FYI: Update on Room-Assignment Design Exercise

February 22, 2019

Dear students,

As you may have heard, we are working with student leaders and house teams to consider ways to improve MIT’s room-assignment and move-in processes. We have been meeting with students over the past several months, visiting houses for study breaks, talking to The Tech, sharing updates with all students, and engaging the MIT community in a recent faculty panel.

We know that a number of students have questions about what prompted the design exercise and what happens next. That’s why we are writing – to answer some questions we have received and to update you on where things stand.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why do we think that room-assignment and move-in processes need to be improved?

We are initiating this process of gathering ideas from house leaders in response to concerns that students have shared with us over the years. Even though there are many strengths of house life at MIT, we believe there are some areas where we can do better.

For a long time now, MIT’s Corporation, through DSL’s Visiting Committee, has called for the room-assignment process to be evaluated and improved. (For those who may not know, the role of the Visiting Committee is to ask administrative leaders to reflect upon a department’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges). As far back as the 1999 Bacow Report, and as recently as the 2017 DSL Visiting Committee meetings, questions have arisen about whether the room-assignment process is consistent with the Institute’s values and goals.

In recent months, DSL’s own concerns about the process have been heightened in many conversations with members of our community. Some students shared with us their painful experiences of rejection, isolation, stress, and a lack of personal agency. House teams have told us that they are troubled by aspects of the room-assignment and move-in processes. And families have shared concerns about the added stress MIT’s room-assignment process causes to incoming first-year students.

In addition to these stories, we looked to recent data. Around 25 percent of respondents to the 2017 Student Quality of Life survey (administered to all students in the spring, every four years) reported that their residence hall’s in-house room-assignment process was a source of stress. In the 2018 Orientation survey (administered in September), about 40 percent of 250 survey respondents described the process negatively. And in the 2018 First Year Residential Experience (Post-REX) survey (administered in October), more than 40 percent of over 500 respondents described in-house room selection negatively, with students making clear and pointed comments such as “students should not rank other students;” the in-house room-assignment process is “rigged,” “unfair,” “arbitrary,” and “not transparent;” and the in-house room-assignment process is perceived as “stressful,” “overwhelming,” “chaotic,” “confusing,” or “forced.” Together with the concerns we have heard from many students, these data convince us that we can do better.

2. What prompted the design exercise?

We know that changes to the room-assignment and move-in processes will be more effective if we have buy-in from many stakeholders. Rather than impose a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach, we have asked students to develop creative ideas for addressing these challenges through the design exercise.

Our recent emails to house leaders (which you can read here and here) explain why we believe we can do better and how engaging in the design exercise can help improve our room-assignment and move-in processes. Here are a couple of key points from those messages:

  • We asked each house to design a system that adheres to two requirements:
    • Upper-level students will not preference or select who will live on their floor/entry/community; and
    • New students will not be forced to move from the room assigned to them over the summer.
  • At least one of your designs must fulfill these two requirements because they reflect key concerns that are motivating this exercise. We also want house leaders to be innovative in their thinking. If students have additional ideas for improvements that are unrelated to the requirements, we want to hear them.

3. Who is responsible for addressing these concerns? And what happens next?

Senior administrators are responsible for creating a positive student experience on campus and addressing concerns when they arise. Given our commitment to shared governance, we share this responsibility with student leaders, faculty, house teams, and DSL staff. We are excited for the March 2 workshop where student leaders from each house will present their draft designs and share their thinking about different ways to tackle these issues. Their proposals will allow us to have productive conversations at the workshop about the pros and cons of change.

After the workshop, we will meet individually with every house team and Exec to discuss which of their ideas they can try in the short term and which ideas will need more time to be implemented and assessed.


We are confident that by working together, we can address the concerns we have outlined here and maintain the meaningful and unique aspects of MIT’s house system that we all value.

If you have any questions about the design exercise – or want to share your input ahead of the workshop – please do not hesitate to contact us, your student house presidents, heads of house, or area directors.


Cynthia Barnhart, Chancellor
Suzy M. Nelson, Vice President and Dean for Student Life