Opinion open letter

2021 Class Council requests guaranteed on-campus access for incoming seniors

Dear MIT Senior Leadership,

On behalf of the incoming Senior Class at MIT, the 2021 Class Council urges MIT Senior Leadership to ensure that the Class of 2021 will be guaranteed physical access to campus for the entirety of the upcoming academic year. During these unprecedented times, it is especially crucial we stick to the MIT mission — “to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.” As we outline in this memorandum, denying the Class of 2021 its senior year on campus would be contrary to this mission. The MIT senior year experience is grounded in the fulfillment of an MIT education, which extends beyond what a year of virtual schooling can sufficiently provide. As seniors embark on the journey of their final year at MIT, a presence on campus will be essential for their success, and favorable for MIT’s longevity.

We acknowledge that the Class of 2021’s invite should not impede invitations extended to students who need to return (e.g. students living in home environments not conducive to learning). As a Class Council, we are committed to offering support and inclusivity for those seniors who elect to remain off campus for safety or other personal concerns. We also acknowledge that other class years have valid considerations for the need to be on campus as well. However, we want to emphasize the underlying sense of urgency that applies to the Senior Class, who only have one year left at the Institute.

Academics and Research

As a student matriculates through the MIT program, the academic experience broadens beyond attending lectures. For those in their final year at the Institute, this means not only graduation requirements, but also vital opportunities to demonstrate the readiness to advance in our careers after MIT. Lab courses, capstone projects, and other CI-M’s require the synthesis of skills and knowledge gained over our tenure at MIT. These courses typically involve the creation of a final product or the completion of hands-on research. Experiences of this nature are impossible to wholly replicate virtually and fully-online alternatives prove inadequate and/or insufficient to the conclusion of an MIT education. For seniors, the academic need for an on-campus experience goes beyond the in-person components of particular courses. The values of in-person collaboration, quiet study environments, and easy access to educational resources are significant for all class years. However, seniors need to be prioritized for access to these aspects of MIT because this is their final year to fulfill graduation requirements.

Research is also a crucial aspect of the MIT undergraduate experience and a virtual senior year poses unique challenges in this regard. No substitute exists for physical access to lab equipment, a requirement for many ongoing research projects. Furthermore, many seniors have research-based theses to complete and will be seriously impacted if they must complete them remotely. Additionally, if remote, senior students that have been involved in long term research projects will face a limited ability to contribute to research that results in publication, an opportunity which is an important milestone for post-graduate opportunities.

Relationally, this is the last year for the Class of 2021 to develop relationships with faculty. Many of these relationships result in important letters of recommendation. These letters are integral to the advancement of our careers and a focal point of the graduate school admissions process and fellowship applications. Building the necessary rapport with faculty who write such letters is much easier in person, even with physical distancing.  

Professional and Career Development 

Senior year is an important transition in the career of MIT students. In addition to taking classes, this year consists of the application cycle for almost all post-undergraduate endeavors. Whether it be for applying to full-time industry positions, graduate school, or distinguished fellowships, immediate access to advising and support will remain a necessity.

The professional success of senior students is not just relevant to students but to MIT entirely. The accomplishment of seniors is correlated with MIT’s prestige and it is in MIT’s best interest to ensure that the Senior Class will be supported to the best of its capability. This is key for helping seniors gain access to fruitful opportunities after MIT and maintaining the Institute’s legacy of boasting successful and internationally recognized alumni. In this time of global health crisis, economic insecurity, and political divide, the Class of 2021 is going to need as much assistance as possible.

The challenges posed by the current economic reality negatively impact seniors, even before graduation. Not being on campus puts a financial strain on seniors who rely on on-campus employment. The inequity that would be faced by students during a virtual senior year would leave many seniors severely disadvantaged. Senior year is accompanied by a variety of different expenses (application fees, commencement-related costs, etc.) that are critical in allowing seniors to progress into the next phase of their lives. An in-person senior year is the first step in ensuring that seniors will have more equal access to opportunity. This would mean a world of difference for seniors in a time where financial independence is so important. 

Final Thoughts

Senior year is the final opportunity for students to find closure in the relationships they’ve built throughout their time at MIT. A virtual year could never come close to providing the space needed for all the hard goodbyes. Moreover, senior year is an important time to foster class unity. As we’ve learned through our time on class council, there’s nothing that promotes class unity and camaraderie more than being together. The significance of this unity goes beyond being a luxury. It has historically been crucial in making the final year at MIT a memorable experience. Sending us off into the world without this closure and these memories would be devastating for our class and could have lasting implications for our alumni relations.

It is with these considerations that we emphasize that, in nearly every way, a socially-distant year is better than a virtual year.

It is with these considerations that we ask the MIT Senior Leadership to remember the sentiments expressed in our letters of acceptance:

“I hope you’ll agree with us that MIT is the perfect place to prepare for your future...Together you will make all the difference in a world that desperately needs you.”

We hope that MIT will fulfill its commitment to prepare the Class of 2021 for a world that desperately needs us, now more than ever.  


2021 Class Council
Kofi Blake, President
Tema Nwana, Vice President
Yara Komaiha, Secretary
Jonathan Tagoe, Treasurer
Ashley Pearson, Social Chair
Joshua Verdejo, Social Chair
Anna Johnson, Publicity Chair
Zion Moore, Publicity Chair

Endorsed by the UA COVID-19 Committee

Members of the MIT community can sign this petition to show their support for the return of incoming seniors to campus for the upcoming school year.