensibly committed in good faith to a turnaround process. Throughout this past year, we invested time, energy, and resources into supporting Senior House students while trying to address behaviors that cross dangerous lines. These efforts were undermined and trust was broken when we learned this spring that unsafe and unhealthy activities persisted. We faced an unacceptable dynamic: Individuals took actions that were dangerous, unhealthy for themselves and their environments, and seriously violated MIT policies, and the Senior House community knew about and accepted these dangerous activities and behaviors.
- To protect students’ privacy, we do not want to publicly disclose the specifics of the actions in question. We shared with the Senior House community the information that led to the decision, and we discussed with them the possibility that students would be required to move out. I have been asked if having all Senior House students move out and participate in a selective return process is unfair. It isn’t unfair given the facts of this situation and the collective community’s unwillingness to work toward the turnaround’s goals. In 2017-2018, Senior House will be a different community consisting of a mix of first-year students, New House residents, and Senior House students who were not involved in or accepting of the dangerous actions that occurred during the turnaround.
- Pilot 2021 has been called a secret scheme to impose freshman-only housing everywhere and the beginning of a campaign to homogenize dorm culture. It’s neither. Here’s what it is: a one-year solution designed to prevent crowding in other residence halls and connect first-year students to features that students have repeatedly asked for, like more interaction with faculty. Pilot 2021 is optional – students living in Senior House next year are free to take advantage of the program’s opportunities, or not. They should also be free to define for themselves what their own living experience will be and what matters to them. This is foundational to MIT’s unique residential system, and it’s something that students and alumni should all respect.
At this point, my focus is to make sure current Senior House students move with their friends to new communities and have the support they need. We have set up a relocation team to offer personalized assistance, and we are working with all undergraduate heads of house on the moves. MIT is fortunate to have residence halls that are welcoming to all students from all backgrounds. I am confident that we will find Senior House students new communities where they can feel at home.
Cynthia Barnhart SM ’85, PhD ’88