When lightning strikes.

“You want to move to that dorm?”

That’s what my parents asked me when I told them I was considering moving from Simmons to East Campus through REX my freshman year. They had been given a tour of EC during CPW and hadn’t really gotten it. To be honest, I don’t think I had gotten it at that point, but something told me that whatever “it” was, it was something I was going to need. That would definitely come to be true in the year to come, where I’d hit some of my lowest lows, and I honestly believe that had I not moved to EC, I would never have found my way out of them.

Because nowhere else do I think I could have found a family like I have here.

I found a family that noticed my door had been closed for two days since I was sick and came to check on me. And upon finding me sniffling and gushing mucus quickly mobilized to produce chicken soup and tissues and tea and company. I’d known these people for two weeks at that point, but I was one of their own and we look out for each other. That even when I would wake up in the middle of the night spooked and feeling alone, all I had to do was open my door and I would find some little enclave of people to find shelter with until I felt like sleeping again (and in hindsight, I do not think it was mere coincidence that they were often just outside my door, if only because sometimes I am now a part of that enclave).

I found a family that encouraged me to learn to accept myself, that made an effort to help me grow and supported me as I tried new things, and was there to help pick me up when some things failed. EC became a place where I felt comfortable to cross and then reformulate my boundaries. MIT admits students who are inherently curious and experimental in nature, and EC became my laboratory where I could learn how I wanted to define myself, while always having my little family to support me. I became a lot more free-thinking and accepting. I started learning about feminism and body positivity and the spectrums of gender and sexuality. Especially in that first year, I learned far more from the people I lived with than in a classroom or lecture hall. I started working on becoming the type of person I wanted to be, rather than the person I felt like I had to be, and that was such a radical change for me and so vitally important to me actually making it through that year.

I found a family that let me know that it was okay to struggle. That was open with me about their own challenges in a way that made me finally start to open up and recognize that I could ask for help. Where in a kitchen at 10 PM the night before a final I was certain I would fail, someone would have one hand stirring a pot of pasta sauce and the other patting my back as I cried out my frustration and hopelessness.  Where even now as a senior, when word travels through that I’m stressed, it’s not surprising to find a positive message on my whiteboard or candy snuck onto my desk. Like I said, we look out for our own.

And the definition of “our own” is always expanding. My family has grown over the years to include alumni and year after year of new freshmen. But we have also taken in those that come to us, who like I once was, are unsure of what they’re looking for. They travel to us from dorm row or across the river or down the road and sometimes they come to live with us and sometimes they are a part of an extended family that we welcome with open arms in whatever way they need us. Even those who may leave us are always welcomed back with an excited shout and a sprint down the hall when they come to call.

So, now, when my parents come to visit me, it is not “that” dorm, it is my home. They always come with some sort of offering of food for my “EC family.” They buy rush shirts every year. My father has helped with projects and handy work around hall. My mother has made dinner in our kitchen. When we talk about the closer and closer “after” of MIT, they talk about trying to stay close to them, but also to the family I have found here. They talk about how odd it will be for me to live any place else, to not live in the blue and green room with the almost always open door where people are constantly in and out and my futon is rarely empty of people or the detritus of my life. They have accepted that in some ways, East Campus has become more my home than with them, and they understand the anticipation of loss I feel.

I don’t know that I will ever find another place like this and that’s okay. I don’t think that a family or a place like here is something you can find again easily, lightning doesn’t often strike twice. But I am so incredibly grateful that I even found it in the first place, because without it, I don’t think I could have become the person I am today. And when I look back on my time at MIT, I will never be able to forget the phone call that started it all:

“Mom, Dad, I’m thinking about switching dorms…”


1 thought on “When lightning strikes.”

  1. I lived in Senior House and later EC.. the family I gained from both still engages with me today, decades later. I painted every room I lived in, from beige to some color, it didn’t matter much what, as long as it wasn’t beige. It was inspiring, enlightening, and wonderful to come to MIT, and especially to the east side of campus, where somehow I knew I wouldn’t be judged – I had been judged and determined to be “uncool” and not worthy of anything throughout middle and high school, and the only basis for a possibly happier adult life came from nerd summer camp where I could actually talk to people who cared about the same things I did. I felt the same on the east side of campus when I came to MIT.
    I checked out other west campus dorms the first week I arrived but they all seemed so generic and accepting only of people who lived within a very structured and limited point of view. I wanted to be around people who felt free to express their opinions, no matter what they were, so I asked to live in Senior House. Interspersed throughout all the random activities and fun, there was a current of lively discussions of all aspects of our society, and a questioning of common knowledge, where I, and everyone, felt comfortable to ask odd and possibly awkward questions and debate among each other. In industry, it is especially important to not be afraid to ask questions and challenge people who may think they know better, in order to move beyond some notion of how things should be, and come up with better solutions.
    Between studying through all hours, people still found time for fun and adventures, which were often key growth periods emotionally for me – it was about having a crazy idea and implementing it, that night, instead of just sitting on a couch watching TV, which made life so much more fun. These are life habits which are hard to instill in any way unless you are exposed to fellow humans with similar ideas willing to carry them through.
    And through a personal family tragedy, my fellow dorm mates were there to sit with me through the night to support me when I felt like I couldn’t be alone. Living on the east side was truly a special experience. I wonder what it would have been like on the west side of campus, and from people I’ve spoken with since graduating, they felt it was decent enough, but they didn’t speak of their experience with the same excitement and fun in their voices that I had. I wonder why dorms on the west side of campus are not engaging the students in the same manner.