Opinion guest column

In response to MIT’s decision to send students home

MIT can do more to support its undergraduate community

In light of the coronavirus epidemic that is currently sweeping across the world, on Tuesday, March 10, MIT announced its hard decision to send all undergraduate students home. Considering the rapidly-escalating situation (e.g., the canceling of the NBA season as a result of a player testing positive, the US travel ban from Europe), we commend MIT’s imperative and proactive policies. We are writing this letter to re-emphasize what we feel makes MIT special, to its undergraduates in particular, and what other work MIT can focus on to sustain those aspects of the institution and its community as a whole.

From freshman learning communities to extracurricular student groups, activities, and teams, the MIT campus fosters so much opportunity for enrichment, learning, support, stress relief, and community outside of traditional academic courses. Many of these communities consist largely or solely of undergraduates, and have needed to go on “pause” for the rest of the semester. The projects and physical gatherings that unite students in these groups will be derailed, and without these aspects to bring them together, students will almost certainly feel the effects of loneliness and separation. For many students, these communities are key for the support, physical space, and structured time they provide for their members to come together and destress. Many of these communities are also struggling to figure out how to prepare for changes in leadership that are due to graduating seniors departing earlier — with all undergraduates in a frenzy to pack and move out, there is little time to meet and discuss in person their communities’ futures. These communities, which are essential for student health and wellness, are at risk of falling apart and no longer being able to support their members during this tough period. The administration should look to strongly support student groups during this time in their efforts to sustain their communities’ impact (support and communication) on their members, their community values, and their contribution to the greater MIT community.

In particular, MIT’s Campus Preview Weekend (CPW), when students come together to show off the best MIT has to offer, is one amazing example of the rich and vibrant undergraduate community found here at MIT. It is one of the largest campus events of the year, and is driven by the undergraduate population in coordination with administration. While CPW certainly will not be happening in person, the administration can and should work with students on virtualizing many aspects of the CPW experience to show to the rest of the world that our community stands strong, and that we care very much about potential new members of the MIT community. We applaud the efforts of students who have already thought about virtualizing CPW (Club Beaver) and providing a means of digital connection (Busy Beavers). 

Results we seek:

We understand that MIT has many highly trained professionals and administrators who are working around the clock to ensure the best outcomes for students. We want our administration, however, to emphasize these following outcomes to ensure maximum effectiveness and measured, risk-reducing results: 

Anthony Cheng and Sherry Zhou are members of the MIT Class of 2020. Cheng is studying Materials Science Engineering and is a former president of MacGregor House. Zhou is studying Chemistry and Biology and is a former co-chair of Undergraduate Association Committee on Sustainability.