Opinion guest column

Blocking attrition

The administration’s efforts to find group housing for former Bexley residents have been inadequate

Last May, students living in Bexley Hall were informed that their beloved dorm would be closed and they would have to find new housing. A year later, these students, and the rest of the MIT community, have a great deal on which to reflect.

Although The Tech has given excellent coverage of the Bexley process, I’d like to provide more context. This process started last spring and went public at a May 7, 2013, meeting with Dean Chris Colombo. On May 10, Bexley residents publicly announced our desires, both for the community and for the building. On May 13, Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 and Dean Colombo responded, speaking of “mutual cooperation” and promising progress on a number of tasks, including “identifying housing options for the large group of Bexley residents,” a process that was intended to take “a few weeks.” Around that time, Undergraduate Association members proposed a temporary blocking plan: Bexley students would live in groups in dorms around campus. The most accommodating to that plan were Burton Conner and Senior House, and, in the last two weeks of the semester, the students of Bexley decided whether they would live in one of those blocks, somewhere else on campus without their peers, or off campus.

Over the summer, the Bexley Advisory Group was formed and met twice. The possibility of a “modular dorm” was brought up, to the tune of $6 million. No alternative solution was found, so the blocking plan was enacted for the fall. The recommendation for demolition was made without an Advisory Group meeting, and, on Oct. 18, it went public. For the rest of the fall, the administration and Advisory Group met three more times, two of those at the request of Bexley Advisory Group member Kristjan Eerik Kaseniit ’14, and one at the request of the administration. Little was accomplished, and a miscommunication between Chancellor Grimson, who thought Advisory Group meetings would be advisory in nature, and Dean Colombo, who thought they would be solely informative, became apparent.

This semester, the administration has not been adequately involved in the process of finding long-term housing options for these former Bexley residents. The search has continued, led by the former residents themselves. They applied to Fenway House as a large group and were denied. They tried to rent out the former Delta Upsilon house and were denied while trying to jump the administrative hurdles of forming a new independent living group. While the students should be commended for these attempts, and neither Fenway or DU are to blame for their failure, their ineffectiveness may be a direct result of the lack of the “mutual cooperation” with the administration that Chancellor Grimson applauded last spring.

With this context in mind, I would like to review the blocking system. We asked for an analysis to be completed this year concerning the blocking system and, as that request was never met, have tried to do so ourselves. It is difficult to quantify the effect of the Bexley residents, now “Bexiles,” on their current residences, so instead I’ll focus on the housing situation of the Bexiles themselves. I’ll define Bexiles here to be those who were slotted for housing in Bexley in Fall 2013: 88 students, by my count.

Starting last fall, 19 percent of Bexiles lived off campus independently, not in a fraternity, sorority, or independent living group. These 17 students lived in eight different locations, with 11 of them in two different blocks, which I’ve considered as any space with four or more Bexiles. The 71 students living on campus or in FSILGs lived in 29 different locations, with 33 living in three blocks, two in Senior House and one in Burton Conner. That’s 64 percent of off-campus students in blocks, and 46 percent of those who lived on campus or in FSILGs. Bexiles who moved off campus wanted to keep living together, and were willing to enter the Cambridge housing market to do so.

Between the fall and spring semesters, a number of Bexiles moved off campus, totaling 26 (30 percent). They lived in 10 different locations, and 19 of them lived in three blocks. The remaining 70 percent lived in 24 different on-campus or FSILG locations, and 33 of them lived in four blocks, a new block forming in Senior House, by this definition, with the movement of one student. Both on campus and off, more Bexiles lived in blocks in the spring than didn’t: 73 percent of those off campus and 53 percent of those on campus or in FSILGs. The tendency toward living in blocks is apparent, but it doesn’t appear sustainable on campus. Instead, Bexiles have found apartments that house as many of them as possible, enabling them to live in mini-Bexleys scattered around Cambridge. These apartments have served as more than just living spaces but also as Bexley social spaces for the past two semesters.

Friction between host dorms and Bexiles is also apparent, but is difficult to quantify. Those in the Senior House blocks and the Burton Conner block have reported instances of friction between the local “Bexley contingency” and the other residents. While I thank the leaders of Senior House and Burton Conner for offering spaces in their homes, I think they would agree that there have been issues between the communities, and that the blocks have been detrimental to the Bexiles and to the dorms hosting them.

With 19 students creating blocks off campus, and many more current residents of on-campus blocks promising to do the same this coming fall, it is not a reasonable argument that the blocks on campus are still a solution. They were never intended as a long-term solution, and they should not be treated as such. The absence of a concerted effort on the part of the administration to help these students find better options indicates that they accept blocking as a viable solution.

This spring, 36 of us Bexiles will be graduating, leaving only 52. The administration can continue to do nothing, which, according to a cost-benefit analysis, would be their best option by far. More Bexiles will move off campus, squeezing into whatever apartment situations allow them to keep living together. They will do it at their own cost, at their own risk, and without any assistance from the administration. This is a clear case of abandonment, and while I might hope for the best from the new faces in the administration, things fall through the cracks with such transitions, and the Bexiles have already been forgotten.

I’ll note, in closing, that I didn’t focus on the building that sits at 50 Mass. Ave. in this letter. While I lived in Bexley for three years and still consider it my home, I accept its flaws, as do most Bexlians. We’re the least surprised that the building is structurally unsound. And while I would love to fight for its renovation, or the preservation of the art inside, or the future of a dorm in its place, there is a more pressing issue at hand. Fifty-two members of the Bexley family will be living without a real home for two more years at MIT, and there is no one in the administration who appears to care.

Dennis Wilson is a member of the Class of 2014. Wilson lived in Bexley for three years and has represented the community in various ways, but writes on their own behalf.

Benjamin Filippenko about 10 years ago

I have been told by someone in the administration that the administration consciously and explicitly decided to NOT provide a place for Bexiles to move together as a group. They set up whatever committee for show, all the while planning to undermine any possible solution.

The fact that a block was eventually allowed to move to Senior Haus is a great feat of Bexley residents. I'm assuming that the administration couldn't stop it because they had no good excuse, given that spaces were opening up in Senior Haus no matter what, and so they were backed into a corner (this last sentence is purely my speculation).

Anonymous about 10 years ago

"Fifty-two members of the Bexley family will be living without a real home..."

Oh for god's sake. You make it sound like you'll be homeless. Are you guys really so pathetic that you can't get on with your lives in a new building? Are your friendships really so fragile that having to live a few minutes' walk away from each other will destroy them?

"Friction between host dorms and Bexiles is also apparent..."

Maybe because you're being belligerent and melodramatic about this whole issue, to the point of it getting obnoxious. I'm all for preserving of "culture", but if this is how you act, then maybe stamping you out (which is apparently as easy as closing a building) is for the better.

Benjamin Filippenko about 10 years ago

Hey Anonymous,

Your comment contains nothing but insults. You present no evidence of being "pathetic," "fragile," "belligerent," "melodramatic," etc.

In fact, all of those words describe your post pretty well, especially since you are too pathetic to attach your name to your belligerent, melodramatic post.


Bob Miller about 10 years ago

In the Bexley Hall I lived in (1966-1970), people were pretty independent-minded and wanted to live in apartments and avoid the regimentation and other mickey-mouse they perceived in other dorms. If that is still the case, maybe off-campus really is the best option for many if not most. The Institute could do its part by subsidizing some reasonable percentage of the off-campus rents. Rumor has it that all undergrads will ultimately vacate the sacred campus anyhow.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

I recall that during dorm rush, instead of welcoming new students, Bexley held anti-rush-trying to dissuade others from choosing Bexley. Now that is not very neighborly. One of Bexley's traditions appears to have been to keep others from enjoying what they found most appealing about Bexley. So being nasty or acting particularly obnoxious or putting freshman to a test was apparently a ploy to keep people from choosing Bexley. This was apparently a longstanding tradition of Bexley.

A 1985 Tech article stated "Only eleven freshmen want to live in one of the most attractive dormitories on our campus. Why is this? The question is especially bothersome when that dorm has 32 uncrowded spaces and no crowded rooms, while dorms like Baker and Burton, two of the most popular dorms on campus, offer mostly crowded rooms. " and went on to explain "it is obvious that a group of students have gotten together and chased away anyone who doesn't agree exactly with their ideas of what a dorm should be like. Weeding people out may be fine for a frat, but not for a dorm. A dormitory belongs to MIT..." And finally this: "It is too bad that a dormitory with as much potential to be a nice place to live as Bexley should be lost as a dorm. But for most students, Bexley Hall is no longer a possible choice as a living group. With the amount of crowding in the Institute this year, as well as a 150 people having to be put in Limbo at first, it is ridiculous that the residents of one dorm consider themselves to be so special that they can chase freshmen away."

So it appears that Bexley students chased off who they could in order to hoard their dorm. It is no wonder that those in other dorms were not that keen to share their dorm with Bexley students. This is not ancient history. The same mentality was operative at dorm rush this year too. And last year Rachel Davis wrote: 5. Bexley: Bexley is awesome in a terrible way. They do anti-rush, which means that they act like they hate prefrosh and frosh. I heard that this is all a show, though. They all really are cool people. Heres my Bexley story - we were all walking back to my hosts dorm so I could drop off some stuff, and we passed Bexley. The Bexley people were using their mac to send out obscene messages over these really loud speakers, like sex noises and stuff. ".

What is that expression? Turnabout is fair play?