Over the past year, there has been discussion about transitioning MIT fraternities and sororities stationed in Boston into a "Greek Village" located on West Campus grounds in Cambridge. This concept of an FSILG Village (FSILG is an acronym for Fraternity, Sorority, and Independent Living Group) has moved quickly amongst FSILG officials and MIT administrators but has not gained support within the actual Greek community. According to a survey reported on by The Tech, "Of 80 total alumni and student representatives, only five alumni 'expressed high interest in the project,' and only five students thought it was at all likely that their living group would be willing to move into an FSILG village."
Advocates for this potential project identified nine different "pressures" on the FSILG community:
-- Age of houses and safety concerns
-- Gentrification of Back Bay
-- Attractiveness of Cambridge for this generation of students
-- Demographic shift toward women
-- Requirement for freshmen to live in dorms
-- Meal policy
-- Incoming students' "handiness" to upkeep century-old structures
-- Parental expectations of MIT supervision of students
-- MIT owning reputational (and legal) risks for safety, alcohol, sexual assault
Unfortunately, the proposal to create a "Greek Village" does not come close to addressing these issues. Here are nine reasons why an FSILG Village is not in the best interests of the Greek community and MIT as a whole:
Age of houses and safety concerns: FSILGs already undergo inspections of their respective buildings in order to ensure that they are up to the standards of the Boston Inspectional Services Department. Year after year, fraternities and sororities pass their inspections and therefore each residence is deemed worthy of occupation. Meanwhile, severe structural problems with on-campus dorms like New House and Bexley don't instill confidence that MIT is better equipped than FSILGs to properly maintain and care for its properties.
Gentrification of Back Bay: As gentrification of the Back Bay has accelerated in Boston's recent history, Boston-side fraternities have shown success in integrating without too many incidents. If gentrification is still occurring, then Boston FSILGs can and should be able to adapt to changing city circumstances.
Attractiveness of Cambridge for this generation of students: Boston and not Cambridge is the ultimate college town. The city hosts a plethora of attractions and activities to lure college students out of their dorms. If we had our own bustling Square like Harvard's, then this point brought by the advocates of the FSILG village might have some merit. But MIT's nearest equivalent, Kendall Square, does not hold a candle to Harvard's hub of attraction and is eclipsed by all that Boston has to offer.
Demographic shift toward women: Fraternities, even in a changing social and political climate, still continue to attract great portions of the undergraduate male population. Last year, a majority of freshman males pledged to a fraternity, and IFC president Haldun Anil '15 wrote in an email to The Tech. "As you can imagine, we're pretty thrilled about the results."
Requirement for freshmen to live in dorms: Although it may be argued that bringing FSILGs on campus would help freshmen who pledged to integrate, they have still been able to do so with the current system. In fact, having FSILGs in Boston is an opportunity for freshmen to step out of the MIT bubble, learn about the vivacious and exciting city that surrounds them, and set up deeper roots at MIT.
Meal policy: Every fraternity and sorority has an in-house cook or a plan in place to provide regular dinners to its members. This system allows those communities to pick a system that works for their preferences, balancing convenience, costs, and quality as they see fit. Meanwhile, the stringent meal plan program on campus is widely unpopular.
According to The Tech's survey of students living in dorms that require meal plans, students living on campus often pick the lowest level meal plan open to them, and given the choice, many would prefer a meal plan much lower than their own. When asked what they would change about dining at MIT, students said to "relax the requirement for underclassmen to subscribe to costly meal plans." In addition, "Students from across campus tended to complain about the lack of options for those with dietary restrictions and the generally poor quality of meals in specific dorms."
Incoming students' "handiness" to upkeep century-old structures: Caring for one's own fraternity or sorority house is a responsibility that is meaningful to the growth of students within these organizations. It builds character, initiative, and resourcefulness. If MIT wishes to take more action on this front, it could bolster the Independent Resource Development Fund (IRDF) so that FSILGs can continue to find resources to fix issues within their houses before problems manifest into hazardous living conditions. This is the same fund that one MIT fraternity, Sigma Chi, used to recently complete a massive renovation to their house. As the former Sigma Chi house corporation President Karl Büttner '87 explained, "IRDF provided long term debt financing, short-term bridge financing while donors fulfill their pledges, and grants for some portions of the project related to educational or accessibility features."
Parental expectations of MIT supervision of students: Is MIT a young adult babysitting service or a world-renowned research institution educating some of the finest undergraduate and graduate students? Every parent has the reasonable expectation that his or her child will be safe as a student at MIT. But sacrificing students' independence by limiting their living choices after freshman year is neither reasonable nor necessary.
MIT owning reputational (and legal) risks for safety, alcohol, sexual assault: Moving FSILGs from one location to another does not remove the risks and liabilities attached to MIT when it comes to safety, alcohol, and sexual assault. Instead of pursuing a misguided policy centered around real estate of the MIT Greek system, the administration should work with student leaders in the Greek community to discuss and ultimately initiate real solutions for the serious problems it faces.
There are absolutely improvements to be made in the FSILG system, but moving FSILGs into a "village" in West Campus would be a step backwards and not forwards. As it stands, prefrosh who are housed in FSILGs during CPW have higher yield rates, and FSILG alumni often feel better connected to MIT and donate more generously. FSILGs engage in athletics, community service, mentorship, and social interactions on our campus. They are already strong and bustling. Rather than moving them, MIT's administration should work with them to identify and adequately prepare for challenges going forward so that they can continue to inhabit Boston in a mutualistic manner.
A version of this article was previously published on Frederick Daso's blog. The author is a member of the Class of 2017.
This version of the article originally appeared in The Tech, issue 135 volume 21. It may be freely distributed electronically as long as it includes this notice but cannot be reprinted without the express written permission of The Tech. Write to email@example.com for additional details.