Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced recently that it will close a dorm favored by many minority students because of the low graduation rate and illegal drug abuse among its occupants.
While the average four-year graduation rate at MIT is 83.7%, only 59.7% of students who live in Senior House graduate at the same rate, according to Quartz. The percentage of students who remain at MIT after four years (did not graduate) is three times higher for Senior House residents than for the average MIT student, reads the letter Senior House residents received mid-June.
“We see a vital need to act on these data alone,” says the letter.
“However, the seriousness of the situation is further underscored by our significant concerns about issues of illegal drug use in Senior House.”
Senior House, a dorm beloved by many underrepresented minority groups at MIT, has been described many ways: free-wheeling, experimental, diverse, inclusive—and, in the words of one former student, in constant violation of “campus policy on smoking, pets, drugs, alcohol, public sex, (insert flavor-of-the-month form of rebellion here).”
MIT initially proposed overhauling the house, based on the graduation data and concerns over illegal drug use. It halted 2016-2017 freshman from moving in, appointed a turnaround committee, and added more mental health resources to the house. But the administration ultimately concluded that revamping it wasn’t worth the bother. Senior House was filled with “serious and unsafe behaviors” which undermine the university’s goals for the health, safety and academic success of the students, the letter stated.
“Senior House is a place that’s so diverse, politically, economically, and socially, that you were going to meet someone that really forced you to contest at least some of your own long-held beliefs,” said Timur Sahin, an MIT graduate who lived at Senior House.
Sahin accused MIT of performing gentrification by getting rid of the dorm.
Michelle G, a current MIT student, alleged that inexpensive dorms like Senior House attract low-income students who have a tendency to graduate from MIT at lower rates, in a post on the MIT admissions blog. She cites the Chancellor’s office statistic that 40% of residents at Senior House are from the LGBT community.
“The students who came to Senior House were high risk in the first place,” said Charisse L’Pree, a Syracuse University professor who lived at Senior House during her time as a student at MIT, according to Quartz.
“Collapsing the community doesn’t keep them from being high risk—it scatters them so the university can’t address their risk in the community.”