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September 11, 2017 1:39 PM   Subscribe

The demise of Senior House is emblematic of a larger shift on campuses across the US. Last year my own alma mater, Wesleyan University, closed down its countercultural house Eclectic, which had existed for a century. A few years ago Caltech kicked students out of its countercultural dorm Ricketts. “If it were just Senior House I would be upset and sad,” says alumna Christine Corbett Moran, an astrophysicist and engineer who, after graduation, helped write the code for the encrypted chat app Signal. “But I really see it as a harbinger of MIT and other colleges homogenizing and corporatizing.”A Weird MIT Dorm Dies, And A Crisis Blooms At Colleges (Emily Dreyfuss, Wired)
posted by Room 641-A (94 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
The questionnaire, the Healthy Minds Survey, was administered by the University of Michigan. Many schools around the country give it to students as a way to pinpoint problems on campus and decide how best to allocate resources. When MIT administered it in 2015, they told students that it was a confidential survey intended to help them. One of the chancellor’s assistants who had lived in Senior House when she was an undergraduate went to Senior House and specifically requested that the residents take it. They did, in large numbers.

What they didn’t know—and what they couldn’t have known from reading the consent form that accompanied it—was that MIT had embedded metadata that allowed the administration to pinpoint the location of those filling out the questionnaire, enabling them to segment the results by dorm. The only question about dorm type in the survey was vague—“What kind of dorm do you live in? Small, large, off campus?”—but by tracking the metadata, Barnhart and the administration were able to see exactly where respondents lived.

It was this data that enabled Barnhart to see what she called a troubling hot spot of drug use. “If it wasn’t a direct violation, it was at least a violation of the spirit of informed consent,” Johnson says.


That's some bullshit. Also bullshit is the part where they contacted parents. That might not contradict the letter of the law under FERPA, but it certainly is against the spirit of it.
posted by zabuni at 2:11 PM on September 11 [48 favorites]


This was a sad read for me. The best summer of my life was as a high school student in an elite summer program, living in East Campus and hanging out with some folks from Senior House. There were some incredible murals around, and I learned important life lessons such as:
- how to play soccer with a flaming tennis ball
- not to set off dry ice bombs in the beach volleyball court without a hockey stick, safety goggles, and a good alibi for the campus police
- How to set off Coffeemate fireballs in a stairwell
- burning chunks of magnesium, sprayed with liquid oxygen from a repurposed fire extinguisher
- that you can take high school kids on top of the small dome but the big dome is varsity level
- what the sunrise looks like from the top of the Green building (beautiful)
- that you start hallucinating after not sleeping for 5 days

I can't say anything at all about whether Senior House was a haven or a drug-infested hellhouse; I assume both. I actually chose not to attend MIT because, as much as I really wanted to be drawn into the East Campus/Senior House culture, I was pretty sure I'd overdo it and I'd never learn how to be part of "normal" society. So I decided to be normal instead. It was a hard decision. I don't think I regret it, but this story certainly twanged some nostalgia.
posted by telepanda at 2:12 PM on September 11 [38 favorites]


This seems not even at all relevant to the educational landscape in which I work. I really, really wish that magazines hired people who went to public universities nearly as often as they hired people who went to elite private institutions, because I bet they'd cover higher ed really differently.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:16 PM on September 11 [41 favorites]


Don't miss this key paragraph, explaining how MIT gathered the data that they used to justify shutting down Senior House -- they used metadata from a supposedly confidential mental health survey to pinpoint survey respondents.

"The questionnaire, the Healthy Minds Survey, was administered by the University of Michigan. Many schools around the country give it to students as a way to pinpoint problems on campus and decide how best to allocate resources...What they didn’t know—and what they couldn’t have known from reading the consent form that accompanied it—was that MIT had embedded metadata that allowed the administration to pinpoint the location of those filling out the questionnaire, enabling them to segment the results by dorm. The only question about dorm type in the survey was vague—“What kind of dorm do you live in? Small, large, off campus?”—but by tracking the metadata, Barnhart and the administration were able to see exactly where respondents lived."

Word from UMich (where the survey was initially designed) is that when the scope of the metadata issue was discovered, the UMich ethics board flagged it and the UMich researchers removed the both the metadata and residence information from their survey. As for the MIT ethics board ... apparently they had no problem with the secret metadata collection and concomitant lack of informed consent. It's troubling to say the least.
posted by ourobouros at 2:16 PM on September 11 [44 favorites]


Star Simpson, Aaron Swartz, Senior House (not entirely for the decision, but the way this went down). MIT's administration is a complete garbage fire.

Which is, well, what university administration isn't? But they have the unmitigated gall to promote themselves as having a reputation they have consistently failed to even aspire to live up to for at least a decade now.

The incredible bullshit over what was done with the survey to track respondents and then disclose that information, in aggregate, to parents is a giant warning sign that efforts to roll back IRB requirements for social science and survey-based research are a phenomenal mistake. That anyone could consider that to be ethical behavior is mind boggling. That any student at MIT would ever fill out so much as a course evaluation form knowing they did this is astonishing.
posted by zachlipton at 2:19 PM on September 11 [21 favorites]


Jesus fuck. I'm having trouble figuring out why they would need to run a creepy violating survey to justify this decision, since all you had to do to confirm rampant drug use at Senior House was to go to Senior House.

I'm also truly surprised people in Senior House filled out the survey honestly, or didn't game it in some way.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:20 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Who's to say they even filled out the survey? If the survey administrators are willing to secretly identify respondents I wouldn't put it past them to just make up results.
posted by dilaudid at 2:23 PM on September 11 [11 favorites]


Star Simpson, Aaron Swartz, Senior House (not entirely for the decision, but the way this went down). MIT's administration is a complete garbage fire.

They've been a garbage fire since at least the late 90s, when they realized settling civil suits and indemnifying themselves against all liability was cheaper than providing adequate mental health services or social supports. Instead IHTFP is on every class ring. Still is, AFAIK.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:24 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


I was in a 'weird' group/living situation in college that also died/ was killed because of drug stuff etc. On the one hand, it is understandable that the school cannot knowingly tolerate the liability of illegal stuff in their dorms. However, they're clearly failing a group of their students that need to find a community.

IMO the problem is largely self-inflicted. Requiring students to live on campus for four years, as MIT and some other elite schools do, is a huge mistake. It keeps students living apart from the local community, not learning to live independently as adults, plus it is probably a cost burden on lower income students. And it greatly expands the scope of the school's disciplinary reach and responsibility.
posted by ghharr at 2:25 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


But the off-campus frat-house rape factories are cool generally in the eyes of campus administrators...
posted by praemunire at 2:25 PM on September 11 [9 favorites]


a confidential survey intended to help them
Well if that doesn't set off alarm bells . . . it should. Schools and businesses aren't democracies and they aren't your friends. You should be careful interacting with them.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:26 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


schadenfrau: "IHTFP "

TIL
posted by chavenet at 2:26 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


it is probably a cost burden on lower income students

Nope. As a lower-income student, having your on-campus housing and a 21-day meal plan rolled into costs and covered by scholarship is by far the safest way to go. I had lots of financial worries at my school, but not (except over vacations) where my next meal was coming from.
posted by praemunire at 2:27 PM on September 11 [27 favorites]


Well, this is surreal to see on the Blue. I'm a Haus alum and still tapped into the student-and-alumni network of the EC/SH folk. So I've been aware of this mess for awhile.

I'm glad WIRED made the article fairly even-handed. Yes, the wellness survey metadata was bullshit and the admins should be rightfully called out on that. Thing is, Haus had been in the administration's crosshairs for years. Almost a decade ago, I was sitting in 4th WAR talking with people about what stupid thing we were going to have to fight the admins over next (at the time, dining plans. I found my old activist t-shirt from those days and the logo is bitterly prophetic.)

This entire thing was mishandled. Yes, the admins have been wanting to shut down EC/SH/Bexley/Random (Bexley also was closed recently) for years and homogenize culture; we've been arguing that point since forever. That said, from scuttlebutt that's alluded to in the article, the students weren't exactly not giving the admins ammunition. And then, to mix metaphors, someone pulled the pin and it was only a matter of time before something exploded in someone's face. In a really predictable, stupid manner.
posted by ultranos at 2:27 PM on September 11 [14 favorites]


It's what comes after the section zabuni and ourobouros quoted that got me:
Critics of the administration also took issue with the data purportedly showing Senior House had a relatively low graduation rate. Some worry it was based only on where students lived their freshman year, not taking into account that some people do switch dorms. Barnhart says the data accounted for this. When WIRED asked for access to the data to analyze the methods, the administration declined. More troubling to critics is that, based on the way the data was presented to the student body, it doesn’t appear to take into account that the students in Senior House tended to be marginalized in one way or another—and that those students tend to have a lower graduation rate. Barnhart says that the school took that into account as well, looking at marginalized groups in other houses. Again, it’s hard to judge who is correct without access to the raw data or detailed information about who and how it was analyzed.
The fact that an administration that had admitted to using ethically-unsound methods to effectively entrap students insists that we be asked to trust that they're totes ethical now sets off alarm bells.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:29 PM on September 11 [18 favorites]


Requiring students to live on campus for four years, as MIT and some other elite schools do, is a huge mistake

ghharr: MIT doesn't actually do that. On-campus housing is required for first year students only (and that rule is widely flouted by freshmen who "live" on-campus but spend most of their time at their FSILG or off-campus housing). I believe roughly half of students live off campus by their senior years.
posted by LegoForte at 2:31 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Requiring students to live on campus for four years, as MIT and some other elite schools do, is a huge mistake. It keeps students living apart from the local community, not learning to live independently as adults, plus it is probably a cost burden on lower income students

MIT only requires students to live in a on-campus housing their first year. MIT was popular among many lower-income students because it was less expensive. And one of the most important aspects of dorms like Senior House was that it formed a built in support group for students with students from all years, frosh through seniors.

I am extremely close with my college dormmates, mostly because I met them when I was 18 and lived with them until I graduated college.
posted by deanc at 2:33 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I believe roughly half of students live off campus by their senior years.

That's only true if you count MIT-recognized/sponsored FSILGs as "off campus."

Renting an off campus apartment as an undergrad isn't unknown, but it is far outside the norm, particularly since that isolates you from the people you will be working on your homework with
posted by deanc at 2:35 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I think it's also worth highlighting an important context to this, as The Atlantic did, that:
Senior House was known for housing many low-income, first-generation, and non-white students. Additionally, 40 percent of the Senior House community identified as LGBT, according to university data from the 2015-16 school year.
You can view the diversity data: it housed the highest percentage of under-represented minorities and nearly the highest percentage of those identifying as LGBT (which, for the purpose of this dataset, includes "unsure" and fill-in-the-blank answers).
posted by zachlipton at 2:37 PM on September 11 [33 favorites]


MIT was popular among many lower-income students because it was less expensive

Sorry, I meant that Senior House was less expensive than other dorms.
posted by deanc at 2:39 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


MIT doesn't actually do that. On-campus housing is required for first year students only (and that rule is widely flouted by freshmen who "live" on-campus but spend most of their time at their FSILG or off-campus housing). I believe roughly half of students live off campus by their senior years.

Ah, in the article it said "At MIT, since students live on campus all four years, this overreach is especially robust." but also mentioned that one of the students from Senior was living off campus, so I wondered. The university where I work mostly requires student to stay on campus for all of undergrad, and it bothers me.
posted by ghharr at 2:40 PM on September 11


MIT’s dismantling of Senior House is part of a nationwide trend on college campuses, a shift that places a premium on safety, orderliness, and minimal bad publicity above all.

But oh boy if you want to dismantle fraternities or kick male athletes who assault fellow students out, suddenly it's all administrative hand-wringing and endless defensive roars from alums with deep pockets. Some kinds of safety are clearly not at a premium.
posted by rtha at 2:42 PM on September 11 [66 favorites]


Wait, what the fuck!? Rickett's Haus (sp?) is dead!?

This explains everything. Now I know for certain that I'm definitely in the wrong timeline.

That place was epic. Oh my god, so much high weirdness, and we're not even talking about the random explosions or bizarre tradition of hurling empty (usually alcoholic) glass bottles at the roof for stress relief.

So, yeah, Rickett's wasn't exactly the model of mental hygiene but you're generally talking about the brightest and most creative of an institution like CalTech.

But one of the really valuable things that a student house like Rickett's provided was some slack. I know at least one person (and have heard of others) that managed to survive not being able to officially afford housing while attending CalTech by living in the nooks and crannies and relaxed attitude towards hacking systems at Rickett's.

The loss of these kinds of unique student housing and associations is a loss of fertile creative soil for us all.
posted by loquacious at 2:52 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


The university where I work mostly requires student to stay on campus for all of undergrad, and it bothers me.

I guarantee that if MIT transitioned to the sort of place where half the students lived in random off campus apartments, the graduation rate would collapse. It would make a difficult, isolating experience even moreso. And the proof is in the pudding: students CAN live anywhere they want after freshman year, and they choose to live either in dorms or school-sponsored FSILGs.

One of the weird aspects of MIT back in the 90s was the constant anxiety among administration and earnest student-government types was that the student body was "divided", whether it was dorms vs. fraternities, east campus vs. west campus, dorm vs. dorm-- people settled into a social circle/dorm/community and stuck with it. And this worked for lots of people, and they were happy with their experience. But the anxiety was that somehow the undergrads were enjoying an experience that they shouldn't have been enjoying, because they should have been having some other kind of experience other than they one they were having (when in fact they already made a choice given that they could have gone to any number of other colleges).

The closing of Bexley and SH can be seen in the context of a long ongoing project to make the MIT experience more of a homogenous, consistent one. I think that's fine for a small liberal arts college. Even some Ivy League schools can get away with that, but MIT was unique among top tier schools because of the student-driven culture and independence that was fostered, and the students did a good job of creating and managing their culture and support groups, even if it didn't result in a "unified" experience. I think even trying that will dilute the experience and be isolating, because you can't really form close bonds with 1000+ classmates: that only happens in communities of at most a couple hundred people (ie, the size of a dorm).
posted by deanc at 2:55 PM on September 11 [13 favorites]


This was a sad read for me.

For me too. I lost my virginity in Senior House in 1979, on a weekend visit to MIT while I was still in high school. I haven't thought about that weekend in decades. At the time, everyone I met in Senior House struck me as completely devoted to their own personal weirdness, and therefore impossibly cool.

Sometimes it seems like as time goes by, the world is methodically erasing all traces of my past. I hate nostalgia, but I can still feel myself turning into that old guy who mourns a freer time when he was young.

you can take high school kids on top of the small dome but the big dome is varsity level
Now I'm wondering which dome they took me to ...
posted by fuzz at 3:09 PM on September 11 [11 favorites]


They took me to Thunderdome. I left. Just me.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:52 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


Chancellor Barnhart says that parents, who were in many cases paying the bills, deserved to know what was going on with their children.

Uh huh.

I believe I've spotted the problem.
posted by mhoye at 4:18 PM on September 11 [17 favorites]


If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold out.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:26 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


Have we had a post on the Berkeley student coöps? I only ever visited them, and found the system fascinating. At the time the Dramatic Tale for Visitors was about the previous co-op in the same building, which had gone sour by the standards of almost everyone and been disbanded. Which could be taken as a prefigurement of this story, or not, depending on if you believe that either group was dangerous to its members; but even so, the building asset went back to the coöp system to become another self-governed household.
posted by clew at 4:44 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Hollywood movies led me to believe that these closures could have been prevented by throwing one big last party, to, I don't know, raise money or something.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:54 PM on September 11 [15 favorites]


Senior House alum here. I'm actually one of the most pro-administration people I know in my cohort -- I was a big supporter of mandatory freshmen-on-campus (instituted after a late 90's fraternity hazing death) when a lot of alums I know will never donate to MIT because of it. I always kind of thought that the complaints about "homogenization" and "corporatization" that I'd heard since I attended (late 90's) sounded like an ugly dogwhistle for "feminization" (there were a lot more women then than in previous eras). But now I have to reconsider all that after this decision and the way that it was handed down. First the announcement that Senior House would be reconstituted as a "pilot" program focused on career development, "wellness," and cooking with meal kits to which undergrads would have to reapply. Then the sudden decree that it would not be an undergrad dorm after all, with even the name erased and changed to "70 Amherst St." No communication with alums.

"Wellness." Puke. Speaking of puke, the concerns about the administration destroying Senior House go back at least to the 1990's renovation: "It's too clean. It doesn't feel like a place where you can get drunk and puke on a Thursday anymore." Seemed silly at the time, and I certainly appreciated the new central air conditioning -- but turns out they were sort of right.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:03 PM on September 11 [9 favorites]


MIT(*) considered harmful.

(*) And other schools.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:10 PM on September 11


Definitely a shame. And a big blow - both directly and as an indication of direction - to some of the things that have made MIT culture unusual and special.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:16 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Sounds like double-secret probation.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 5:31 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Does MIT have some sort of um yearly parade?
posted by mbo at 5:34 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I don't know much about MIT, but Senior House sounds like an amazing place. I spent some time at Michigan's weird, druggy, hippie co-op, and Senior House reminds me a lot of that (also the house in Real Genius, which I just saw for the first time last night). Not everyone is on the same wavelength, and I love that one of the quotes mentions how it's ok to be driven and also not know what you want to do with your life. God knows I can relate, even in my 30s. Students like that (like me) need a place where they can build community and be themselves. I can't see how I would have ever survived living in a regular dorm, and I'm sad to think of what will happen to the people who had to move out of Senior House.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:00 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


"We felt that we needed to do what we needed to do.” Well, that certainly sums up the creed of authoritarians everywhere.
posted by bitmage at 6:10 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


Don't forget what MIT did to Aaron Schwartz... they need to go away for good. They had a nice run.
posted by MikeWarot at 6:15 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Yeah, MIT just slipped a bit lower on my push to tour colleges with my high schooler list. We have some Haus friends who have long said that Boy would do well at MIT, especially were he with the Senior crew, but I guess weird genius isn't really MIT's thing now.

.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:17 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Authoritarian bodies are not your friends. Yes sometimes they will smile and offer a handshake but they are only your friend as long as they completely control you, and if you don't let them do that they will find a way to destroy you eventually.

So it is, and ever has been.

Oh BTW all colleges are by necessity authoritarian bodies. They could not be accredited otherwise.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:32 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


The way of life in the countercultural dorms they've been closing is just what I longed to experience when I graduated from high school—I'd had glimpses of that experience during summer programs living on college campuses, and I wanted to live that way. I would've gone to MIT or Caltech if I'd been planning to study anything more technical, but I wasn't. My alma mater turned out to have very little space for mad genius. I met some of my people in other ways, like in older dorms with radically intelligent working-class kids, or when I stayed there over the summer and was thrown into situations with other strange students, but there was nowhere that had anything like the mythical Real Genius experience.

RIP, weird campus spaces. I didn't even experience this and its erasure brings tears to my eyes.

.
posted by limeonaire at 6:33 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


Have we had a post on the Berkeley student coöps? Have we had a post on the Berkeley student coöps? I only ever visited them, and found the system fascinating. At the time the Dramatic Tale for Visitors was about the previous co-op in the same building, which had gone sour by the standards of almost everyone and been disbanded. Which could be taken as a prefigurement of this story...

Not the co-ops, but Bowles was the only dorm at Berkeley that had anything approaching an identity (and even that was tenuous at best and largely irrelevant because that's how Berkeley dorms are) and the university was first going to close it, then made it all freshmen and has since made it co-ed. It would in no way surprise me if there were good reasons to break it up as a dorm, but I remember some resentment brewing at the time. Really I mention this so I can talk about the bathrooms. There were toilets in one room and sinks and showers in another, down the hall, which is the oddest bathroom setup I've ever encountered.

Of course, having gone to Berkeley, I can't imagine actually having any identity associated with where you live, never mind years after you've graduated. I think people in the co-ops felt some ties to their co-op while they were there, but years later? All that's kind of ironic given the length of this comment.

Actually... could the co-op story you're thinking of be about the co-op that became Evans Manor, which is an SRO and not a co-op, but is certainly a disbanded co-op.
posted by hoyland at 6:45 PM on September 11


I spent some time at Michigan's weird, druggy, hippie co-op

This could be any one of a dozen places, at least during my time at Michigan.
posted by Orlop at 6:49 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


...which I see now was before you were born. Carry on.
posted by Orlop at 6:51 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


The anarchist poet Hakim Bey coined a term for these spontaneous bubbles of fertile weirdness: the Temporary Autonomous Zone. One of the defining features of a TAZ is that, because it exists as a kind of spiritual insurgency within the confines of larger structural powers, it can last only as long as it goes unrecognized. There is some optimism intrinsic to the concept; while a given TAZ will almost inevitably fizzle out or succumb to active suppression, its elements will dissipate and persist in the environment. More TAZ will form elsewhere. It is the natural lifecycle of the bohemian enclave.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:57 PM on September 11 [12 favorites]


mbo: Does MIT have some sort of um yearly parade?

May I have ten thousand marbles please?
posted by dr_dank at 7:01 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


This seems not even at all relevant to the educational landscape in which I work. I really, really wish that magazines hired people who went to public universities nearly as often as they hired people who went to elite private institutions, because I bet they'd cover higher ed really differently.

Yeah. For undergrad, I went to a small private college that required students to live on campus for all four years. Now, however, I teach at an open-enrollment commuter institution, and a lot of these problems sound really, I dunno, self-indulgent? I mean, I understand that Senior House had a diverse population and served as a support system, but on the other hand, a lot of my students who work one or more jobs and who make use of the food pantry on campus might not have a whole lot of sympathy for people who have lost a place to have a bacchanalia.

The anarchist poet Hakim Bey coined a term for these spontaneous bubbles of fertile weirdness: the Temporary Autonomous Zone.


Funny, I thought this was something he invented to justify sexually assaulting minors.
posted by dhens at 7:07 PM on September 11 [13 favorites]


I was visiting Hillegass/Parker, which replaced the second of the two BSC coops to be closed down for endogenous reasons.
posted by clew at 7:21 PM on September 11


@SecretAgentSockpuppet: FWIW, there's still East Campus and Random Hall.
posted by watermelon at 7:25 PM on September 11


Funny, I thought this was something he invented to justify sexually assaulting minors.

Yikes. Milkshake duck strikes again.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:32 PM on September 11 [12 favorites]


Now, however, I teach at an open-enrollment commuter institution, and a lot of these problems sound really, I dunno, self-indulgent? I mean, I understand that Senior House had a diverse population and served as a support system, but on the other hand, a lot of my students who work one or more jobs and who make use of the food pantry on campus might not have a whole lot of sympathy for people who have lost a place to have a bacchanalia.

Maybe we could try assuming that all young people deserve a certain level of support and, ideally, encouragement to develop their identities outside of the strict regimentation of Career Preparation, rather than pitting them against each other? The race to the bottom here serves no one's interest, at least no one worth caring about.
posted by praemunire at 7:42 PM on September 11 [21 favorites]


Now, however, I teach at an open-enrollment commuter institution, and a lot of these problems sound really, I dunno, self-indulgent?

I went to community college for many years before going to a public university (where I am now), and I do sort of resent that I never got to have this kind of experience as a student (my brief stint at a UofM co-op was actually not related to school at all). One of the things I've been thinking about since I watched Real Genius was that I would never have been able to afford to build a little beach for a party, or buy liquid nitrogen or custom electronics. One of the things I thought about when I was reading this article was that I've never been in a situation where I could throw a bacchanalia. It's all the fun stuff I was never able to do.

I still feel sympathy for them. They were able to have a college experience I want people to have, and I don't think it's self-indulgent to be sad that they've lost their community, even if I was never able to get that experience myself, and even if their lifestyle was one I can't relate to. If anything, I feel a sense of commonality with the students at this kind of a dorm more than with probably anyone else at MIT. For all that a school like MIT is exclusive and classist, it sounds like this was the place where people from marginalized backgrounds could build a community and succeed. I've experienced food insecurity as a student, and I've been a working student for most of my academic career. I've struggled with all kinds of problems as a student. I've known homeless students and recovering addicts. I want people I can relate to to go to schools like MIT, and I want to know that when they get there, they'll be able to succeed. I think focusing only on the aspects of this dorm that sound excessive overlook the parts that really mattered.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:42 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


I spent some time at Michigan's weird, druggy, hippie co-op

Was it the Joint House aka James R. Jones House aka Ella Baker Graduate Co-operative?
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:53 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Maybe we could try assuming that all young people deserve a certain level of support and, ideally, encouragement to develop their identities outside of the strict regimentation of Career Preparation, rather than pitting them against each other? The race to the bottom here serves no one's interest, at least no one worth caring about.

I am certainly not a proponent of a race to the bottom, and I am a big opponent of the idea of higher ed as career prep (please do not tell my employer that I said that). I am also opposed to the very shady way in which the survey data were collected and then used. On the other hand, when lots of schools that disproportionately serve underprivileged populations are starved of money or on the verge of closure, and don't get loving elegies in big name publications, problems like this seem a bit less important in the grand scheme of things. As ArbitraryAndCapricious said earlier in the thread:

I really, really wish that magazines hired people who went to public universities nearly as often as they hired people who went to elite private institutions, because I bet they'd cover higher ed really differently.

posted by dhens at 8:00 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


but on the other hand, a lot of my students who work one or more jobs and who make use of the food pantry on campus might not have a whole lot of sympathy for people who have lost a place to have a bacchanalia.

Sure. Do you think they would have any sympathy for the main student profiled in the piece, who lost a place that would support her in kicking out an abusive partner?

please everybody don't use those less privileged than yourself as mouthpieces for disdain you don't know that they feel, and that you could just as easily express in your own voice. I personally went to a shitty state school and even though I'm not a very nice person, I don't have that much trouble having human feelings for miserable lonely 18-22-year-olds.* You don't have to be an effete Empathy Studies major from Wesleyan or Wellesley to have an imagination. even commuters can do it.

(*) just as long as they're not from Harvard, of course. we all have standards.

also people who are able to go to college of any kind, even god forbid a commuter school, have a hard road ahead if moral superiority based on life difficulties is important to them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:00 PM on September 11 [17 favorites]


The countercultural stuff where I went to school was mostly off campus in group houses which had quite stable identities from year to year even as people came and went. Those places gave community to people who wanted that and had some good parties.

But I also recall how many people crossed the line from recreational user to having a serious drug problem. And it was an open secret that some of the houses were pretty date rapey, among other sordid things.

So I get why schools don't always see these places, on or off campus, as worth supporting and nurturing. Now, if like frats the counterculture places had rabid alumni who donated in large numbers, they'd have protection, but that's not how they operate.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:34 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


When MIT administered it in 2015, they told students that it was a confidential survey intended to help them. One of the chancellor’s assistants who had lived in Senior House when she was an undergraduate went to Senior House and specifically requested that the residents take it. They did, in large numbers.

This smells like a planned hit from the get.

You don't send your own assistant to Senior House -- an assistant uniquely qualified to inspire trust in the residents of Senior House -- in order ensure a high response rate unless you need that response rate to justify some action you're determined to do no matter what.

And I doubt it had jack to do with drugs.

MIT students are big into protest -- from Black Lives Matter to fossil fuel divestment and everything in between -- and my guess is Senior House is an organizing hub for every protest, and Chancellor Barnhart is determined to put an end to that.
posted by jamjam at 8:38 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


Sadie Dupuis (Sad13 / Speedy Ortiz) was a Senior Haus resident and had thoughts about its closure when it was first broached in June.

The transformation of undergrad high-tier academia into Nice Polite Institutions That Don't Piss Off Alumni & Corporate Donors is definitely a thing. I've seen that happen at my own alma mater -- the staff, who are the most enduring and beloved presence, told me at my last reunion about how everything was much more regimented and result-driven and gritted-teeth than 20 years ago. (Verbatim: "It's not as fun any more.") I just think about how the potential disapprovers (especially the boomers) were probably off their tits for most of their undergrad years.
posted by holgate at 9:10 PM on September 11 [17 favorites]


I should really check to see if my residence has scrapped frosh week yet.

I think the winner of the TV managed to stand on that cement pillar for 36 hours.
posted by Yowser at 9:32 PM on September 11


Was it the Joint House aka James R. Jones House aka Ella Baker Graduate Co-operative?

I vaguely remember Ella Baker, but I don't think I knew anyone there. I was at Black Elk.

The transformation of undergrad high-tier academia into Nice Polite Institutions That Don't Piss Off Alumni & Corporate Donors is definitely a thing.

This affects public universities too. A couple years ago, one of my professors started her first lecture of the semester by saying "I've been here long enough that I've seen this go from being a public university to a corporate one." She was totally right.

I think there's also a broad shift in how people think about what colleges should be, and that's driving a lot of these decisions, too. There's a lot more emphasis on what will make people good employees, and stuff like houses where you can paint the walls are seen as frivolities that don't contribute anything to that goal of making a fine workforce.

I absolutely see that at my university, but I saw it at CC too; while I was there, the administration made sweeping changes to try to get people more focused on transferring to 4-year schools. Which sounds great, until you remember that a lot of the people who go to CC actually just want a AA degree, and a lot of people just want to take affordable classes. In practice, it meant that you could only take a class once if you passed it; if you withdrew or didn't pass, you only got three attempts. I was in the music department, and we had people in ensembles who had been there for 10 years, who were suddenly being told to get out. We had people struggling to pass, who were being told to get out.

On the one hand, the school bragged about becoming more well-respected. On the other hand, we lost a lot of students. As a professor-friend of mine put it "they're taking the community out of community college."

I don't know if this is too much of a derail, but I just wanted to mention it, because I can't help but think that making schools into Nice Places goes in hand with taking everything out of education that doesn't directly translate to job skills.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:34 PM on September 11 [13 favorites]


who lost a place that would support her in kicking out an abusive partner?

I'd like to believe that this is a false choice. That Housing & Dining, and Student Mental Health can accommodate an immediate need to split up two roommates, without also condoning on-campus cocaine parties or myriad other shennanigans. This belief, naturally, is undermined by public unis like UofO deciding that FERPA regulations supercede HIPPAA, and may review the records of women accusing basketball players of rape.
posted by pwnguin at 9:37 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I always admired the weird pockets of nerdom at MIT. I lived in my fraternity, but I worked in the Media Lab and had friends scattered everywhere. I tended to connect more with Beast and Bex than Senior House, but boo to scrubbing out the weird zones. Man, let's just say - if it weren't for on campus housing / FSILG - my very very poor self wouldn't have had a chance in hell of surviving/paying for MIT - as it was I largely managed to stay at MIT thanks to the support of my fraternity both monetarily [aka rent free until post college] and educationally. Same for so many others around the place, but MIT always has had a war between the military industrial corporate side of the house and the genius for genius sake side of it.
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:41 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, when lots of schools that disproportionately serve underprivileged populations are starved of money or on the verge of closure, and don't get loving elegies in big name publications, problems like this seem a bit less important in the grand scheme of things

Well...I didn't go to MIT, but I did go to one of its peer institutions, and it's reasonably likely that, if I had gone there, I would've ended up in one of the "alternative" housings like Senior House. I was too poor to go home for most holidays, poor enough to struggle to get sufficient clothing each term, poor enough to find the mandatory meal plan a relief rather than a redundancy. How many righteous men people like me would need to be at a place like that for you to consider its closure worth caring about? Or what's the minimum percentage of queer kids that would need to be living there for you to think it might be a loss?

You are literally being suckered into the same game of divide-and-conquer as poor white folks who think they have to fight minorities for scraps off capitalism's table. Not as progressive as you might think.
posted by praemunire at 10:45 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


Well, this is surreal to see on the Blue.

And how. I've mourned the Haus in stages, as the news has hit, but I didn't expect to be able to leave a '.' for it. Now I'm wondering which of you I know better by Athena username than by MeFi pseudonym.

I'm also truly surprised people in Senior House filled out the survey honestly, or didn't game it in some way.

They honestly wanted better mental health support services, and were encouraged by the then co-housemaster (who might have been a recent ex-co-housemaster by that point) to view the survey as a means towards that end. As detailed in the article, the survey also appeared more anonymous than it was. I'm not that surprised that some students figured it really was a low-risk way to draw attention to an area MIT was failing them. Pretty much everyone in the East Side dorms and FSILGs knew plenty of people who were struggling with mental health issues, and while MIT's Mental Health services were surprisingly decent in some ways when I was there, they were by no means perfect. Things I've heard from more recent/current students make it sound like the stigma associated with seeking help from MIT Mental Health has increased while accessibility has decreased.

[A] lot of my students who work one or more jobs and who make use of the food pantry on campus might not have a whole lot of sympathy for people who have lost a place to have a bacchanalia.

Quite a few of the students at Senior Haus were lower income. Many (most?) of the people I knew there had jobs of various sorts on top of schoolwork (including me), and living there/EC/Bexley/Random meant we could cook for ourselves and eat much more cheaply than any mealplan in a pricey West Campus dorm would have allowed. Many students were also LGBTQ+, minorities, etc., and faced an entirely different set of challenges. You'd be wrong to assume that none of them had any appreciation for how hard life off of MIT's campus can be/how lucky they were to be there, or to assume that the most lurid stories are correct and life at Senior Haus was non-stop bacchanalia (it wasn't, unless "working through lots of challenging problem sets," "cooking for the dinner coop you formed with friends," and "coming back tired and behind on your other work after an unexpectedly busy late night shift at your desk/lab/etc. job" are what you'd describe as bacchanalia). Some of what Senior Haus residents lost was the ability to come home to a community where they were not defined or limited by the fact that they were poorer or queerer or less white or less neurotypical (or yeah, just plain weirder) than many of their fellow MIT students. I wish your students could have that experience too; a supportive community can make a particularly big difference for students who are struggling with challenges that go beyond the coursework.

There absolutely are bigger problems elsewhere - I think we're all well aware of everything else that's happened in the world in the last year - and I don't think that any Senior Haus alum would claim the community was flawless. That doesn't mean that something isn't lost when communities like it are destroyed. I also do think it's reasonable to be concerned if elite institutions are making problematic decisions that disproportionately affect their underprivileged students or, more broadly, that make their campuses more homogeneous.

FWIW, there's still East Campus and Random Hall.

For now.
posted by ubersturm at 10:56 PM on September 11 [17 favorites]


I think there's also a broad shift in how people think about what colleges should be, and that's driving a lot of these decisions, too. There's a lot more emphasis on what will make people good employees

The arrival of tuition fees in the UK (where even high-tier institutions are public) has definitely contributed to that sentiment, along with mhoye's comment about parents paying [some of] the bills. The simultaneous transformation of deans and chancellors and senior administration into de facto C-suiters with a C-suite mindset -- mobile, global, headhunted, partial to MBAspeak -- factors in as well, while the faculty get ever more squeezed.

Even places of visible relative privilege that bake in certain distortions through their intake need to be able to accommodate nonconformity. For one, that's where a chunk of your faculty is coming from, the ones who don't see their degree as a transactional means to a job that will get them that house in the Hamptons. More importantly, homogenising the undergraduate experience into Product means you're going to select for consumers.
posted by holgate at 11:11 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Senior Haus seemed pretty unhealthy to me in the 90s, both from undergrads I knew and what I saw as a grad student. OTOH all of MIT was super mentally unhealthy. Still is, near as I can tell. As noted above "I Hate This Fucking Place" is the universal motto for undergraduates. It's meant wiht a bit of irony but it's also a lot true.

MIT undergrads are some of the most stressed out, unhappy college students I've known anywhere in the US. MIT students also has a high suicide rate. The mental health services the school provides have been inadequate. I don't think shutting down one dorm is going to fix the systemic problem the school has.

(Be sure to see this previously-on-Metafilter.)
posted by Nelson at 11:42 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


After years of trying they finally closed Eclectic huh? All of my alumni newsletters have been slick and increasingly shiny, filled with grinning preppie kids. That wasn't the Wesleyan I knew and loved.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:18 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


this brings to mind the old saying that the war on drugs is a war on consciousness - and i don't mean that it's just about society trying to eliminate altered states of consciousness caused by drugs

you could magically eliminate the drugs tomorrow and they'd find another way of targeting the consciousness

people knew this in the 60s - "we", for certain values of "we", aren't wanted

i do hope that they think of some decorative touches at 70 amherst street - perhaps tiki torches ...
posted by pyramid termite at 3:42 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


MIT students also has a high suicide rate. The mental health services the school provides have been inadequate. I don't think shutting down one dorm is going to fix the systemic problem the school has.

From tfa:
He points out that despite MIT’s high suicide rates—12.6 per 100,000 students in the years between 2010 and 2015 (the national collegiate average is 7.5)—Senior House hasn’t had a suicide in more than 20 years.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:08 AM on September 12 [8 favorites]


Another University of Michigan alum here (hello shapes that haunt the dusk, orlop).
In 1985-1987 I lived in East Quad, which was then the weird dorm, the one with strange people and drugs. It was awesome.
And then it started getting homogenized. We kept running into students who either said they'd asked to be placed in EQ and ended up in, say, South Quad (jock dorm), or students who hated the weird vibe and were placed in EQ after all. Apparently this continued for a while.

Anyone been a Michigan student lately to confirm or, hopefully, deny?
posted by doctornemo at 4:56 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


> "Anyone been a Michigan student lately to confirm or, hopefully, deny?"

Haven't been a student there since the mid-90's, but since the Residential College is still a thing, I think it's likely that there's at least a baseline minimum of weirdness. Certainly that was still the case ten years after you left.

The ICC co-ops had a stronger strain of weird/strange/drugs while I was there, though. On the other hand, "start in East Quad year one and two / move to the ICC co-ops year three and four" wasn't exactly an unheard-of path.
posted by kyrademon at 6:08 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Word from UMich (where the survey was initially designed) is that when the scope of the metadata issue was discovered, the UMich ethics board flagged it and the UMich researchers removed the both the metadata and residence information from their survey. As for the MIT ethics board ... apparently they had no problem with the secret metadata collection and concomitant lack of informed consent. It's troubling to say the least.

My wife does in-course student surveys and advises the profs she supervises to do them as well (to provide the opportunity for rescuing a derailing course) but she tells them to use Qualtrics, a private service, which doesn't require a login for the respondents because the students do not believe that the school's course management system, which requires a login, will actually keep their survey responses anonymous.
posted by srboisvert at 6:27 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


please everybody don't use those less privileged than yourself as mouthpieces for disdain you don't know that they feel, and that you could just as easily express in your own voice. I personally went to a shitty state school and even though I'm not a very nice person, I don't have that much trouble having human feelings for miserable lonely 18-22-year-olds.*
You know, I get that this is your schtick, so I'm not going to take it personally. But I spend all day feeling human feelings for 18-22-year-olds, some of whom are miserable and lonely and some of whom aren't but have other problems or issues they're dealing with. It's what I do for a living. And I can't remember the last time that my students' problems got 5000 words of loving coverage in a national magazine. There are interesting things going on with housing policy at my university which you're probably not going to read about anywhere, and you're certainly not going to read about in an article like this. I can't remember the last time I read anything about students like mine that felt like it was being written from the inside, like this does. At the very least, I wish that when writers looked for significance by talking about how things are indicative of larger trends on college campuses, that they'd think about which college campuses and what percentage of students attend those institutions and who is being left out of the conversation.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:57 AM on September 12 [10 favorites]


And I can't remember the last time that my students' problems got 5000 words of loving coverage in a national magazine.

This is one of those "if it's not about you, it's not about you" times. But if you insist, I remember these articles and felt they were very good:

http://www.salon.com/2011/03/07/teaching_at_community_college_open2011/

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/nyregion/raising-ambitions-the-challenge-in-teaching-at-community-colleges.html
posted by deanc at 7:44 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


This is one of those "if it's not about you, it's not about you" times.
I mean, that's one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that this is one of those shut up about Harvard times.

4% of American higher ed students attend schools that accept fewer than 25% of all applicants. Under 1% of American higher ed students attend schools that accept fewer than 10% of all applicants, such as MIT. Neither of the two articles you cite is recent, and one is six-and-a-half years old. I think you're making my case for me!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:54 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


without also condoning on-campus cocaine parties or myriad other shennanigans.

The linked-to Medium essay here got me thinking long and hard about something the author mentioned about the "libertarian ethos" of Senior House, and MIT in general, and she says that in a pejorative sense. Maybe the problems isn't "the administration" and the "corporatization of the university" (though both are problems) but that a lot of expectations on the part of the students are different.

Like that maybe the ideal environment nowadays isn't fantasies of spending downtime in your college dorm BS'ing about issues up until late at night or drinking away your stress on a Friday night with your fellow sufferers or experimenting with new experiences and ideas in an environment with few "real" consequences, but actually having a formal, structured supportive environment to come to terms with yourself, intellectually, personally, and morally. In this view, Senior House is less of a troublesome sore on MIT's public image than an anachronism from another age out of touch with the needs and realities of students and modern culture. You don't need these "unstuructured" student-driven community cultures when you have an infrastructure that already exists in universities to support people from all walks of life, and stepping outside them just seems like co-opting (appropriating?) subaltern cultures for the purpose of enjoying college. Not saying I agree with these ideas, but maybe the idea is that students want the support that comes from a formalized student community and counseling center rather than the sort of thing that comes from informal bonds and serendipitous interactions.
posted by deanc at 8:02 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


deanc: ...but maybe the idea is that students want the support that comes from a formalized student community and counseling center rather than the sort of thing that comes from informal bonds and serendipitous interactions.

That sounds sensible, but it seems that the students feel betrayed by this because they highly value those informal bonds, and the university has failed to create formal structures that could replace them.

I'm not sure if formal structures can replace what informal friendships provide, even if the formal structures were adequately funded. Sounds like they're not adequately funded, anyway, which makes this question moot in this situation.
posted by clawsoon at 9:26 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


Or, succinctly:
Who needs family when you can have social workers?
posted by kaibutsu at 9:40 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


The end of the party comes for us all, I think. I fondly recall the halcyon days of my undergrad years, when a freshman could walk down nearly any street in the student-rental quarter with a few bucks and weasel his/her way into a house party, scoring a Solo cup and as much beer as he/she could want.

Then a few years later when I was a junior or so, some of the younger crowd started getting the idea that rioting in the streets, flipping and burning cars and couches, and the like was A Thing especially when a sports team did well (or didn't do well). Which inevitably led to crackdowns, shortening and essentially eliminating the party that was Welcome Week, and generally sanitizing things.

Which was followed by razing the collection of unique quirky college town stores on the main drag, to be replaced by corporate chains and rentals that were out of the price range of anyone trying to foot their own bill through school (but plenty of wealthier moms and dads willing to put little Johnny into them to ensure he was close to class).

I hardly recognize the place now. This was a large midwestern state university. Crackdown on the old unique college culture is not exclusive to the private schools - it just took longer for them to get hit, apparently.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:59 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Those informal bonds can be a network for the rest of your life, while institutional support generally disappears the moment you leave college.
posted by tavella at 10:08 AM on September 12 [10 favorites]


It's been almost 20 years since I graduated, but at least then the idea that Ricketts was "the" countercultural house at Caltech is weird to me. There were at least 3 out of 7 houses that would fit that description at the time IMO (Blacker, Dabney, Ricketts).

Also, Ricketts is still there (according to the Facebook group anyway, and it was certainly there last time I stopped by a few years ago). It's had problems on and off --- we had a bad incident with fireballs when I was a student that resulted in, among other things, losing our firepot in the courtyard.
posted by thefoxgod at 11:51 AM on September 12


we had a bad incident with fireballs when I was a student

There's an ointment for that now.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:52 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


"Critics of the administration also took issue with the data purportedly showing Senior House had a relatively low graduation rate. Some worry it was based only on where students lived their freshman year, not taking into account that some people do switch dorms. Barnhart says the data accounted for this. When WIRED asked for access to the data to analyze the methods, the administration declined. More troubling to critics is that, based on the way the data was presented to the student body, it doesn’t appear to take into account that the students in Senior House tended to be marginalized in one way or another—and that those students tend to have a lower graduation rate. Barnhart says that the school took that into account as well, looking at marginalized groups in other houses. Again, it’s hard to judge who is correct without access to the raw data or detailed information about who and how it was analyzed."
This use of metadata is at most an edge case of plausibly questionable research ethics, but granting WIRED access to this data would be a hilariously ridiculous breach. Given that these are real statisticians we're talking about, I'm inclined to think they have some idea of how to appropriately isolate variables.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:20 PM on September 12


This use of metadata is at most an edge case of plausibly questionable research ethics

I'm no scientist, but I would personally consider a study that secretly tracked people admitting to illegal drug use down to their building of residence, then used that data to notify the research subjects' parents that their children live in a building with drug users to be an extremely egregious breach of research ethics to the extent that those responsible shouldn't ever be allowed to work with human subjects again. If that's what you're doing, just admit that it has nothing to do with actual research.

If you're going to ask people to admit to crimes for your research, it is blatantly wrong to secretly collect more personal data than subjects were aware of and to use the data against the stated preferences of your subjects. If the consent form included "by the way, we're going to track your responses back to your home, email the aggregate results to your parents, and then use your responses to make you move next year," do you think many students would have taken the survey?

I am serious. If I attended MIT right now and they did this, I wouldn't even trust them with a survey on the quality of the waffles in the dining hall.
posted by zachlipton at 2:34 PM on September 12 [9 favorites]


Hard to know for sure, but it's quite likely that this was not "human subjects research" in the technical sense, but fell under quality assurance and thus is subject to a different set of ethical norms and rules. (I can go into it if anyone's interested, but a primary distinction is in the intended use of the data - intention to use for campus planning vs. intent to publish and contribute to generalizable knowledge.)

Which is not at all to say that what they did was morally okay (I think it absolutely was not), but only that it might not be subject to the specific limitations one might expect for things like data sharing. Or to any kind of research ethics related sanction.
posted by Stacey at 2:48 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


I am serious. If I attended MIT right now and they did this, I wouldn't even trust them with a survey on the quality of the waffles in the dining hall.

The waffles were actually one of the best things they had.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:31 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


I get it, because a university should be able to ask students how the waffles were and whether their dorm is clean and such without that being considered human subjects research, but Elizabeth Glaser, a parent who investigated this situation is saying the data came from the Healthy Minds Study, a survey on mental health issues and services given to students at over 150 colleges and universities. The Tech describes how MIT sent an Excel to Michigan file of additional data to be linked with the responses, and that they were given back data on undergraduate/graduate status, department, school, and residence. Those variables were not included in the informed consent for the survey.

MIT's IRB apparently doesn't seem to care, but the University of Michigan IRB found that students weren't adequately informed to what information was being collected when they consented to participate in the study. Dr. Glaser concludes this was likely an oversight, that the researchers involved had good intentions and didn't realize the issues with the consent form. I can completely believe that. But MIT ultimately choose to use the data in this way despite the lack of consent.

And it's phenomenally damaging to an important study that asks pretty personal questions of students at 150 colleges, a study that is routinely used to justify the need for better campus mental health services, if students know their answers will be secretly linked with other data and used against them.

The waffles were actually one of the best things they had.

Do they come with the MIT seal built into the waffle iron? Because a certain other Cambridge institution has Veritaffles. (I had them once. There's a reason waffles don't normally have large flat areas in the middle.)
posted by zachlipton at 3:54 PM on September 12 [7 favorites]


These houses all seem like they have the same flaws and benefits as any frat, and if frat houses didn't have a ton of money behind them they'd all be gone. The idea that getting rid of places that are lovingly remembered as drug dens is a sign of rabid corporatization is laughable. And for all the arguments that "but I stayed there rent free for a decade so it's a social welfare thing" - maybe people who cared about making these things reliably available shouldn't have combined them inextricably with said drug dens?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:14 AM on September 13


I'm sad to see Senior House go.

These houses all seem like they have the same flaws and benefits as any frat, and if frat houses didn't have a ton of money behind them they'd all be gone.

I'll be waiting for you to present evidence that Senior House perpetuated rape culture at the same level as fraternities.

I didn't live in Senior House. I lived in Fenway House, which at the time was called an independent living group. During the time I was there the national fraternity sued Fenway House to regain control. It didn't work. The only result was that on paper Fenway House technically became a chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu with no real world effect. Fenway had money for defending bullshit lawsuits and maintaining the building but we weren't sitting on a huge pot of money and yet the house still exists.

Now I'm going to defend drug use by college kids. Most MIT students are adults. A college administration may have an interest in nudging their student population towards responsible drug use but using evidence of a coke deal to close Senior House is complete bullshit. If MIT's administration cared about the welfare of their undergraduates they would be looking for ways to change the entire institution's culture. A small percentage of undergrads lived at Senior House but a huge percentage of undergrads are stressed out and possibly not very happy. And finally after 30 years of the drug war we've gotten it into our heads that anything that authorities do to "fight drugs" is OK.

BTW this was mentioned somewhere upthread...

He points out that despite MIT’s high suicide rates—12.6 per 100,000 students in the years between 2010 and 2015 (the national collegiate average is 7.5)—Senior House hasn’t had a suicide in more than 20 years.

I think that Senior House had a population of 150 people so that factoid is not all that impressive.
posted by rdr at 4:10 AM on September 13


I've been trying to figure out how to "sport death" and I just can't.
posted by thelonius at 4:28 AM on September 13


He points out that despite MIT’s high suicide rates—12.6 per 100,000 students in the years between 2010 and 2015 (the national collegiate average is 7.5)—Senior House hasn’t had a suicide in more than 20 years.
I think that Senior House had a population of 150 people so that factoid is not all that impressive.


I posted that, in response to this:

MIT undergrads are some of the most stressed out, unhappy college students I've known anywhere in the US. MIT students also has a high suicide rate.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:42 AM on September 13


I'll be waiting for you to present evidence that Senior House perpetuated rape culture at the same level as fraternities

The RAs at Seniour Haus who would find a new freshman girl every year to "introduce" to "BDSM"

How does that work for you

Please leave the "nerds aren't misogynists" stuff out of this thread and any discussion about the real world, please
posted by schadenfrau at 4:49 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I've seen this story in alumni discussions from my school, too.

There was a similar, obviously much-lower-rent dorm at my big southern state school. It was founded in the 60s, and for most of its life existed as an independent organization that leased its building from the University, and functioned as a completely self-governing entity with varying levels of success.

On paper, it was the "Men's honors dorm." In reality, it was a de facto (and, eventually, de jure) co ed organization that attracted weird, smart students from all disciplines, most of whom probably would have rather matriculated elsewhere, and which obviously also threw legendary parties. I ended up going to this school -- my third choice, but the one that offered the most scholarship money -- largely because of the University honors program and this dorm. The choice holds up, 30 years later.

Why be coy? My posting history makes it clear I went to Alabama, and anyone from the area would know my former home was The Mallet Assembly.

Mallet is (walking) dead now. The university had always hated it for all sorts of reasons. Eventually, they evicted the organization from its longtime home and forced it to move into a different, shoddier dorm on the north side of campus because they needed to tear down the old one to build a frat house. (Not kidding.)

With the move came formal co-ed status (because the architecture would no longer force bathroom sharing), but a loss of some control. Then, of course, the new home was also slated for demolition, and now the much smaller survivors live in a set of university-owned apartments with little in the way of common space, and no real hope of survival as an organization.

This is one of many reasons I'll never give a dime to Alabama, and that I take perverse pleasure in knowing that I never have, even for tuition.
posted by uberchet at 12:32 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I think that Senior House had a population of 150 people so that factoid is not all that impressive.

Ah, well, Random is even smaller, and had two suicides while I was there, so I'm willing to give Senior House credit for not killing people.

(FWIW, neither of the suicides at Random were, in my estimation, fostered by house culture, but neither were they prevented by it. In both cases the proximate cause was arguably a fuckup on MIT's part, and those incredibly terrible responses to crises --- especially the extraordinary indifference in the case of Julie Carpenter --- leave me pretty unimpressed by any claims on MIT's part that they can improve campus culture with their ham-handed decisions.)
posted by jackbishop at 5:09 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


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