“While Mens et Manus may be our decree when heard outside the school…here it’s
parete legi novembri
…OBEY THE NOVEMBER RULE”
— Hack Punt Tool
It’s November 1st. Hopefully all the seniors in high school reading this post submitted their early application yesterday, and are already dying to check that fateful webpage sometime in the middle of December.
Here at MIT, the date is significant for a different reason – it’s the day that the November Rule technically “expires”.
What is the November Rule? It’s the unspoken rule we have on campus that freshman-upperclassman relationships are strictly forbidden until November 1st. While this mostly applies to upperclassmen as a warning not to mack on the frosh, Newton’s Third Law dictates that it applies to the frosh as well. An important note: the rule does not apply to freshman-freshman relationships, but I’ll give my opinion on that later.
Why is this a thing? The Tech has their take, and I agree with pretty much everything in this article, but I’ll say my spiel anyways.
Freshman fall is kind of a shitshow. In the course of a few weeks, you have to learn how to deal with classes (which are suddenly very difficult and nothing at all like that easy shit in high school), how to balance extracurriculars, studying, and life, and make at least one good group of friends. This is not easy. Peoples’ experiences with freshman fall lie on the scale of “it was a little rough to adjust to” to “it was a nuclear disaster”, and anybody not on that scale is lying.
In the midst of this shitshow, the last thing you need to be doing is getting into a relationship of any sort. Your self-esteem is already being tested – the classes are hard and suddenly you’re getting Bs and Cs and even failing tests, and you feel like you’re stupid and you don’t belong here. The last thing you need is to get into a relationship and go through a bad breakup and feel even shittier. You might not even know that it’s possible to feel even shittier, but it is. Plus, no matter what type of relationship you have – on the spectrum from just hooking up to full blown monogamy – it’ll take up a non-trivial amount of your time, and possibly occupy a non-trivial amount of your emotional capacity, neither of which are in great abundance during freshman fall. Granted, you’ll probably have more free time during freshman fall than in any other semester, but the importance of managing your time well cannot be understated, and freshman fall is the time to learn how to do that. It is not the time to be worrying if somebody wants to hook up with you or not. That can come when you have your shit marginally figured out.
As an associate advisor for freshmen, one of the biggest reasons that most of us give re. holding off on relationships during the first few months at MIT is the harm it could inflict on other budding social groups. Say you get into a relationship, and as is common in relationships, you spend a lot of time together and neglect other social groups that you might be forming. Now say that you break up, and suddenly find that you don’t have a group of friends, and most friend groups have already stabilized and it’s hard to work your way in. This is obviously a fairly bad scenario, and if you’re reasonable about relationships, then this won’t happen. But most of us here have seen it happen, and that’s why we always give this example as fair warning.
Notice that I didn’t specifically call out freshman-upperclassman relationships. I’m calling out all relationships, including freshman-freshman ones, because I think what I said above holds true in both cases. But the November Rule specifically targets freshman-upperclassman relationships, and that’s because of the power dynamic.
There are a lot of opinions on whether there actually is a power dynamic between upperclassmen and freshmen. I saw a recent MIT Confession that argued that there isn’t really, since most of the “power” upperclassmen have is from being experienced and wise denizens of MIT, when in reality most upperclassmen aren’t, or at least don’t feel that way. I personally believe that this is untrue. I can attest to the fact that I definitely don’t feel like I have any idea of what’s going on at MIT, but the fact is that I do. I’ve had an entire year here. Whether I realize it or not, I now know a lot of things that I definitely didn’t know freshman fall. Some examples:
- Starting a pset the night before it’s due will not end well
- Though it might have worked in high school, staying up late every day fooling around and sleeping 4 hours a night is not a sustainable lifestyle
- Doing All The Extracurriculars That Seem Cool is also unsustainable – you have to eventually pick and choose
- Failing a test is okay and is not the end of the world (I remember getting a fifth week flag in 5.111 and feeling like my world was in fact ending but this is okay, I passed and lived to tell the tale)
I strongly believe that my duty as an upperclassman is to help freshmen work through all these issues and realize where their boundaries are. Once they can stand on their own feet, the power dynamic is significantly diminished. But the time it takes for that to happen is set at a bare minimum of two months.
That being said, there are some (creepy) upperclassmen who declare “open season” on the frosh starting today. I don’t think that the turn of the month means that all the frosh are suddenly mature MIT students who know how to balance their time and relationships, hence the creepiness. In turn, it’s not that great for the frosh to suddenly start macking on all the upperclassmen they’ve been crushing on. Today just signifies that a social convention has now become marginally less unacceptable. That doesn’t make getting into relationships left and right starting today the best idea.
There are a lot of people whose opinion on the November Rule goes something alone the lines of “hang the rules, they’re more like guidelines anyways“. That may be true, but I believe it’s a guideline with good intentions that people should follow. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, more than 50% of college assaults happen in the first six weeks of the fall semester. I like to think that putting a social stigma on freshman-upperclassman relationships does something to alleviate that statistic.
On a lighter note: the quote I put at the top of this post is actually a line from a song from Hack Punt Tool, an MIT original musical! This musical is about a lot of important elements of MIT culture, and one of the subplots is about the relationship between a freshman and an upperclassman. They do eventually get together after going through many grueling experiences together and coming out on the other side okay - and after November, of course! (spoilers in the footnote, don’t read it if you’re actually going to watch it!) Obviously there has to be a song about obeying the November Rule, and it is a real bop if I do say so myself. I’ve linked the entire musical below – give it a watch! If you’re only interested in the song, it starts around 33:45. The video doesn’t have proper captions yet (we’re working on it), but you can find the full script here in the interim!
- They do eventually get together after going through many grueling experiences together and coming out on the other side okay - and after November, of course! back to text ↑