So there are a couple of things here.
The first is that mollie is right. The narrative framing is everything (as I discussed in my data post). There are different schools that have different reputations that they need to rebut or enhance. I was joking with a colleague from a prestigious liberal arts school with no core requirements. He said that when our two schools market, "MIT has to take about how fun they are, and my university has to talk about how rigorous it is." And it's true. The frame from which you enter the conversation determines how you interpret the data.
For comparison, the school I went to my freshman year of college is smaller than MIT, has a reputation for being a difficult school, had big beautiful green spaces, and had four suicides (and four rapes) during that year; there was nary a peep about it beyond the student newspapers. But that school had no reputation for that sort of thing, so the data didn't cohere into a trend in the public imagination. That's just one example, but it's a powerful one.
That said, MIT isn't perfect either. MIT is a tough place. It's tough in the workload. And it can be tough in the culture. I always tell applicants that if you want to laze around for four years of college MIT is not the place for you. But beyond that there is certainly a subset of the MIT community that thrives on working harder than anyone else, on pulling more all nighters than anyone else, and so forth. And if you're not a part of that subset but you try to live up to it, or you feel like you have to, MIT can be tough. And if there are underlying mental health factors, plus some family issues, and a whole bunch of other things, then it can become a dangerous situation.
mollie's right that this can happen at any environment and at any school. And I don't think that it's MIT's architecture or space really at all.
But I do think it's also important for MIT to be reflective of what, if anything, it can change to minimize these tragedies. "Minimize" isn't big enough of a word to really evoke what I mean. I'd say "prevent", but the sad truth is - and I say this at someone who has been involved in residence life at three very different institutions - you can never "prevent" these things. You can just take every precaution you can, set up every safety net you can, try to help and to heal as you can, and then rest, if not comforted by, resigned to the knowledge that you have done everything you can. I do think that MIT has done this, and I think that it will now renew and redouble its efforts.
I am not involved with these decisions. They are way, way above my paygrade (thank goodness). But I do think that there is a time for everyone - staff, students, and faculty - to reflect and to ask ourselves: what more, if anything, can we do? And I do think that this is going on right now. I don't know what, if any, changes there will be, because we still don't know very much, and it's foolish to make decisions for PR
reasons if you're not going to actually help anything.
I'll close with a note that Chancellor Eric Grimson sent out to all MIT students last week, because I think it really says what needs to be said to students, which is more important, in some ways, at this moment, than what needs to be done:
Dear MIT students, |
Earlier this week, we were all shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of our community, the second death of a student on campus this academic year. Such losses stun us as a community; they are unexpected, they are hard to understand, and they remind us that our community depends not only on our academic endeavors, but above all on the people within it and the connections between us.
At times like this, our first thoughts must be with the grieving families, to offer them care, respect and support in such a difficult moment. As a longtime member of the MIT faculty and as a parent myself, I am also keenly aware that the loss of Nicolas Del Castillo and Satto Tonegawa has touched our entire community, including those who may not have known them directly. I want to extend my own personal wish that each of you takes a bit of time away from your academic routine to reflect on your connections to our community and on your sense of personal well-being. Take the time to reach out to your own circle of friends, peers and neighbors – a dormmate who looks distracted, a friend who seems stressed. All of us, at every age, go through periods of doubt, of stress, of feeling alone. But these feelings can be more overwhelming when you’re young and away from home. If you feel this way, please reach out – to a friend, to your housemaster, to a member of the student support staff, to a mentor, to one of the Deans. If you need guidance, support or just a sympathetic ear, MIT faculty and staff are here to help. Remember that you can find links to a wide range of resources at Personal Support & Wellness .
At MIT, supporting our students is of tremendous importance. In recent years, we have supported that commitment by strengthening a wide range of services: in mental health and other wellness services, in student support services, in residential life, in dining, in advising and mentoring and in student activities, among others. We have incredibly devoted staff members, who provide exemplary service both day to day and in times of crisis. However, strengthening MIT also means reflecting on how we provide support services and processes for our students and how we evaluate those services. To this end, I am bringing together a team of advisors to examine all of our current support systems and to think freely about new ways of providing community support, in keeping with the wonderful culture that has always defined the MIT community. I hope that this process will produce some constructive steps forward; in support of this effort, I welcome input from any of you, our students, by sending me an email at [email]
I hope this will be a time when we join in strengthening our MIT community: by reaching out to peers, colleagues, friends, and mentors to renew our sense of connection; by taking advantage of MIT resources for help in dealing with the emotional challenges brought on by these events; and by reflecting on our goals and aspirations, individually and together.