The following article was written by Sham Sokka and
originally printed in the Graduate Student
Graduate student housing has a rich and unifying history at M.I.T. The
first graduate residence at M.I.T., the second in the United States, was
established in 1938 by then institute President Karl Taylor Compton.
As motivation to fund this project, he stated in an address to the
alumni: "Graduate students now lack almost completely the social
contacts which the undergraduates enjoy throughout their manifold
organized activities. Their cultural development, and hence their social
effectiveness, depend on such contacts. The most natural cultural
training comes from free social intercourse between men of differing
interests but of equivalent intellectual outlook."
Although times have changed, President Compton's statement rings true
today with the new Sidney-Pacific Graduate Residence, and his reasoning
was once again a primary driving force behind its establishment. The
growth of the graduate student body, the rise in rents in the
surrounding neighborhoods, the institute's previously stated commitment
to house half the graduate students on campus, and the desire to house
all interested first year students on campus also contributed to the
construction of a residence hall on the corner of Sidney and Pacific
Despite these reasons, the rise of a graduate residence at that site was
not easy and has taken years of advocacy and planning. The vision to
build a graduate residence at this site goes back to the late 80's.
Even after the construction of Edgerton Hall, the housing needs of the
graduate students remained unmet. The Graduate Student Council and the
Dean for Graduate Students, Ike Colbert, became the bearers of the torch
for this cause. In the early 90's, the GSC spent almost all of its
advocacy time on graduate housing.
In 1997, there was a breakthrough.
In March of that year, the M.I.T. planning office hired an architectural
firm to help prepare plans for a new graduate residence. A group of
graduate students, administrators, faculty and staff headed by Professor
Vernon Ingram, then housemaster of Ashdown House, developed a detailed
vision of a new graduate residence that would combine high quality
accommodations similar to Edgerton Hall with the abundant community
space of Ashdown House.
Soon after this client team report came out, institute priorities
changed, and funds that might have been used for a graduate residence
were diverted elsewhere. There was a perceived crisis in undergraduate
residential life, new academic initiatives were beginning, and graduate
housing fell lower on the institute funding priority list.
So once again the GSC raised the torch, this time engaging leaders in
the graduate residence halls. After two years of hard work by graduate
student leaders such as Luis Ortiz, Brian Schnider, and Tom Lee, M.I.T.
renovated an old warehouse used as a storage facility (NW30, now the
Warehouse graduate dormitory) and began to commit funds to building a
750 student residence hall in University Park, a once desolate graveyard
This decision was ultimately that of senior administration, which
committed the institute to a debt of over $90 million. We must remember
that this was no small task, and it should serve as the strong reminder
of the institute's commitment to graduate students.
Struggles remained for this residence even after the administration's
commitment to build. There were difficult negotiations with the city of
Cambridge to get a building permit, no formal structure to incorporate
student input into the design, and an attempt to use a majority of the
S-P community space exclusively for day care. However, in late 2000, the
GSC began to work with the project manager for this building, Senior
Real Estate Officer Michael K. Owu, and many of the struggles gave way
to new-found excitement.
Owu listened to student input and incorporated many of the comments from
the original client team report. The resultant building will include as
much community space per person as Ashdown House, units as spacious as
Edgerton Hall, amenities such as air conditioning, wireless internet,
convocation space, a state-of-the-art gym, a seminar room, an equipped
game room, and a series of other technological innovations.
In addition, the Dean for Student Life's office has committed resources
(both time and money) to develop programs for community building. With
its space and programs, Sidney-Pacific will become a premiere graduate
student center, engaging not only residents but off-campus graduate
students, undergraduates, faculty, and the greater Cambridge community.
What began as simple statement in 1938 by President Compton will now
lead to the addition of an eighth graduate residence hall. His vision of
"free social intercourse between men [and women] of differing interests
but of equivalent intellectual outlook" has already been realized in the
establishment of this community.
The Sidney-Pacific Residence Hall is the culmination of graduate
students, faculty, and administrators past and present working together
with a shared vision. It is now up to future residents to carry on this
rich and hallowed tradition.
Sidney-Pacific opened in Fall 2002
Houses 749 graduate students, four housemasters and one RLA
Largest residence at MIT
The house is divided in four wings:
Orange: Nine stories
Purple: Nine stories
Green: Six stories
Blue: Five stories