Senior House turnaround team holds first meeting

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An administrative decision made earlier this year prevented Senior House from accepting any freshman residents for the fall semester.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “S3 Staff Associate Joe Zimakas will be living in Senior House.”

Due to concerns of low graduation rates and illegal drug use, Senior House was withdrawn from the freshmen housing lottery and FYRE this year.

The class of 2020 received notice of Senior House’s withdrawal two days before the housing lottery was originally set to close and were granted an extra three days to submit the application.

As The Tech previously reported, only six freshmen ranked Senior House as first in their application. However, in previous years, typically between 15 and 30 freshmen ranked Senior House first. At the time of the announcement, more than 800 freshmen had submitted their applications. The discrepancy may be due to the deadline or simply to the culture of the freshman class.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 explained that Housing worked with the six freshmen to ensure they were granted their second choice in housing. She said that none of the six participated in FYRE in the fall.

Some students expressed a desire to reopen Senior House to the Class of 2020 in the spring, citing the nonjudgemental culture and well-maintained facilities among other reasons. Senior House’s culture is generally known to be LGBT-positive, sex-positive, and artistic.

Omar Laris ’20 stated, “During my time at CPW, everyone [at Senior House] was super kind and welcoming, and I grew very attached to the dorm very quickly. I left CPW set on MIT mainly because I felt like I'd found a place I would like to live… When the news was announced that Senior House would be closed to freshmen about a week before the application closed, I had a lot of strong feelings. I was angry and sad and generally devastated… It was really disheartening to feel like I was at odds with an administration I hadn't even met yet.”

Dylan Marlborough ’20, after hearing the news, spoke with DormCon about the possibility of opening Senior House to FYRE. Although his petition was unsuccessful, he said, “I hear there’s talk of sort of pushing to let freshmen live there in the spring semester, so I’m hopeful.”

However, Barnhart is still unsure what will happen this spring. She explained that “it is too soon in the turnaround process to speculate about what may happen in the spring or in the 2017-18 Academic Year. Our focus right now is on working with the Senior House community to build on the progress we made together over the summer.”

The majority of Senior House-hopefuls are currently living in East Campus. Marlborough explained, “I’m now living in East Campus because I still wanted that East Campus culture, but I liked how Senior House has air conditioning.”

Barnhart is working with the turnaround team, which met for the first time last Tuesday, to help the Senior House community deal with its perceived issues. The turnaround team is composed of several subcommittees. Headed by Barnhart, the steering committee supervises the overall work of the entire turnaround team. Other members of the steering committee include Head of House Jay Scheib, newly appointed Associate Head of House Kristen Covino, Senior House Co-Presidents Sarah Melvin ’18 and James Handy ’18, and a Senior House GRT.

Subcommittees handle academics and personal-wellbeing, community, self-governance, and space.

Following a series of interviews, a search committee brought Covino, former Area Director of Baker House, to serve as Associate Head of House for Senior House. The committee included Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson.

In response to student requests for mental health support, S3 Staff Associate Joe Zimakas will hold drop-in office hours for residents. The turnaround team is also working to provide greater mental health support within Senior House. Barnhart hopes to set up “Let’s Chat” with the help of MIT Medical and Health Services to provide students with informal, easy access to counselors.

In addition, the turnaround team hopes to bring a visiting resident artist into Senior House.

An artist will serve as  “a positive means of introducing inspired programming to the community” Barnhart said. “This revolving residency will create opportunities for workshops, master classes, dinners, discussions, and studio visits throughout the year.”

Students have brought up the issue of forced triples in certain dorms while an estimated 30 rooms remain vacant in Senior House. Barnhart explained the rooms are being put to use as housing for the new House Team as well as being converted into two new art studios and a study room.