How we can support students and staff right now

April 05, 2021

Dear colleagues,

It has become clear to all of us that this moment, right now, merits a pause and reflection. The replay of George Floyd’s murder, the Atlanta shootings and video footage of other instances of anti-Asian violence, the prospect of a fourth Covid surge – these and other accumulated burdens are weighing heavily on our entire community. Based on what we’re hearing, including reports from colleagues who support graduate and undergraduate students and direct outreach from student leaders, we know that some are really struggling.

We are reaching out now to express our support for you directly, and to ask that you do the same with the people whose lives you touch, especially our students, postdocs, and staff. 

Acknowledging the weight of current events

As in past moments of national distress, our students are telling us how much it would mean to them if instructors simply acknowledged how challenging the current period is for all of us and, if possible, made space for people to talk about it. A mention at the beginning of class, an email expressing understanding about how it can be hard to focus on coursework, proactively extending a deadline, or encouraging students to reach out to support resources all go a long way toward helping them make sense of the senseless, and feel seen and supported. Here are some quick tips on how to do this. We know that many of you are already taking these steps, and for that we are grateful.

The impact of no spring break

Because the pandemic forced adjustments to MIT’s spring calendar, our students are also confronting the inherent challenges of an MIT semester without the prospect of a week-long spring break. As this March 31 cartoon from The Tech illustrates, many students experience this semester’s new long weekends not as moments for rest, but as extra time for psets. And graduate students, feeling pressure to work harder and longer to make up for missed time, continue to report to their labs and do work on these days. As an instructor, you can help give them the confidence to step away from work by making some small adjustments: for instance, pushing out assignments that are due the week after the next long weekend (April 17–20), normalizing the need for relaxation by asking your students and postdocs ahead of time about their weekend plans, or, if possible, encouraging them not to come into the lab.

Of course, the lack of spring break is a strain for all of you, too – and we know that this spring’s adjusted calendar may have imposed extra work. We have heard from colleagues, both instructors and staff, who are struggling to get enough rest and recovery time. We are all only human, and this has been a long haul. As you consider how best to help your students and Institute staff, and to meet your goals through the last stretch of the academic year, please do not discount the importance of your own wellbeing. And remember that support services are also available to MIT employees.  

Finally, please know that the compassion and care you show to our students make a tremendous positive difference; students are grateful for it, and so are we. We hope you can connect – especially with the members of our community who are bearing a disproportionate load of the trauma associated with recent events – and pass along the resources listed at the bottom of this email.

With appreciation,

L. Rafael Reif, President

Martin A. Schmidt, Provost

Cynthia Barnhart, Chancellor

Rick Danheiser, Chair of the Faculty

John Dozier, Institute Community and Equity Officer


Resources to help in challenging times 

In this moment, we believe the following resources will be the most helpful and relevant for instructors, students, and staff: