The importance of S^3 for students

As with all of MIT, we are deeply saddened by the loss of another member of our community. Over this academic year, the deans in Student Support Services (S3) have met with many individuals who have been impacted by the student deaths. The loss and circumstances are almost incomprehensible to many friends and peers of these students and to the community.

To balance the comments made in the guest letter, we acknowledge MIT is a challenging and demanding place to study. The Institute affords vast resources to support the academic success and personal growth of our students. Student Support Services is just one of those resources, but it is a critical, low-barrier, easy access point for undergraduates. The deans in the office provide advice and advocacy for students and try to make S3 an easy place to ask for help.

S3 is not for everyone, and it is certainly not the place all problems are solved. Indeed, each student’s challenges are personal and unique. One model does not fit all. If we cannot meet a student’s need, a referral is made to the more appropriate office or service, for example Mental Health and Counseling or Student Disabilities Services.

In responding to concerns we heard in the past about the availability of deans and wanting to better meet the needs of students, two years ago we opened a walk-in service (9–10 a.m. daily); extended hours one evening a week (Tuesday); and adjusted schedules in other ways to accommodate students. All told, we have opened up more than 50 additional slots for students each week. If a student has an immediate need, there is no wait to see a dean. If someone wants to meet with a specific person, we make every effort to schedule an appointment within 48 hours. Prompt access to a dean is priority; students should not wait for help.

Student Support Services (http://web.mit.edu/uaap/s3/index.html) does not provide therapy or treatment; that is the role of our colleagues in MIT Mental Health and Counseling. What the deans in S3 are responsible for is listening to students, providing advice and guidance on personal and academic concerns, advocating for students, and providing referrals to other offices or services. We have almost 4500 meetings with students annually and over half of each graduating class has accessed S3 prior to their graduation. That speaks to the value and need of the service to support our students. Certainly, we accomplish administrative work on behalf of students — petitions, excuse notes, withdrawals, and readmissions. Those functions are just part of the work. The focus is working one on one with individuals who have unique and personal needs.

We recognize that one type of support may not satisfy the needs of every individual. A priority is to connect each student to the most appropriate and effective resource. In the case of the guest author, it is clear we were not successful in assisting her. We do believe we have many more success stories than not, but we must remain ever vigilant in working to support and meet the needs of our students.

The guest author also makes some important points that we agree with and are worth highlighting. There is a common struggle among MIT students to feel inadequate in comparison to their peers and their professors. The problem is, while many feel this way, most people do not discuss it openly. More open and honest discussion about this, we believe, would help students to recognize they are not alone in this self-perception and hopefully help to change how they view themselves.

MIT is also not a perfect match for all students. That realization may be a challenging acknowledgement to reach, particularly given the accomplishments necessary to be admitted to the Institute. In the end, it is important that each individual find the university and discipline of study that allows him or her to flourish and accomplish his or her dreams.

Perhaps most importantly, the author asks people to be a little more forgiving, and more open to the idea that we all fail sometimes. This is a worthy message.

Student Support Services remains dedicated to our students and committed to be responsive to the ever-evolving needs of the MIT undergraduates.

Julie B. Norman is the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and director of the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming