Last Friday, an email from student leaders and administrators asked us to participate in “conversation about our community,” with emphasis on the wellbeing of students. This Saturday, HackMIT begins: a 24-hour hackathon where students gather to build, create, and completely abandon any sense of a healthy lifestyle.
Hackathons are notorious for pumping participants full of caffeine and junk food in order to keep them working on their projects straight through the night. Sleep deprivation, poor diet, and complete ignorance of long-term responsibilities form a disastrous combination. So why is TechX offering it to us?
I don’t mean to imply that hackathons, poor diet, sleep deprivation, or any particular cause is directly responsible for the tragic losses our community has endured over the last few months. In fact, hackathons are a great way to build community, make cool stuff, and learn a ton. But scheduling a 24-hour hackathon in the middle of the semester on a normal two-day weekend is inconsistent with the messages students have received regarding mental health. While nobody has to go to the hackathon, it’s a pretty lucrative opportunity that’s hard to pass up: free food/swag, company connections, prizes, plus guaranteed admission for any MIT student.
Furthermore, HackMIT encourages an extreme culture that shuns moderation, rest, and other healthy habits. We can work for 24 hours straight. We can build amazing technology overnight. We are hardcore. We love our resumes more than our bodies. The fire hose is always going.
This is not sustainable.
Future HackMITs should be held exclusively over long weekends or student breaks, and the competition period should be shortened (or lengthened) to allow for a reasonable sleep pattern. Instead of perpetuating a culture that contributes to the problem, by making these changes, TechX and other hackathon organizers can be part of the solution.
Brittney Johnson is a member of the Class of 2016