I am writing in response to Stephen Tsai’s letter. Stephen has given me a fresh understanding of what pain and loneliness can feel like on our campus, and the accounts he gives of his and others’ experiences and feelings will remain with me as I lead efforts to review our support services and the ways we make them available to community members. Stephen, thank you.
In particular, I am struck by Stephen’s assertion that all of us must bear in mind that the very people who most need help often feel the least well connected to the community. It is up to all of us to reach out to those who might need us, and to offer help. That is the very essence of community.
As Stephen says, we need to make sure that we’re making MIT as welcoming and supportive as possible. The good news is that we have significant recent improvements on which we can build. The most recent Senior Survey shows that students’ satisfaction with their MIT experience has grown from a “satisfied to dissatisfied” ratio of 6.9 in 2002 to one of 22.5 in 2010.
This data agrees with what I have observed personally. When I meet with random groups of students, I often ask what they have found most surprising about their experience at MIT. By far the most common answer is a variant of “MIT is much friendlier that I expected; people collaborate, there are people with similar interests to mine.” I believe it reflects a change in the sense of community on campus.
I know that not everyone may feel this way. While the Senior Survey shows a marked improvement in students’ sense of community, from a “satisfied to dissatisfied” ratio from 0.8 in 2002 to 9.3 in 2010, we must be committed to work on continuing to improve.
As I recently announced, we will be examining all student support mechanisms at MIT — as well as how we can make them more visible to students — and I invite suggestions from the community. It is vital that we all continue talking.
These are complex issues, and we know that students have a wide set of interests, of personalities, of backgrounds. But we can recognize those differences while building stronger connections within our community, so that all members feel included. I hope we will join in strengthening our MIT community: by reaching out to peers, colleagues, friends, and mentors to renew our sense of connection; by taking advantage of MIT resources like those Stephen noted for help in dealing with the emotional challenges brought on by recent events; and by reflecting on our goals and aspirations, individually and together.
Eric Grimson PhD ’80 is the chancellor of MIT.