Now that MIT students are halfway through their first semester, they have had enough time to gauge how they are doing so far this year, academically and otherwise. Last week, MIT launched MIT Together, an initiative aimed to de-stigmatize and de-mystify asking for help in the MIT community. The core of MIT Together is a new website, together.mit.edu. On the site, students can find listings of student help services ranging from academic resources to mental health support.
“If you need help right away, the site tells you where to go,” wrote Dean of Student Life Chris Colombo in this month’s student life and learning digest. “If you are just contemplating making an appointment to talk with a professional, MIT Together will help you find the information you need to be comfortable reaching out for support.”
To publicize the campaign launch, MIT Together put up a series of posters on bulletin boards around campus. In addition, the team distributed door handle cards to each undergraduate dorm. The cards will soon be distributed to graduate dorms and independent living groups as well.
Despite the advertising, quite a few students interviewed in the Student Center and the Stata Center said that they hadn’t heard of the initiative, and asked what it was about.
Jessica J. Yang ’15, Class of 2015 president, said she first heard about MIT Together through an e-mail sent out to all MIT students.
“I thought the website, on a cursory glance, was informative. It was well-organized,” Yang said. “I think that if I were interested in those types of resources, I would definitely go to the streamlined website.”
Tom Gearty, director of communications for student life and special assistant to the dean for student life, stressed that MIT Together is not an office unto itself. Instead, it is supposed to serve as a kind of map to all the student support services offered by MIT.
The idea for MIT Together first came up in the fall semester of last year. According to Gearty, some members of the Undergraduate Association drew up a proposal for a student resource guide after some discussion. In addition, the student deaths last year prompted a community-wide conversation about MIT’s support resources. Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 received a large amount of feedback, and worked to address the community’s concerns. What came out of these different sources is what Gearty called “an awareness initiative” — MIT Together.
“The Together theme came out of this: students who are overwhelmed or isolated tend to think they’re the only ones who have the challenges that they have, or who aren’t succeeding with ease at MIT,” explained Gearty. “There’s this kind of legendary MIT student who doesn’t sleep and takes nine classes and skates through with a 5.0, and is just sort of waiting a couple decades for their Nobel Prize.”
Gearty emphasized that MIT Together is not just for undergraduate students, but for graduate students as well.
Laurel M. Heckman, a first-year graduate student, said that she would visit her undergraduate college’s website when she had questions about academic issues. With the launch of this site, she can see herself visiting MIT Together as well.
“If it’s something I’m embarrassed about, it’d be nice not to have to ask my friends if I didn’t want to,” Heckman said.
Others agree. “I thought the website was pretty useful,” said Kyle I. Murray G. “There actually wasn’t a whole lot of actual content on the site itself, but it was links to resources, essentially.”
“I like the idea. I feel like I kind of still didn’t have all of my questions or all of my information needs satisfied when I left the site, but it was still better than what information I had before,” Murray added.
In the near future, MIT Together plans to add more content to the site, such as a variety of student testimonials and helpful documents put together by the support groups at MIT. Ideally, Gearty wants to see everybody who has a stake in supporting MIT students to feel that they have a role in the site.
“To me, a sign that this campaign is successful is if over time, it becomes part of the vernacular at MIT so that a student who is thinking about getting support knows Together at MIT is the place to go to find that,” said Gearty.