The following article was written by Sham Sokka and originally printed in the Graduate Student Newsletter

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 Streets.

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 of warehouses.

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