Campus Life

The first semester of Maseeh Hall

An insider’s look at the first few months of a new dorm

This summer, while filling out the housing lottery, I’ll admit that I was apprehensive about moving into the newest dormitory on campus. What would it be like? How would I even know if I would like living there? Questions like these raced through my mind, until I realized that my peers and I could seize this opportunity and have an impact on a new MIT community. We could pioneer original traditions, develop the culture, and leave a mark on the dorm. When Maseeh Hall opened in August 2011, a group of 462 diverse residents moved in, and the dorm took off from there.

To give some context, Maseeh used to be a graduate dorm called Ashdown House, and before that, it was the Riverbank Court Hotel. In 2008, a group of 50 students formed the Phoenix Group (rising from the “ashes” of Ashdown House), and began making plans for the new community. The group even travelled to Cambridge University to observe its residential life in order to brainstorm new ideas. After three years of the group’s planning and coordination with the new housemasters, the Division of Student Life, and the building’s architects — and thanks to a generous gift from Fariborz Maseeh ScD ’90 — Maseeh Hall was completed and opened in August 2011, ready for residents to fill its “blank slate.”

Described by some as quiet at first, Maseeh Hall slowly developed its culture. It didn’t help that Hurricane Irene disrupted a day of REX events (coincidentally, the famous hurricane of ’38 also struck when the building first opened as a graduate dorm). However, Maseeh persevered both then and now. The Executive Committee continued to meet for countless hours to discuss the dorm’s constitution, and the House Team worked extremely hard to provide fun programming for the residents. Jack Carroll, one of Maseeh’s Housemasters, commented that the hardest part about opening the new dorm was ramping up from 50 undergraduate Ashdown residents to 462 residents and adjusting to a larger staff. Among the challenges were some disconnect between the House Team, the Executive Committee and the residents, but in a building so large and so new, there were bound to be issues, mostly resolved by the first semester’s end.

Throughout its first semester, Maseeh did become a central hub on campus. The only dorm with a dining hall open for lunch, Maseeh turned out to be a popular meeting place. However, its required 19-meal dining plan for all freshmen residents stirred some controversy. Bon Appétit has proved to be a great and cooperative vender, but most students do not like the amount of required meals. To experiment with new options, the dorm initiated a Block Meal Plan during this IAP where residents could buy a certain number of meals for the term at a fixed price. If successful, there’s a possibility that this plan may be implemented in Fall 2012.

Creativity flowed through Maseeh from the beginning. During orientation, Maseeh launched a land yacht race against East Campus. Residents even brought their passion for building to the next level by forming the Maseeh Create Club, or MC2. The founder of the club, Paelle M. Powell ’15, said she was inspired to take the initiative because of “the idea that MIT is a place for innovation and creativity, engineering and art. Being a new dorm, Maseeh is a canvas that can become any sort of picture that the students can imagine. I want to support other students in the process of leading, planning and carrying out various projects so that Maseeh can become a place known for fostering such a spirit.”

Currently, the club has tools for use by anyone in the Maseeh community and soon hopes to create a repository of craft and electronics supplies for tinkering. The club also built a cardboard boat for the Head of the Zesiger Regatta, and other members are developing plans for a “Faster-Than-Wind-Mobile.”

In addition to dining and clubs, Maseeh also boasts a developing social community. The dorm held a Halloween Party in its basement, a pumpkin-carving event in its courtyard and a block party in September for the entire community to welcome the dorm. There was even a Super Bowl Party in the dorm’s game room and media room, which has a 3-D projector.

Many students moved into Maseeh because they were drawn to the dorm’s aesthetics. Yes, it does resemble a castle, and it does have a clock tower overlooking the river, but isn’t that the wrong reason to choose a dorm? I’ve noticed over its first semester, though, that Maseeh has lived up to its expectations of a welcoming dorm. There’s room for all sorts of students in the community. There is not one word to describe every “Maseehdonian,” but in general, the residents strive to “promote the welfare of the community, establish an inclusive living environment and ensure equity for all inhabitants,” according to the dorm’s newly ratified constitution which can be found on its website,

“My sense is that the feel is very positive, optimistic and enthusiastic. We have terrific freshmen that are excited about being a part of something new,” said Carroll of Maseeh’s atmosphere at the end of the first semester,

Residents have wondered how the dorm can improve in its second semester and get the respect of the community. Newly-elected President Regina Cho ’14 explained the difficulties that the dorm will face: “Maseeh’s greatest challenge in the coming year is building a dorm-wide sense of community and pride in being ‘Maseehdonians.’ We want people to love living in Maseeh not only for the facilities and location but also for the awesome, caring students and GRTs who look out for each other. A lot of things are in the works, so this next year should be an exciting one!”

Carroll agreed and added, “Maseeh must make its presence known on campus and develop more of a sense of identity.”

It will definitely take more time for Maseeh to find its place at MIT. What will it unleash for CPW? How will the adjustment lottery work for next year? These questions are uncertain, but I can say for sure that the dorm has high hopes for 2012. It has a bustling community of motivated students and a supportive house team filled with extremely active GRTs ready to leave a great impact on the MIT community. “We want people to want to live here,” summarized Cockey about Maseeh’s goals for the future.