My girlfriend knew Matthew and Christina. I didn’t, but she did. When I told my parents the news, my mom offered advice for taking care of her. “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ve handled this before.”
It’s tragic, but true. This is my sixth year being part of the MIT community. I’ve been close to more suicide than I care to recount. Over time, I’ve grown uncomfortably comfortable with the conversations that stem from suicides and mental health issues.
Inevitably, these conversation always turn to one direction: Now what? How can we prevent this in the future? How can we offer better support?
I think this is a great testament to our community — no matter how big the problem, or how insurmountable it seems, we are always looking for a solution.
To me, this is MIT’s greatest asset. We are a school filled with the most talented problem-solvers in the world. The sheer brilliance of our community, combined with our rich diversity, allows us to find the best solutions to the biggest problems. Even if we wanted to hire fancy corporate consultants to help us solve problems, we would probably just be hiring our own recent graduates.
Although science and engineering are our domains of expertise, we are perfectly capable of solving other types of problems. If you need evidence, look no further than the ongoing “It’s On Us” campaign. A conglomeration of 17 (seventeen!) independent groups got together to fight sexual misconduct at MIT. Their work has led to thousands of MIT community members signing a personal commitment to keep others safe from sexual assault. It’s truly incredible.
Suicide and mental health represent another big challenge for our community. Like sexual assault, I believe it’s a challenge best overcome through input and cooperation from the entire community. Everyone should be encouraged to join the conversation, and everyone should be given a chance to offer their opinion.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize the benefits of openness and transparency. The last string of undergraduate deaths was in 2011–2012. MIT’s primary response was the creation of the RLAD role to enhance the existing support system in dormitories. Although the chancellor at the time suggested there was community involvement in that decision, the role was highly controversial and strongly opposed in a public letter signed by over 50 GRTs.
That said, MIT does have a history of addressing mental health issues with more openness. In 2000, MIT commissioned a “Mental Health Task Force” to evaluate the existing mental health support system. The committee produced a list of 17 concrete recommendations for improving mental health care at MIT. And they’re all completely public.
Over the coming weeks, I’m sure we will learn more about MIT’s plans to overcome this tragic time. I will certainly be pushing for openness in the process, and offering my own ideas for improving our support system, and I encourage everyone to join me. Mental health is far too important an issue to have your voice go unheard. Your ideas are valuable, and the entire community will benefit from your unique perspective.
Colin Sidoti is an alumnus of the Class of 2014 and a volunteer assistant crew coach.