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MIT Better World

This choose-your-own-adventure approach has shaped MIT’s unique undergrad residential culture: the distinct character and lore of each dorm or group and the affinity its members feel; and the connections forged among students of different years, and even with live-in faculty and grad students, that can only come from the day-to-day business of sharing a home. Spectrum asked five undergraduates and three house staff for an inside view of their living communities.

The Undergrads

Lisbeth Acevedo Ogando ’19
Course 4 (Architecture)
Resident, Burton Conner

Chukwunenye Anagbogu ’18
Course 2 (Mechanical Engineering)
Resident, Chocolate City

Dominic Hansford ’17
Course 15 (Management) and Course 18 (Mathematics)
Resident, Sigma Chi fraternity

Alexis Oriole ’18
Course 18 (Mathematics) and 24 (Philosophy)
Resident, Simmons Hall

Cecilia Siqueiros ’19
Course 8 (Physics)
Resident, Women’s Independent Living Group (WILG)

The House Staff

Sandy Alexandre
Associate professor of literature
Associate head of house, East Campus

Fatima Hussain ’11
PhD candidate, Course 1 (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Graduate resident tutor, Maseeh Hall

Rob Miller ’95, MNG ’95
Professor of computer science and electrical engineering
Head of house, East Campus

Coming home

SIQUEIROS: WILG is a seven-minute walk from Lobby 7, but it gives me just the amount of space I need from school. It feels most like home when we get together for dinner six nights a week. We have women from so many different places and of many different majors and activities (for example, I’m part of the Asymptones, an a cappella group that sings fun and nerdy music). But when you come to dinner, everyone just feels like a friend.

ANAGBOGU: When choosing where to live, I was motivated more by the people than any other factor. At Chocolate City [a brotherhood of students who identify with urban culture], I’m surrounded by people who understand me on a level deeper than others on campus, and it truly feels like my home at MIT. Coming back to Chocolate City is one of the most cathartic things I feel in a day.

HANSFORD: I had heard through alumni that joining a fraternity would be beneficial to my overall experience at MIT. After going to Sigma Chi during rush, I knew instantly it was a good fit—there was a diverse range of interests, including athletic (squash and lacrosse have been a large part of my MIT experience). Over the past three years, after a long day at MIT, nothing was more enjoyable than crossing the bridge to come home to 532 Beacon Street. I tried to make a point of keeping campus a study-focused area, and the house a more living-focused environment.

ACEVEDO: What makes Burton Conner feel most like home is how inviting everyone is. It becomes such second nature to bounce around between suites that my friends and I joke that we spend more time in each other’s suites than our own.

ORIOLE: One stereotype is that Simmons is very easy to get lost in, but I think that architecture is conducive to our sense of community—many lounges span two floors and some sections have short hallways that make it easier to get to know your neighbors.

ALEXANDRE: I wanted to put my fingers on the pulse of what’s going on with students at MIT, outside of the classroom, by joining a house team. Once you get tenure as a professor, I think you reach a sort of existential moment where you want to shape how exactly you situate yourself in the place that you may end up working in for the rest of your life. I felt like this opportunity would enhance my teaching in the classroom and enliven my experience of MIT through active participation in a vibrant community.

MILLER: Before I was faculty, I was an MIT undergraduate myself, and I lived at East Campus [EC]. So I have an affection for this particular dorm, and for how student-centric MIT’s housing system is in general. A crucial part of EC’s identity is user modifications. For example, we have a hall-wide stereo system, like a juke box, with a scrolling LED display in one of the lounges that tells you what song is playing.

HUSSAIN: I became a Maseeh GRT [graduate resident tutor] through a matching process: you interview at multiple dorms and rank them, and they rank you. What I like most about Maseeh is the inclusive environment. Our motto says it all: “Be you with us.”

Making connections

ORIOLE: One of my favorite things about MIT housing is that freshmen and upperclassmen live together. I’m thankful that as a freshman I got to know upperclassmen who were able to help me with my p-sets, talk to me about their majors, and be positive role models for me—and each year, I get to be that for the new class of freshmen.

ANAGBOGU: Members generally keep their doors open. When things get tough, bros are extremely responsive, from just listening to how you feel, to studying with you, or being the shoulder for you to lean on. When one of our members had a death in the family and was torn by it, the bros all stepped up to support him without hesitation.

SIQUEIROS: At WILG we have a designated “member at large” who looks for extra ways we can support each other. One semester, for example, she compiled a book of compliments so each member could see why other members liked us. We also have the sweetest GRT who is always inviting members to come chat with her if they need to vent or just want to hang out.

HUSSAIN: The GRTs lead weekly study breaks in our apartments, and I’d say 30 to 60 students usually come by. Leading up to the election, we watched and talked about the debates together. I have students from all over the world living together on my hall. It is always rewarding to see my students debate and learn from one another, not just about math and science, but also about how they see the world.

ALEXANDRE: I have no shame in plugging literature classes to EC students! And when I’m thinking about organizing events in the dorm, my impulse is to incorporate what I do professionally: read, interpret, analyze, and make meaning from artful language. This is not a literary example, but for instance: I was really enjoying a book called Gifts of Imperfection, and I figured I’d send out an email and see who would be interested in reading some of it out loud together over the course of a few weeks.

HANSFORD: Learning goes so far beyond the classroom—there are always classmates and upperclassmen at a fraternity who are more knowledgeable than you are in any given topic. Sigma Chi’s small house allowed everyone to get to know each other well. Brothers were willing to share their true opinions, opening me up to new viewpoints and ways of thinking.

Maurizio Diaz ’20 shows off the LEGO mural he created on his hallway at East Campus. Photo: Peter Gumaskas
Brothers at Sigma Chi. Photo: Peter Gumaskas

Stepping up to lead

ACEVEDO: As a floor chair for Burton 5, there are formal parts of my role, involving logistical things like outings and budgets. But my informal role is to go around to different suites and ensure everyone is engaged with what is happening on the floor, especially if they’re new, making it easier for people to feel like they are a part of something outside of academics.

ORIOLE: I’ve always been interested in house government and finding opportunities to help improve life in Simmons. I was previously the historian, and I’m currently the library chair and an associate advisor for freshmen. I’m also an intramural player on a number of Simmons sports teams, and I am the biggest fan of March Madness; I organize bracket tournaments and put the basketball games on the downstairs TV.

SIQUEIROS: Each WILG member has house chores each week, and we have Work Weeks in the fall and spring where we clean up the house for rush. We also have a large number of house government positions—house managers, food stewards, rush chairs, membership coordinators, social chairs—each one essential to the well-being of the house.

ANAGBOGU: I think that helping promote and protect the organizations that you participate in is paramount to securing their future success. I’ve served as a co-chair for Chocolate City, a member on the renovation committee for New House [in which Chocolate City is located], and New House’s security chair. When not an officer, I like to advise others and contribute to discussions about important decisions.

MILLER: I think I had forgotten since my student days how incredibly organized East Campus is, what a committed core of students it has who are willing to put their time into big daring projects like the roller coaster, or making Campus Preview Weekend a fantastic experience, or just keeping their hall communities friendly and fun. You have to picture 30 or 40 siblings living together who mostly love each other, and occasionally get on each other’s nerves. But they are very good at resolving their own conflicts. Taking responsibility for leading your hall or your dorm builds a lot of intellectual courage in our students, a lot of autonomy. I think it really prepares them for being the leaders out in the world that people are going to expect MIT alumni to be.