Next House required to implement opt-out for first-year squatting despite house vote against it

Students and administrators say requirements were miscommunicated

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson wrote in an email to Next House residents June 20 that they are required to implement an option for first years to opt out of the housing lottery process and squat their rooms, despite the house’s 53 to 47 percent vote against it.

Nelson and Barnhart wrote, “We acknowledged all of us could have communicated better but, for our part, we think we could have been clearer — the opt-out option wasn’t something that was subject to an up or down vote. Rather, what was up for discussion and a vote were the parameters for implementing an opt-out option in a way that works best for Next House.” 

They continued, “Not allowing students to opt-out when they are feeling overwhelmed is unkind,” and this is “contrary to our values at MIT and your values at Next.” 

In Nelson and Barnhart’s April 15 email finalizing move-in and room assignment plans for the fall, they wrote, “We now think that we can be more flexible around expecting all first years to participate in house exploration, provided there is an opt-out if students are overwhelmed by the process.”

Rishabh Chandra ’20, Next House housing chair, said in an interview with The Tech, the “administration's [original] email to the house says that they intended for the house vote to decide between options for implementing freshman squatting.”  

Chandra continued, “Based on a meeting Exec had with administration in the spring, we were under the belief that we could hold a free ‘yes or no’ vote on squatting as well as other issues.” 

Next House President Jessica Tang ’20 concurred with Chandra, saying that discussions with Barnhart and Nelson led Next Exec to think that they could “vote on whether an opt-out option was to be implemented at all.”

Chandra said that in future communications with administrators, it will be important to “have the [administration’s] criteria more clearly defined,” because in this case, “a bunch of our work as well as discussion in the house essentially went to waste.”

Alicia Ouyang ’19, resident of Next House, said in an interview with The Tech, “I think that administration calling us ‘unkind’ is their classic moral stancing with students [and] needs to stop.” She continued to say that the phrasing “forc[ed] us to either admit we’re inconsiderate or be defensive of our stance, and we should do neither.”

Meghana Vemulapalli ’22, resident of Next House, said in an interview with The Tech that allowing squatting hurts both first years and existing wing communities. 

Nelson wrote in a statement emailed to The Tech, “We were encouraged to stick with the original expectations outlined for the design exercise,” and that they believed an opt-out would strike the right balance: “We can help the students who need it, while continuing to maintain aspects and traditions of house life that we all really value.”

Nelson concluded that she and Chancellor Barnhart “understand that miscommunication can happen, and we will work hard to ensure that such important issues are clearly understood by everyone going forward. We are grateful that Next and other houses are now developing ways to formalize and advertise the opt-out options that are already in place.”

The Next Heads of House declined to comment.

Editor’s note: Jessica Tang, Next House president, is an arts writer for The Tech.