Oh, you all thought you were getting a blog post from me?
Not today, kids. I had an exam yesterday, just got out of another exam, and have yet another one tomorrow morning. Since I’d actually like to write something other than “AGH MONKEYS WHY DO I FAIL AT LIFE,” stories about what I’ve been doing with my life and which flights of stairs I’ve fallen down this term will just have to wait.
It’s not like I’m leaving you out in the cold with nothing to read about, though. (Speaking of, why is it so friggin’ cold here right now? Where I come from, we don’t have things like cold and snow.) Here’s a guest post from Sondy G on MIT’s six independent living groups – they’ve been mentioned on the blogs before, but as none of the current or former bloggers have lived in ILGs, they haven’t really been discussed in much detail. Sondy’s post changes that, though. Read. Enjoy. I’m off to study for 7.05.
In response to not-so-recent posts by Paul, Snively, and Chris on fraternity life and lack thereof at MIT, here’s a post on MIT Independent Living Groups (ILGs), another alternative to dormitory/Greek life. Independent Living Groups are cooperative houses of 20 to 40 MIT students living together, similar to fraternities or sororities. Most ILGs lack national organizations, meaning that most if not all decisions made by an ILG are made by its students and alumni members. Since none of the current bloggers live in ILGs, I’m appreciative of Keri’s offer to host this entry. Thanks Keri!
I’ve visited a few of the other ILGs at MIT and some of their members were so kind as to include information about their houses, but the main focus of this entry will be pika since I live there. Hopefully other representatives of other ILGs will read this entry and can answer questions; if not, I can forward queries along to them. Comment early! Comment often!
David ’10 remarks that,
Epsilon Theta is a small and close-knit co-ed fraternity. We live in our beautiful house across from a pleasant public park in Brookline. Epsilon Theta is more than just a residence; it is a community of men and women who live with and depend on each other. One can always find members around the house playing a board game, working together on a pset, or eating a community homecooked meal. A recent pledge compares ET to other living groups stating “We’re more awesome.”
Fenway is home to 20 MIT students (and cats) in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
The No. 6 Club is a co-ed literary fraternity situated on campus. It is home to 40 members from around the world. Our quaint four-story, ivy-covered house is owned and operated by its own members. Although No. 6 remains part of a national organization and we identify ourselves
as part of a fraternity, we recently decided to be represented by MIT’s Living Groups Council, as opposed to the Interfraternity Council.
Student house is a co-ed living space located at 111 Bay State, Boston MA–
right in the midst of MIT fraternities, BU dorms, Fenway Park, and Kenmore Square.
Shuttles (Boston Daytime, Boston West) run daily during the year and help many
of our 24 residents get to and from campus.
Though we live in one of the richer parts of Boston, we are actually the
cheapest option for MIT affiliated housing at $370 per month, which includes
dinner most nights. Students are responsible for most aspects of life at the
house, including house government, cooking, house chores, etc.
We’ve got a great mix of undergrads, exchange students, and a few masters
students this semester, so come check us out!
The Women’s Independent Living Group (WILG) is one of the few all-women housing options at MIT. We’re an independent living group that houses about 45 residents. WILG was founded with the belief that a group of hard-working women can manage their own house, and we’ve been doing just that for over 30 years.
What is pika, you may ask? Isn’t that a small mammal like Pikachu? Why are you guys lowercase? pika started out as Pi Kappa Alpha back in the 1970s at MIT, then in the latter part of the decade deaffiliated from its national organization and went coed. If you want the gritty details, they’re on our house’s website (along with original documents from the founders and Pi Kappa Alpha). Epsilon Theta was formerly part of a national organization and opted to become independent, so pika’s in good company.
What makes our house unique? We have a three-story firepole, a four-story roofdeck system (designed and built by house residents), two cats, a treehouse with WiFi, an Athena cluster, free laundry, a TV room, a work room with two drillpresses, more books than we know what to do with, and numerous murals throughout <http://web.mit.edu/thekeri/Public/Pictures/images/circuit.jpg”>the house.
The back porches/firepole/roofdeck
The treehouse (a good place to camp during the summer)
Owning Your Own House
What distinguishes pika from the dorms and Greek groups? First off, we own our house. We don’t have a national organization, so our housebills go directly to house upkeep, food (I’ll get to that later), paying for our two cats, and buying chocolate for study breaks. As soon as a pikan graduates or moves out of the house, they become a member of Housecorp, a body responsible for our mortgage and decisions regarding the grander physical plant of our 100-some-odd-year-old house in Cambridgeport.
Owning your own house means you can modify it as you see fit. Think that wall needs a mural? Want a rope ladder in your room? Sick of that wall between you and the closet? Bring out the Sawzall… okay, consult with your housemates first; sawing through live wires and plumbing generally is no fun.
Part of owning your own house is maintaining your house. Most other ILGs have some flavor of work periods throughout the year: pika is no different. In the fall we have a major Work Week where we build new parts of the house (roofdecks, <http://web.mit.edu/thekeri/Public/Pictures/images/loft.jpg”>lofts, bunkbeds) and thoroughly clean and fix anything else that’s been neglected in the last year. We hold a smaller version, Work Weekend, at the beginning of spring semester. Local alumni show up, helping you bend steel with an oxyacetylene blowtorch or clean the kitchen after lunch. Work Week is a great time to get to know you housemates, whether they just moved in or if they’ve been living there for two years.
After completion of the roofdeck last fall, pikans celebrated with a human pyramid. From left to right: Top: Amber ’10. Second row down: Susa ’09, Liz ’10. Third row: Fucheng G, Jason ’10, Amelia ’10. Bottom: Emily ’10, Eric ’10, Brian ’08, Mark ’08. Photo taken by Alex G
Ian ‘09.5 pledged pika last November, and while we were excited to have him be a member of the house, we suddenly faced an important question: “How the heck will he get his scooter inside?” Within a month we had a design for a ramp that would wrap around the side of the house, planned out by current residents and an architect alum. In three weeks over IAP, we built an entire ramp for Ian, some days working in subzero temperatures. Fellow pikan Spang ’10 has more details on her blog here.
Food, Glorious Food!
Other ILGs have meal plans, ranging from having the kitchen stocked by a student elected to buy groceries to having a hired chef cook meals throughout the week. pika has a meal plan where everyone in the house takes turns cooking or cleaning once a week, ensuring home-cooked meals every night throughout the year. Speaking of preparing food, our kitchen is pretty awesome: a stove with six burners, two ovens, a sink big enough to bathe in, and more flour/cereal/fruit/sugar/rice/butter/milk/spices/whathaveyou than you can shake a stick at. Seriously. Come over and we’ll show you how well-stocked the pantry is. (It even has an alarm that squawks at you to shut the door.) We also try to see how many people we can cram around our dining room tables: at last count we were around 20. Video here.
20-something pikans on and around our dining room table
I like pika’s meal plan because it doesn’t require you to know how to cook! Novice chefs can sign up to clean, buy groceries, or help more knowledgeable geniuses in the kitchen. A lot of people have walked into pika not knowing the difference between a teaspoon and a ladle and walked out being one of the most celebrated chefs in the house. The only drawback is that when you graduate and get a place of your own, it becomes difficult to cook for just one after years of cooking for 30.
Connection to MIT
Being part of MIT means we get our own SafeRide stop. If you’re on campus past the last SafeRide run, Campus Police will give you a ride home. Some parents might worry about their son or daughter living so far away from campus and the infrastructure MIT provides. All ILGs are part of the FSILG Cooperative, which helps us pay bills, hire plumbers, pay our mortgages, and keep our houses running. In addition to having bureaucratic support, all ILGs are connected to the MIT network, meaning that we don’t have to wrangle with Comcast or Verizon for Internet access. This year, MIT is paying for network upgrades in all of the FSILGs, improving our network connections to campus, in addition to upgrading our phone lines and alarm systems.
MIT also supports a residence advisor (RA) in each FSILG. The RA is effectively our GRT and makes sure that the various students in the ILG are doing well, whether academically or emotionally. The RA also receives money from MIT throughout the year for study breaks and house outings. Our last RA was a magician and regularly put on magic shows for the house as well as the neighborhood. The current RA runs a summer camp and teaches elementary school children during the rest of the year. He’s developing a startup and is improving pika’s composting system. Awesome!
Along with setting our own rules and policies, most ILGs have relatively relaxed rush schedules. For example, Epsilon Theta accepts pledges both in the fall and the spring. pika holds rush meetings throughout the year, so people can receive bids in September or July or January or really whenever the house decides we’re excited about living with someone. Our bids are pretty unconventional: we give out physical objects to people that reflect the bidee’s personality. Chenxia ’10 received part of a washing machine that she helped disassemble. James ’08, an AeroAstro major, received a little red biplane for his bid but couldn’t figure out the best way to tell pika he wanted to move in the next term. Finally it came to him. He snuck into the house one night, hung the plane from the dining room ceiling, and spelled out “I PLEDGE” in flags behind its tail.
Rush is really a great excuse for the house to have fun! Some previous rush events have included making creme brulee with the oxy torch, beach trips, roofdeck campouts, frying pan ping pong, moonlight sailing expeditions, water fights… My personal favorite event in the last year was the Tesla coil made out of a ton of wire and two cake pans:
The Tesla coil, spewing 13,000 volt sparks into our basement (you should have seen the electric bill that month)
The best thing about the ILGs, beyond the tasty food and the awesome digs, is the community that each house embodies. pika has 30 students ranging from sophomores to grad students, in a myriad of majors. I love coming home at night to a living room full of people debating control theory or finding the best way to sail on the Charles in a stockpot. Three-hour musical jam sessions spontaneously break out in the living room. If you need a shoulder to cry on or help differential equations, someone is around to lend an ear or last year’s course notes.
People from pika go on to the Peace Corps, graduate school, or consulting gigs. Some start their own companies, volunteer in Africa, or just chainsaw firewood at sunset in an undisclosed location. Your roommate might be TAing the class that you’re taking this term, or might be trying to change the way people think about automobiles in the world. Or learning Israeli dance. Or tie-dying t-shirts in the basement all night. Regardless of who you are and what you’re doing, pika will accept you as you are, plus improve your cooking skills and handiness with a hammer by the time you graduate.
There’s a great sense of pride you get once you’ve installed your first toilet or slept in a bed that you built. Being responsible for the upkeep of a house is a great life skill and goes along well with MIT’s motto of “Menus et Manus” (Mind and Hand). Having practical experience taking care of yourself and your living arrangements is great practice for getting out into the real world after MIT.
When you come to campus, be it this spring or August, be sure to check out not only the dorms and Greek houses, but also your friendly neighborhood ILGs. We look forward to meeting you at either CPW or in the fall.
Thanks for reading!
Sondy (’07*… sorta) G
*Who is this graduate student and why is she writing about MIT like she knows something about the place? Though I didn’t attend MIT as an undergrad, I attended a nearby college and was able to cross-register at MIT for four years. I took seven classes at MIT as an undergrad (ranging from humanities to Ethics and Law on the Electronic Frontier to Asteroids and Small Bodies), had a UROP to build sailboat tracking devices, lived on campus one summer, and spent a lot of time in various dorms, fraternities, and living groups. Now I’m a second-year graduate student in planetary science (go EAPS!) and I currently live at pika, thanks to the undergraduates who were gracious enough to let me dwell with them. Rock on!