President L. Rafael Reif announced Tuesday the death of Phoebe Wang ’17, who local media reported was found dead in her MacGregor dorm room. In response to her death, as well as the deaths of several other members of the MIT community in recent months, Chancellor Cynthia A. Barnhart PhD ’88 and student leaders will call on the community to spend 15 minutes this coming Monday at noon to reflect on the effects of the recent deaths.
Wang was involved in a number of groups on campus; Reif’s email to MIT said she was an active member of her dormitory as well as a flutist in the MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO). Adam K. Boyles, the director of MITSO, wrote, in an email to The Tech, Phoebe “was well liked and respected by our whole MITSO family. We are honored to have had her art with us, albeit too briefly.”
According to Barnhart, Wang’s death triggered “an outpouring of responses from students, staff, faculty” asking what they could do to contribute.
Barnhart, along with Undergraduate Association President Shruti Sharma ’15 and Graduate Student Council President John K. Nowocin G, will announce the “all doors open” period to take place this coming Monday at 12 p.m.
“The idea is we’re asking everyone to open your doors, to really gather together, engage with others, and maybe if that’s not what you want to do, just take the time to focus on private reflection,” said Chancellor Barnhart.
Barnhart and student leaders view this time primarily as a symbolic statement. “This is our way of saying the community does care and we want to be there for each other and provide support to each other,” she said.
Sharma added, “[I] think when we have a community doing this together, it only fortifies the message that we are a community... This is all for students.” Nowocin pointed out that students deal with death in different ways and said the “all open doors” period is a product of brainstorming among the student leaders and Barnhart.
In addition to the “all open doors” effort, Barnhart, Chair of the Faculty Steven R. Hall ScD ’85, Sharma, and Nowocin plan to announce the creation of a mailing address, email@example.com, for MIT community members to share insights from the reflection. The emails will be reviewed by both Hall and Barnhart.
Barnhart hopes that this system will provide her with ideas and identify people who are interested in helping out. “It’s really important that the students are part of the solution,” stated Barnhart.
When asked whether she would use the results of Chancellor W. Eric Grimson’s PhD ’80 2011 review of MIT’s student support systems, Barnhart said that some ideas that were not yet implemented could be part of a longer process.
In their letter to the MIT community, Barnhart, Hall, Sharma, and Nowocin, write: “This pause for shared reflection is merely a beginning... we believe it is an important place to start a significant, long-term conversation for our community.”
“In recent months we have lost too many of our cherished students and dear friends,” Reif said in his letter this past Tuesday. Since March, Reif has emailed the MIT community with news of the deaths of four graduate students and Professor Seth Teller. Three of deaths have been ruled suicides. The cause of death of Austin Travis is still pending, according to the Middlesex district attorney’s office.