GSC Statement on 70 Amherst St./Senior House

We, the GSC Officers, were first made aware of the Senior House/70 Amherst St. situation just before the decision was publicly announced. The Administration had already made the decision to convert the dorm into graduate housing before the GSC was ever consulted. The ongoing New House renovations had already used up nearly all of the flex space in the undergraduate housing system, and the previously-announced plan to move existing Senior House residents out of the building and allow them back through a rigorous application process had led to additional crowding in undergraduate buildings. The decision to remove all undergraduates from Senior House meant a further shortage of undergraduate housing, so the Administration also informed us that some 21+ juniors and seniors would be moved to graduate student dorms, though the number of students and which dorms would be impacted were still unknown.

The rapid rollout of the decision and its immediate impact on already-open housing lotteries did not allow time for productive discussion about the decision itself. However, the Administration did ask us for feedback about how these decisions would be implemented moving forward. Seeking to make the best of what we can all agree is an unfortunate and difficult situation, we involved ourselves in constant, almost daily, meetings with administrators, including the Chancellor and the Vice President for Student Life. We invested considerable time explaining graduate student concerns about proposed actions and advocating for graduate students. As such, we were successful in making the rollout better for graduate students. In particular, we addressed the following:

  • We advocated for rent in 70 Amherst St. to be as low as possible for graduate students. This was based on several considerations. First, as expressed in point 16 of the GSC’s Policy Platform, the GSC is committed to the affordability of student housing. Second, the amenities (shared bathrooms and kitchens) provided in the community are generally less attractive to graduate students than those provided in other on-campus residences. Third, the Administration provided incentives for undergraduates to move to graduate housing, and we argued that graduate students should also be compensated for moving to alleviate the undergraduate housing crowding issue. Finally, we stressed that the graduate students moving into the new dorm were taking on additional uncertainty by signing up for a new community without a graduate dorm government, which may have a significant effect on their living experience.
  • To ensure that no graduate students were disadvantaged in the lottery process for 70 Amherst St., we insisted that the administration open the application process to current graduate students living on-campus or off-campus and recommended that they extend the graduate housing lottery deadlines to do so.
  • We insisted that graduate dorm governments be informed and consulted about potential plans to place undergraduates in their communities. It is our understanding that Heads of House have been involved in major decisions from the beginning, but the graduate dorm governments were not initially involved as they should have been.
  • In order to promote the formation of a community at 70 Amherst St., we proposed that the new dorm contain a critical mass of returning graduate students (~20%) and that dorm government elections be held during the fall term. Moreover, we have the Administration’s assurance that they will provide resources and support for the new 70 Amherst St. community, particularly for Orientation and before the new government is established.
  • We proposed the formation of an ad-hoc working group (Working Group on Graduate Communities), in which the Administration has agreed to participate. This working group will work to support the community at 70 Amherst St. as well as the graduate dorm governments of residences that take in undergraduates. The proposed membership of this working group includes GSC Officers, members of the GSC’s Committee on Housing and Community Affairs, graduate dorm leaders, incoming 70 Amherst St. residents, and students at-large. Administration participation is likely to include Associate Dean for Residential Life and Dining Naomi Carton and Kristen Covino, former Associate Head of House for Senior House and the new Head of House for 70 Amherst St.
  • We have asked for and received additional meetings with Housing to receive updates on lotteries and student placements. We will continue to press for increased transparency and student involvement throughout the assignment process.

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) is disappointed that the MIT Administration chose not to include undergraduate or graduate students in the decision to convert the undergraduate residence Senior House into the new graduate residence 70 Amherst St. While we understand the Administration has made what they believe to be the best choice for MIT, this decision was a rapid reversal of their previous plan to address perceived issues in Senior House with new undergraduate residents and an application process for returning students. While the GSC has appreciated being involved in the implementation process after the initial decision was made, we are so far dissatisfied with the communication provided to graduate students about the decision and what it will mean for undergraduate and graduate students. It is understandable that not all our questions have answers yet, as decisions are still being made, housing allocations are still in flux, and the Division of Student Life, particularly Housing, has been inundated with additional work to support the transition. However, this does not excuse the delayed notification of all undergraduates and the so far limited information provided to graduate students. We strongly urge the Chancellor’s Office to increase their communication with students and provide updates and opportunities for students to ask questions.

While the Administration generally includes students in their decision-making processes, this is the second high-profile example in just a few months where this has not been the case. The GSC and UA were also not consulted in the decision to eliminate the Deans for Undergraduate and Graduate Education when the new Vice Chancellor role was announced. We would like to note that we have so far enjoyed working with the new Vice Chancellor on our priorities for professional development and advising. However, education for undergraduates and graduate students is different, and it is inherently challenging for one individual to balance the two. Moreover, it is our understanding that the search for a Vice Chancellor was prompted by the need to think more strategically about the future of education at MIT, an effort that was previously limited by Administration bandwidth. We strongly believe there is sufficient work to support both a Vice Chancellor and separate Deans for Undergraduate and Graduate Education, and we are disappointed that the rationale behind this decision was not adequately explained to students.

Even though we understand that sometimes decisions have to be made quickly or with some degree of confidentiality, we believe there should be increased student involvement from the earliest stages of the decision-making process. As always, the GSC will continue to interface closely with the Administration, building upon our existing collaboration and continuing to promote the interests of graduate students. We expect that more concrete information about Senior House/70 Amherst St. will be provided soon,  including updates on undergraduates moving into graduate dorms. Given this temporary arrangement, it is our position that the operation of graduate residences such as community rules and support for house activities will remain unchanged, and, at the same time, we hope that the new undergraduate residents will be welcomed by the graduate community.

Finally, the high demand for rooms in 70 Amherst St. indicates the pressing need for more affordable housing for graduate students. We look forward to working with the Administration to take prompt action to address this need.

 

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