Opinion guest column

Supplementing “All Doors Open”

How each of us can improve our communities

Through the tragedies of last several months, we have often been reminded that MIT is a community that cares, that help is always available, and that seeking help is a sign of strength. And it is true that MIT has many excellent resources. However, it is also true that so many continue to see MIT as a place without a safety net.

I appreciated “All Doors Open” as an effort for us to consider how we can do better as a community — because a community response is necessary. What follow are my reflections on how we can make MIT a more caring place. They come from my experiences as an MIT undergrad, grad student, course instructor, and spouse; as a hallchair, GRT, and REF; as someone who has been with people facing rough times and lost someone close myself.

Learn to listen deeply. As engineers, we often jump to a solution, but for most challenging situations there is no quick fix. Instead, learn to take the time to let others speak without interruption or judgement, and learn to validate their experience by summarizing what they’ve said. For example, the next time someone tells you, “These n projects are driving me crazy!” try responding with something like, “It seems like it’s a tough week.” Give them the space to keep talking rather than one-upping them with, “I understand, I have (n+1) projects!” Practice speaking authentically.

For students and faculty alike, complaining about work and sleep is one of MIT’s most popular pastimes. But how many professors have you heard admit that they’re having a tough time balancing work and family or that they feel inadequate when trying to help a troubled colleague or student? We put so much value on our intellect that we are often afraid to admit that our minds may be troubled. As I discussed “All Doors Open” with the event’s participants, I was struck by how fleeting the truly deep moments were. Like any other skill, speaking authentically is challenging and requires practice. Faculty and senior graduate students, UROP advisors and upperclassmen: We are mentors whether we chose to be or not — we are the ones who must model healthy, authentic conversations.

Engage with those around you. An open door is a kind gesture, but ultimately a passive one. It does little if you haven’t made yourself approachable. We are a culture that usually won’t interrupt someone with headphones or with a closed door — after all, they might be busy being brilliant! Let us change that. As a freshman, there were a group of upperclassmen who stopped by my door several times a week, every week, no matter how often I said I was too busy to hang out. Fourteen years later, I still feel that their “door” is truly open. Start modest — whether it’s just a hello or an invitation to walk over to the coffee machine, make it a goal to engage with one person in your hall or lab space every week.

When I first arrived at MIT in 2001 as a budding engineer, I was frustrated that the administration couldn’t “solve” our mental health crises. Now I appreciate the efforts of administrators, department heads, and faculty to become more sensitive to mental health issues. I also appreciate how many of these issues are endemic in our community. But the bad news — that we must change as a community to address these challenges — is also good news: it means that each of us truly have the power to make a difference in our dorms, our lab spaces, and our departments.

Finale Doshi-Velez is a member of the Class of 2005 as well as a former hall chair on Fourth East in East Campus.