Random Hall Turns 12—or Is that 48?

by Julie Barr on February 29, 2016 · 1 comment

in Campus, Campus Culture, Hacks, Remember When..., Student Life

RandomHall6_editFor those born on February 29, each leap year calls for a big celebration—the same goes for Random Hall. Just one of the many quirks of this MIT dorm is that its dedication fell on February 29, 1968. To honor this special day, residents, past and present, will reminisce about the living community and what makes it an MIT treasure, so we thought it appropriate to do the same.

The Institute’s smallest undergraduate dorm with a maximum of 93 residents, Random Hall used to be a single-occupancy hotel and was purchased by the Institute in 1967 because of a housing shortage. As legend would have it, the Tech first started referring to it as “the dorm to which students have been assigned at random,” and the name stuck. The first cohort of students had the opportunity to name it, although they initially attempted to name it Random “House” but were forced to change it after receiving a cease and desist letter from Random House Publishing Founder Bennet Cerf.


One of the many murals in Random Hall painted on the walls by residents.

According to Dan Fingerman ’69, one of the founding members, the decision to dedicate the building on February 29 was not accidental. “Random Hall would age only ¼ as rapidly as all the other dorms and therefore would, eventually become the youngest dorm on campus,” says Fingerman.

Nina Davis-Millis, housemaster since 1995, describes Random Hall by quoting a past resident who said: “The way the rest of the world thinks of MIT is the way the rest of MIT thinks of Random. We’re kind of at the extreme end of things both geographically in terms of our physical location and in personality. The buzz is that the over-the-top genius types live at random.” Davis-Millis agrees that they are certainly are at the extreme end of the nerd spectrum, with a disproportionately higher amount of students studying math.

When you enter Random Hall, you’re immediately struck by its odd layout—the halls are a maze connecting the two buildings. Another thing you notice immediately is the murals. Students have been allowed to paint on the walls from the very beginning, and some of the original artwork is still there. The dorm has a fictitious persona, J. Arthur Random, and a mascot, Ozok, and holds the number 17 to be iconic. And of course, a special resident known as “the milk.” A 21-year old carton of milk that residents celebrate with an annual birthday party.

Random Hall has eight floors, each with a different and distinct identity. There’s even one floor called Destiny that got its name when past floor members listed the naming of the floor on eBay. The man that won, who had no connection to MIT, decided to name it after his daughter, Destiny. Some floors are very into gaming, some into cooking, and one is highly involved in MIT’s Assassins Guild.

Games have been an interest since the beginning, from board games to computer games to live action games. The residents have a huge presence in the annual Mystery Hunt, winning many years and with such great involvement that some floors have declared themselves hunt-free zones to allow some respite from the chaos. It is also rumored that Random Hall has had a long history of hacks.


The early days of Random Hall’s Internet laundry system.

Other notable assets are a roof deck, a movie theater, and the only free laundry on campus. It also boasts an online laundry server thanks to two enterprising students in 1996 who hooked the machines up to the Internet.

This year’s celebration, although not the largest—that probably goes to the 2008 bash with 150 alumni and past residents in attendance—will be recognized by students and alumni near and far. “This day for me,” says Isaac Grosof ’17, Random Hall president, “is an opportunity to look back at the history, to reconnect to alumni, and celebrate through a series of events to celebrate Random’s people and culture, and I’m looking forward to it.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Fred Nussbaum March 19, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Happy belated birthday, Random Hall. I have many great memories of my year there (1970-71). I definitely was a unique dorm, which is why I chose it in my freshman year over the “reformulated” fraternities and the regular dorms. I lived in the right-hand section, I believe, on the 3rd floor.

Way to go, J. Arthur!


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