Burton-Conner’s Renovation: A Saga by Ankita D. '23
on friendships that transcend shitty infrastructure
My favorite thing about MIT, by far, is its vibrant dorm culture. I love that each dorm has a unique vibe and set of traditions and that prefrosh can choose where they want to live instead of being randomly placed somewhere. I love that students can find a family in their living group and that just by integrating into a floor culture, they can gain a lifelong community. Most of all, I love that dorm culture enables students to find homes they cherish so much that they fight fiercely to protect them throughout their time at MIT.
I live in the dorm Burton-Conner, which I have talked about extensively on the blogs. Burton-Conner is known for being home to nine different floors with unique cultures, histories, and traditions, something that I fell in love with as soon as I arrived on campus. It also was scheduled to be taken offline in June 2020 for renovations and to be reopened in my senior year. Despite knowing this as a prefrosh, I committed to BC after I watched the 2019 i3 video since I figured that I could have one fun year with people I really vibe with before moving to another dorm or a sorority.
Yeah, no. BC became my home as soon as I underwent the floor exploration, like REX(residential exploration) but within your dorm process and joined my floor. In the few days before classes began, the other frosh and I participated in several traditions that allowed us to meet all the other members of our living group. The entire time, I could only marvel at how tightly-knit my floor culture is and how wonderful it felt to be a part of it.
Transition Team (TT)
By the time we were a few weeks into the semester, I was in too deep—I had no desire to integrate into another living culture once BC closed down and was fully intent on moving back with my class in our senior year. I also became BC’s Vice-President and joined Transition Team so I could help represent the student body throughout the renewal process.
Being a member of Transition Team was pretty emotionally taxing; each meeting was a reminder that BC’s living communities would inevitably be split up at the end of the year. It also was incredibly frustrating at times since no matter how hard the team fought for us, it seemed like some of the things we wanted weren’t realizable.
Here are some of the main issues we grappled with concerning the renewal:
- Dining — BC is a Cook-For-Yourself dorm, which makes dorms with a note on meal plans--many freshmen come into MIT wanting a meal plan, but later find that the autonomy, convenience, and lower price of cooking for yourself make meal plans a less viable option. that's why more upperclassmen opt to cook for themselves and the drop off in who uses meal plans is so significant throughout classes. unattractive. However, New Vassar, the swing dorm, is a meal plan dorm. Also, BC was a Tier 2 dorm and meal plan dorms are considerably more expensive, so they’re much less affordable for many students; the price differential is way too high for students from lower-income backgrounds. If BC residents were forced onto a meal plan they don’t want and also had to pay significantly more, that would suck.
- Moving logistics — students can move together in groups no larger than eight people. Other non-meal-plan dorms, such as MacGregor and East Campus, however, have very limited space. Stapling with another group of four students presented concerns that the entire group would be at risk of not getting into a Cook-For-Yourself dorm due to the group’s size.
- Murals — All the walls will be painted over in the renovation, so decades of murals would be whitewashed. The TT worked with students to ensure that murals would be digitally preserved, and each floor tagged and documented their murals accordingly. Even so, we won’t be able to paint on the walls of the new BC. People are looking into installing sliding wall panels for us to paint on, but…it won’t be the same.
- Preserving culture while BC is offline — Many floors have important traditions that we want to maintain even while we’re not living in BC; for example, my floor throws a party that has 50+ years of history. TT helped us locate space for holding the event and for storing things like our speakers. Each floor also has a lot of memorabilia that we needed to figure out how to store/allocate space for.
- Maintaining the BC community — We discussed how to help foster community while BC’s nine communities no longer have a physical space for themselves. Suggestions include frequent programming at the Coffeehouse Lounge, a space open to student groups on campus. Also, we were told that we have access to our dorm budget during the renovation, which enables us to hold floor-wide events to stay in touch with our communities.
- Shaping the new BC — Current 2023s are supposed to be able to move back into their dorm post-transition, but the exact process is unknown. We were unsure about how much control we would have over shaping the newly renovated dorm and its culture. We also talked about holding CPW/REX events every year so we can get prospective students interested in BC.
Anyways, TT was a lot. Every time someone advocated for us and some of our doubts were assuaged, another concern arose, which really sucked. Even a few months into my freshman year, after experiencing a few of these meetings, I felt like I was sharing the weighty burden of helping maintain an entire dorm community. I knew what I’d gotten myself into—by ranking BC as #1 on the housing lottery, joining a floor with decades of culture, and becoming a member of TT, I knew I was signing myself up for trauma…but definitely not Trauma™.
In early March, we learned what the renewal is supposed to entail. Most of the refurbishments are meant to help BC comply with accessibility requirements.
Keep in mind that a lot of things have changed since that time—so much is in flux right now.
- New paint, BC's windows are notoriously bad lol they scrEEch when it's windy and barely keep the cold out and flooring
- New furniture and vestibule at BC’s front entrance, a handicap accessibility ramp
- A new elevator on the Conner side
- Removal of the division between the Burton and Conner sides, with handicap accessibility suits in the rooms on Conner side closer to Burton side. (That’s right…no physical division between the two sides. This is kinda whack since each floor of BC has such vastly different culture…I can’t imagine what this will look like)
- Removal of fire escapes
- New plumbing and a more efficient heating system
- Changes to the building’s facade
…Yeah. These renovations seem relatively modest, which is concerning since we would move from paying Tier 2 housing rates to Tier 1 ones. While it’s certainly the case that we’d be living in a better building, considering that other dorms at the same price would have better facilities, it seemed a bit unfair. It also was frustrating that we’d be displaced for two years for these renovations to be implemented.
The Housing Lottery
In the weeks following the meeting in which renovation information was revealed to us, we were booted off campus due to the increasingly dire pandemic situation. Everyone was sent home, confused and nervous about what this would mean for the rest of their time at MIT. We found out that Burton-Conner was adopted as the new medical support facility since, well, the students weren’t supposed to come back any time soon. From an administrative standpoint, this decision makes sense since our community was already slated to be disrupted, but it raised concerns among residents regarding the renovation timeline and our ability to move back into the dorm in the future.
In the midst of all this, we had to fill out the housing lottery, which would determine where we’d live on campus when we return. I was stressed about the lottery; it seemed as if the majority of freshmen from my floor wanted to live off-campus, which for a few complicated reasons, is difficult for me to do. We held a meeting to discuss our preferences/how to best stick together so we could preserve our culture. The majority of the freshmen expressed their intent to live in apartments, so I ended up stapling with the remaining two freshmen to live in a dorm. We ranked MacGregor, New House, and East Campus at the top since we wanted to live in a Cook-For-Yourself dorm, but knowing how little space each of these dorms had, we were concerned about being placed somewhere we don’t want to be.
The lottery was scheduled to close on March 23rd, but since there was so much confusion, its deadline was extended. Results were supposed to be released on April 6th, but on the 7th, we found out that Housing & Residential Services had placed a hold on housing processes.
In early April, virtual campus preview weekend launched in full force. Representatives from each floor of BC joined the Discord so we could pitch our dorm to prefrosh and help answer questions, but given the uncertainty surrounding BC, there wasn’t a good deal of traffic in the channel. Even so, each floor did their best to hold engaging events for prefrosh. My floor took CP* seriously and showed up to all our events in our my floor is called the Burton 3rd Bombers if by some miracle i haven't managed to mention this yet lmao shirts because we hope to build our community even though BC will be offline for the next few years. Our culture is shaped by students from all classes, so keeping our community strong is critical for when we move back into BC.
PSA: Freshmen, you can join Burton-Conner communities even if you don’t live in the building. Our communities are sticking together and we welcome you. Join us!
Also in early April, a lot of information regarding BC and New Vassar began to circulate. Discussions in dormitory council meetings seemed to indicate that there was no possibility of New Vassar construction being finished in time for the Fall 2020 semester. In light of this, there were a number of scenarios to consider: one in which BC would continue to be used as the sick dorm through the fall semester, and potentially start being renovated in spring 2021. There was also the case where we return to campus as normal in the fall (as unlikely as that seems) and BC would go online for one or two semesters due to the undergraduate space constraints and New Vassar’s construction status.
However, we weren’t sure when/in what capacity we would return to campus. Having every student on campus would be too high a density, which would mean that only certain groups of people would be able to live on campus to maintain a certain capacity. To give you an idea of how up in the air things were, one of the scenarios proposed was one in which the only students allowed to live on campus are incoming freshmen, the justification being that they need to form communities. That would be a complete shitshow…I’d barely be a functioning human without the guidance of upperclassmen.
Regarding BC specifically, residents were concerned about whether the delay in renewal would impact the class of 2023’s ability to move back into BC in their senior year. Renovations were supposed to start this summer—summer 2020—so the renewal period would lose entire months of time. It was hard to fathom being able to move back into BC, which meant that we were not only preemptively removed from our home by the ensuing pandemic crisis, but that we would never return in the future.
Not moving back to BC means a lot of things; if the dorm were to open after the Class of 2023 graduates, and the Class of 2024 never got to live in it, then there would be no one left who knows BC and could help rebuild its culture. That’s a devastating blow to communities like mine, who have been maintaining traditions for decades. The dorm that shaped our undergrad experience and provided us with a family would be reformed into a dorm with no culture. Disrupting the continuity of our history and traditions would be tragic and unfortunate.
And when renovations of other dorms proceed—as they are slated to within the next few years—communities will continue to be disrupted. If circumstances like what BC encountered unfold, and living groups can’t rebuild themselves, then MIT will steadily lose its flourishing student culture.
Honestly, fuck that.
- Reopening the housing intent form to reflect two scenarios: one in which New Vassar construction is delayed and BC might have to open, and one where BC stays closed
- Creating a new lottery that includes both BC and NV on the form but notes that one of the options will eventually be removed. That way, we can take a student’s preferences into account in a way that doesn’t force them between two different dorms. Another option may include creating two independent lotteries for the two scenarios outlined above, which would capture even more nuance.
- Running two switch lotteries (run the algorithm twice): one with the number of on-campus people if BC is open and one with the number of on-campus people if NV is open. This way, the different numbers of on-campus students in each scenario are accounted for
Medical Support Facility Concerns
- only one student, i believe used it during the semester. Given, a second outbreak would lead to scalability concerns if we used a smaller space, but finding another space seems pretty reasonable.
- If BC continues to be used as a sick dorm for some reason, the renovation might have to be delayed in order to accommodate all the students. The fact that temporal attrition might instigate the demise of an entire dorm community is a hard pill to swallow.
BC Floor Chair Meeting
- Redone bathrooms and kitchens
- Updated spaces
- new library looks lit ngl — removing the dividing walls between sections and underutilized shelving, adding new flooring, new furniture, new lighting
- TV Lounge — reconfigured into a general student lounge with a more accessible kitchen
- Porter Room — a gender neutral restroom (with a SHOWER), new furniture and mirrors for dancing, a projector screen, flexible dividing walls
- A Makerspace
- A space for bike storage specifically
- A dance room with wood flooring
- A door that swings to presumably to address our concerns in a lack of divide between the two sides of the building in the accessibility suites
- A bigger laundry room
- Better electrical and heating equipment
- Connection between Burton and Conner
- A bridge between Burton 1 and Conner 1
- Accessibility suite with a door that closes off either the Burton side or Conner side on each floor
- Exterior updates
- No fire escapes and metal balconies
- New windows
- Changes to facade
Yeah, there are some improvements here!! We learned that it’s because the project received extra funding. Also, the original renovation schedule had a lot of extra time; the building schedule is semesterly because ending a project in, say, mid-October would make no sense since no one would be able to move in. As a result, these updates to the original plans can be implemented without extending the timeline.
On June 25th, we met with the architects again. They talked about removing all triples from BC and adding more doubles to “optimize the bed count,” which sucks since triples are such an integral part of the freshman experience. Whatever. They also stated an intent to make bathrooms more private, which stems from concerns parents allegedly have about BC bathrooms but aren’t actually an issue among students. Each suite, for the most part, develops its own system for maintaining privacy, so this change isn’t really necessary, in my opinion. Sigh.
As of now, we are slated to close in January 2021 and reopen in Fall 2022, just in time for my senior year. With the changes we’ve seen in the past few months, no one knows how things will pan out, but in the meantime, BC floors are determined to stick together and build their communities.
i3 videos are one of the best ways for frosh to be introduced to dorms. Thanks to our lovely i3 chairs, we were able to create our video in quarantine. Check it out:
Making this was a lot of fun! It was super cool to see so many BC residents gather on Zoom to help film. also lmaooo catch me doing some tiktok-esque dance in there
After a whole lot of coordination between BC exec and the resident body, we were able to get BC shirts!
Here’s the design:
BC’s area director proposed that we create a video that highlights each floor culture in BC. We hope to keep students interested in BC, which will help us with repopulating it once it reopens. Each floor created 60-90 seconds of content illustrating their history, traditions, and culture at their own discretion to include in the video.
- How do you connect individuals and keep your culture vibrant across the class years?
- Do you have any symbols, traditions, etc. to the floor? If so, what are they, and why are they important to you?
- What makes your floor fun/quirky/unique?
- What’s the #1 story that encapsulates your floor’s culture?
- Describe your floor in one word.
- How has your floor/BC impacted you and/or your MIT experience?
Check it out!
We’re not the only BC residents who are living together in smaller clusters; I know of dozens of people across all nine floors who either quarantined together or have met up for the summer. It’s great that we’re still able to figure things out and prioritize staying together despite everything that’s happened.
Our Current Situation
So…where are things right now?
BC isn’t exactly at the top of the list of institute-wide considerations, but we’re working to ensure that we aren’t completely shafted. the enclosed area outside the 54 suite, where the fire escape is, is called the shaft. when you throw something down there, you shaft it. never happens, of course intended.
In the past few weeks, in fact, BC Exec and Floor Chairs drafted a COVID-19 report. Here are some of the things we recommended:
- Instead of having a singular quarantine dorm (BC), each undergraduate/graduate dorm has a section of their building marked for isolation to prevent the possibility of falling back on BC as a quarantine dorm for spring. Otherwise, a lot of special considerations might need to be taken for BC residents so they are not at a disadvantage when selecting housing and staying with their living communities.
- The dorm is a viable option for “pods,” or small groups of students that only socially distance when outside of their living space. Cook-For-Yourself should be implemented within these spaces to allow for isolation.
- Housing pricing policies should be implemented. BC students shouldn’t have to be forced into unpopular and potentially more expensive dorms just because their building is being used as a quarantine facility.
- If BC is open in fall and closes in January, policies for appropriately distributing its residents throughout campus in spring should be adopted.
- BC’s vibrant living culture, which has been sustained for over 60 years, should be protected; a first-year housing lottery form should be sent out that allows students to choose virtual living communities to join for fall 2020. There should be a virtual residential exploration as well.
Right now, we don’t know how much we’ll be supported, or which of our suggestions will be taken into account, but we do know that we are fully intent on advocating for our communities. Burton-Conner is a dorm very dear to its residents and we will fight to ensure that its culture is preserved. We’ll go hard for REX, even though it’ll probably be online, and expand our communities, we’ll maintain the close bonds we share with the members of our floor, and we’ll move back into the building when it reopens.
One of the Burton 3rd floor chairs sent an email back in November about our floor’s living arrangements for next year. At the end of it, she assured us that we will be hanging out as a floor no matter what happens, and the only difference will be that we live five minutes away from each other as opposed to five seconds. She also said that shitty infrastructure and screaming windows of Burton-Conner isn’t the foundation of our culture and our friendships; the building served as a means of meeting 50 other fun, funny, and authentic people, but those relationships definitely don’t end with the dorm.
I remember reading this in the Banana Lounge and breaking down in tears promptly after. With everything that’s happened this year, I have no doubt that everything she said was true—we’ve stayed together and maintained our friendships even through quarantine, so being back on campus (whenever that may be) will be a breeze.
I’m grateful to Burton-Conner for providing me with a family in my first few months at MIT and for being home to many shenanigans that I’ll look back on fondly for the rest of my life. I’m excited to move back into the dorm in 2022, but even if some catastrophe unfolds again and the renovation is delayed, I’m at peace knowing that the relationships I’ve forged will last even without a physical residence to contain them. Burton-Conner will, without a doubt, live on.
I’d like to give a special shoutout to C2 resident and BC president, Sarah Aaronson. Sarah has worked tirelessly throughout her term to help preserve our community, and I don’t know what we’d do without her. <3
- floor exploration, like REX(residential exploration) but within your dorm back to text ↑
- a note on meal plans--many freshmen come into MIT wanting a meal plan, but later find that the autonomy, convenience, and lower price of cooking for yourself make meal plans a less viable option. that's why more upperclassmen opt to cook for themselves and the drop off in who uses meal plans is so significant throughout classes. back to text ↑
- BC's windows are notoriously bad lol they scrEEch when it's windy and barely keep the cold out back to text ↑
- virtual campus preview weekend back to text ↑
- my floor is called the Burton 3rd Bombers if by some miracle i haven't managed to mention this yet lmao back to text ↑
- dormitory council back to text ↑
- only one student, i believe back to text ↑
- quote: small three-story row house that was added to McCormick in 1999. Each floor has three or four rooms—mostly double and triples, with a couple of singles back to text ↑
- new library looks lit ngl back to text ↑
- presumably to address our concerns in a lack of divide between the two sides of the building back to text ↑
- the enclosed area outside the 54 suite, where the fire escape is, is called the shaft. when you throw something down there, you shaft it. never happens, of course back to text ↑
- residential exploration back to text ↑