After second freshman's death, some professors lighten students' workload

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Courtesy of Tampa Bay Times
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Students gather in Lobby 7 to remember Christina Tournant Saturday afternoon.
vivian hu—The Tech

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: An earlier version of this article misstated its authors.

Christina E. Tournant ’18, who lived in Maseeh Hall, died last Thursday in Florida while on voluntary medical leave. She was the second freshman MIT had lost in a week.

The 2014 valedictorian of Osceola High School, Tournant was interested in studying biomedical engineering at MIT. Tournant was a sister of the Alpha Phi sorority as well as a diver on the swim team.

“She was that kid that was just happy,” Tournant’s mother, Tava Wilson, told the Tampa Bay Times. “She wanted to do all kinds of fun things.”

The newspaper reported that minutes before Tournant was found dead last Thursday night, apparently having jumped off a parking garage at Tampa International Airport, she had sent a text message to her mother: “I love you, mom.”

“Sorry,” she wrote in a separate note, “I couldn’t keep fighting.”

Tournant had been suffering from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome for the past two years, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The syndrome caused her severe pain and circulatory issues. Her condition worsened in December, and in February, she took medical leave from MIT.

Wilson said it was the physical pain that led to her daughter’s “emotional pain.”

“She was very stoic and didn’t want to let on how horrible she was feeling … She was really stoic to a fault,” Wilson said.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif notified campus of Tournant’s death in an email last Friday.

“This is a moment when we need each other, a moment for caring, understanding and kindness,” he wrote. “We will come through this tragic period together.”

Maseeh Hall residents met with their housemasters, graduate resident tutors, and MIT Mental Health representatives last Friday. A larger community gathering was held in Lobby 7 on Saturday to remember Tournant.

“People across our community are feeling the impact of the recent losses and those that came before,” Chancellor Cynthia A. Barnhart PhD ’88 said at the gathering. “There is no shame in asking for help and support.”

Tournant’s death came less than a week after the death of Matthew L. Nehring ’18, which Reif announced on March 1.

“Four days ago, we gathered in lobby 10 for a similar reason,” Barnhart said. “Coming so close together, [the deaths] are a terrible blow,” she said.

Faculty members have also addressed the deaths in lectures and emails.

“These heartbreaking losses are impossible to fathom.” Professor George C. Verghese wrote to 6.011 students. “We are unlikely to ever have the answers we might want, not having walked in their shoes. That doesn’t stop our questions, and our wondering what might have made a difference — and what might still make a difference to others in despair.

“But at a time like this it is also important to — and perhaps impossible not to — reflect on life, and on what matters to us, individually and together.”

Verghese canceled Wednesday’s 6.011 lecture and said students did not have to turn in one of the class’s problem sets. He also invited students to visit the Harvard Art Museums with him.

In an email to his 18.06 students, Professor Gilbert Strang wrote: “In class I also had an opportunity to say a few words about the sad events of last week and the support I feel for all of you from the President down, the faculty wants only good for every one of you. Please let me know any time I can help you.”

Other instructors also expressed similar sentiments and decided to lighten their classes’ workload this week. 18.06 and other classes pushed back problem set due dates, and some classes, including 6.01 and 6.006, made tests scheduled for this week optional.

Members of the MIT community who feel affected by the deaths can access MIT student support resources and Mental Health Services at, or via phone at 617-253-2916 during the day and at 617-253-4481 during nights and weekends.

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Anu Sood about 9 years ago

This and all suicides are very unfortunate and sad, but I don't see the connection with the MIT workload.

anon about 9 years ago

Many instructors have not lessoned the work load. In fact, for lot of semester, the snow days resulted in difficulties accessing labs to complete some assignments, p-sets, yet instructors failed to modify due dates in light of those problems. Usual response is that they are MIT students so they should be able to comply with the deadlines regardless of whether they could get into labs to do the work. Many have to cut vaction short or stay for the first part of vacation to get assignments completed Usual mentality is they are MIT students they should be ready to give up vacations and should not have booked flights home becuase they are MIT students so they should not need a break.I'm all for intense curriculum but everyone needs time off to see family and friends. Mental health requires that.