Picture this, it is the summer time, and I am finally free from the stresses of MIT. There are no more PSETs I must frantically worry about handing in on time, there are no more days where I have to worry about scheduling eating and cooking within my busy schedule, and there are no more days where I lose sleep worrying about how I’m doing in school. My stress has melted away into a newfound excitement for the future, for REX week, for living in a suite with friends next semester, and adding new freshman into a community that I cherished so much. Now picture me, it is the summer time. I try to believe that stress doesn’t change me, so the bubbly, excitable, carefree girl I’m telling you to picture isn’t so different from winter-me. I’m on the train heading into the depths of New York City, about to venture into the Museum of Modern Art with a friend from Senior Haus. Despite being a New York native all my life, this is the first time I’m riding the subway alone. The signal on the train is spotty as it dips underground and reemerges, but I don’t care. Museums have always been sources of accessible fun in the big city, and god, how I love impressionist art. There is nothing but pure excitement running through me. Now, I want you to rip this picture apart.
The email subject title read: “Important news for the Senior House community.” Straight from the Chancellor herself. The only line from the email that loaded said, “We write to share with you some troubling data about the Senior House community…” Keep ripping the picture, think about how the ink can start to peel away from the edges at every rip. The music that was once playing in my ears turned into an ugly, burning dull noise. As the train flew beyond the Bronx and into the famous Big Apple, all I could think about was the very real possibility that things were no longer going to be all that I had dreamt about. People on the train became lifeless and unreal puppets living in a world where I was looking into. My hands, as shaky and sweaty as they were, no longer felt like my own. Was I dreaming?
There are a couple of proposed solutions to the “troubling data” outlined in the email. The one that strikes me as the most hurtful is the one that bars incoming freshman from choosing Senior Haus in the summer housing lottery. My heart hurts for the Class of 2020, for being denied access to a place that is a home for my hopeful heart and wearied mind. A place where residents are not afraid to look the creatures of the dark in the eye and paint them on our walls as warning signals. A place where people truly love living and it shows.
This feeling from the train ride, the disconnection from reality, where we must ask ourselves, “is this actually real?” is a feeling I know too well. It is one I never spoke about before coming to live in Senior Haus. I couldn’t concentrate at the museum; I felt hollow and unreal. My legs moved before I could process and my eyes saw but didn’t really see. Even the sight of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the source of inspiration for a mural I painted in my dorm room, did nothing to bring me back into reality. Many of us, I’m sure, have felt this, but are too afraid to talk about it. I remember the first time this happened, this disassociation, as it’s known as in the medical community, feeling both terrified at my own disconnect and at the idea of having to tell people. I was afraid to tell my own parents, my friends, all while grappling with a nasty voice in my head that kept telling me I would soon wake up from this dream. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was too busy wiping away tears and trying to convince myself I would be okay. The few people I did tell had trouble believing me. It’s not that they didn’t care, but they couldn’t grasp this feeling of pure anxiety and fear I was feeling. So I kept shut. I stopped talking about it entirely. I smiled through my episodes and continued on pretending like nothing had ever happened. When I got to Senior Haus, everything was so… different. I could talk freely about this, without ever feeling judged. In casual conversations while walking to Tosci’s, I could go off on a tangent and finally say the words I had been dying to say for so long. I could talk to my GRT’s about it, at 2AM when I should have been doing work. I’d hear, “You know, sometimes I feel like that, too.” And that was all I ever needed to hear. All I had ever wanted to feel was some validation, some acknowledgement that I was not suffering alone. Without Senior Haus, this would’ve continued to be my bottled up secret. Typing this, even now, still feels like a milestone. The story doesn’t end here, either.
There is no doubt that this dorm means so much to its residents and house team, past, current, and future. It is my personal source of happiness in an institution that frankly, would have crushed me without it. It is a dorm for a disproportionately high amount of LGBT students, students of color, and first generation students, people who are already statistically more likely to deal with mental issues and struggle in school. It is a place with a colorful and rich and sometimes even unsavory history, and a place I couldn’t be happier to call my home. There are very real problems here, but no one cares more about them than the people who deal with them every day. The lack of student input on this decision that ultimately affects the entire MIT undergrad population is truly disappointing.
I am a part of these underrepresented minorities. There are incoming 2020s who are as well. It is hard to not be aware of the news and of the discrimination that we face for simply existing. Now, more than ever, I am hyper aware of my own mortality, at the very real prospect of being gone in an instant. So forgive me MIT, and forgive all the freshman who wanted to be a part of our community, for wanting to live in a place where we can forget about all of that.