Opinion letters to the editor

Students must shape the future of MIT’s campus

Students new to MIT must have noticed the construction sites spread around campus. Those of us who are returning recognize the sight of cement mixers and tower cranes on our way to class. Our campus evolves each year as new spaces are established and buildings are erected.

According to MIT 2030, “Between 1998 and 2010, MIT renovated 875,000 gross square feet (gsf) of existing buildings and completed over 2.6 million gsf of new construction.” To put that number into perspective, the area of a football field is less than 58,000 square feet.

Despite the scale of this work, it can be easy to dismiss the importance of these projects. Who has time for anything besides PSETs, right? However, it is not without thorough consideration by administrators, faculty, and students that campus concepts become realities. Student involvement in these processes are fundamental to improving the undergraduate and graduate experiences on campus.

At MIT, there is no shortage of things to do. Still, the importance of student advocacy for campus planning purposes cannot be overstated. Simply ask yourself: would even the most meticulous campus planning professional expect that the basement tunnels would become the equivalent of a ski slope for office chairs? Or that the Baker House roof would become a launchpad for pianos? Or that McDermott Court would be the crash site of frozen pumpkins?

As insiders, we students have a crucial perspective on the campus. MIT has become a part of our identities, so we should take part in shaping its future image. After graduation, our alma mater will play a role in defining us in the eyes of our employers, colleagues, and maybe even friends. Take MIT Hacking Rule #4 to mind, hand, and heart: “If you find something broken, call F-IXIT… [hackers] may see problems before anyone else.” Consider this your call to action, your duty as a student to leave MIT a better place than when you arrived. 

Last spring, the UA Campus Planning Committee held the “Vision of MIT Essay Contest” to give undergraduates the chance to share their solutions to challenges faced by our community. We received many excellent submissions, with a variety of solutions for many issues. George Friedlander, Mehitabel Glenhaber, Teresa de Figueiredo, and Veronika Jedryka wrote winning submissions. Their visions included initiatives for outdoor lighting improvements related to mental health, an open campus to welcome visitors from the local community, and dedicated spaces for preventative mental healthcare in addition to the current reactionary care. Planning our physical campus plays a fundamental role in the discussion of sustainability and mental health. MIT can set the example for the rest of the academic world to follow, demonstrating more sensible practices. 

It is clear that our community faces tremendous challenges related to the campus infrastructure, but with them there are also great opportunities for positive change. Some dormitories need to renovated, while others need to be constructed from scratch. Community, cultural, and maker spaces can be improved and redesigned to satisfy our wide-ranging interests. As we walk to class, we see glimpses of the future, such as when the Ford-MIT Alliance’s LIDAR electric vehicles shuttle classmates around campus. These are all current plans, requiring greater student involvement to become realities.

As a student spending hours in the classroom, lab, and library, you have your own thoughts about how to improve experiences for everyone. Please share these ideas with fellow students, administrators, and the UA Campus Planning Committee. It is exciting to think about the future of MIT, to imagine what great discoveries, inventions, and events will take place here now and in the future. Even with an incredible history of accomplishments, MIT is a place focused on the future. Now that all dorms have been provided with hand soap in the bathrooms, we can move on to more interesting discussions about next steps for our beloved institute. Join the conversation!

Arturo Chavez-Gehrig is a member of the Class of 2018 and the chair of the UA Campus Planning Committee.