• Smitha Raghunatha, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, sits atop a mountain of a friend's belongings prior to moving into Simmons.

    Donna Coveney

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  • Freshman Nikki Pfarr of Seattle describes her dorm decoration plans to her parents.

    Donna Coveney

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Simmons Hall opens doors as new era dawns on campus

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Housemasters Ellen and John Essigmann welcomed Simmons Hall's first residents Tuesday morning, ushering in a new era in campus life.

The 350-student residence hall on Vassar Street, MIT's first new undergraduate housing since Next House opened in 1981, symbolizes the beginning of MIT's evolution from a sprawling academic city to a bustling, collegial neighborhood.

About 100 students moved in Tuesday with assistance from parents, upperclassmen and new friends. Along with room keys, student leaders of the hall issued each resident a phone and a roll of toilet paper before directing them to their new homes.

One resident described the building as "colorful" and another said she appreciated the plentiful natural light that drifts in through thousands of square windows.

The first floor of the 10-story building is devoted to communal space, including a meeting room, a dining room and several lounge areas, following the vision outlined in the Task Force on Student Life and Learning report in 1998.

"It will be a fluid community as dictated by the architecture," said Essigmann, professor of toxicology and a longtime housemaster at New House. "Much space has been devoted to bringing together people from all over the dorm and all over the campus for social and educational purposes. The community will spring from the form of the unique building."

The students who moved in on Tuesday included about 50 members of the Class of 2006, the first incoming freshmen required to live on campus. In previous years, freshmen were permitted to choose between on-campus residence halls and the off-campus fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs). The FSILG rush, traditionally held during orientation, has been postponed until Sept. 27-Oct. 11.

"I believe the upcoming year will have great opportunities and challenges," said Essigmann. "We have moved away from the old 'rush' system to a model that emphasizes introduction of first-year students to the entire community. The new model does not have the asymmetric focus on residence selection that existed in the past. Time will tell how well it will work out.

"Finally, as we move to a new way to introduce our first-year students to the community, we should work hard to make the residence halls a welcome environment for FSILG recruitment," he continued. "It benefits all of us to help the first-year students find the most comfortable environment in which to spend the upper-class years."

A residence hall at Sidney and Pacific Streets housing about 700 graduate students also opens its doors this week. Last year, 224 Albany St. was renovated to accommodate 120 graduate students.

Baker House and Senior House, both undergraduate dormitories, have also been renovated in recent years.

Topics: Campus buildings and architecture, Students


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