Renewing our community, and how we treat each other

August 19, 2021

To the members of the MIT community,

For 17 blurry months, “MIT” has existed in tens of thousands of places: here on campus, and in the kitchens, basements, dining rooms, closets, coffee shops, bedrooms, library parking lots and home offices so many of us worked from around the world.

Now, as we adjust to the virus as a persistent fact of life, the coming weeks will be a coming back together. I look forward to it. I know many of you do too. But it is worth pausing to remember that living and working in harmony is neither effortless nor automatic – and in the art of being together, we’re out of practice.

Because we want MIT to be a place where we can all thrive – students, staff, postdocs and faculty, from an enormous range of backgrounds – none of us can take for granted that the behavior that works for us also works for everyone else.

We all know it: We can only do our best work when we trust each other. Disrespect, bullying, marginalization and harassment shatter that trust. Unfortunately, those behaviors sometimes occur in our community – and preventing them does not happen by accident.

Whether we are interacting in person or online, I hope we can take care to look out for each other, and to treat each other with decency, integrity, humility, respect, kindness and appreciation. And through this lingering season of uncertainty, chronic change and new ways of working, I hope we can offer each other extra patience and compassion – even when our own supply is running low.

We need to be conscious of the ways that differences in power, status, culture and education can make some people especially vulnerable to mistreatment – and we need to stand up for each other when we see mistreatment occur. In particular, we all need to be familiar with:

No matter what your role at MIT, an important central resource is the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office (IDHR).

It feels especially important to be deliberate in how we treat each other at a time that has engendered and revealed so much hate and brutality in our society, from racism and violence against Black Americans and other people of color, to the spike in anti-Semitism and anti-Asian attacks, to longstanding anti-Muslim prejudices, to bitter political polarization. No community is safe from the spread of these corrosive sentiments – but they certainly have no place at MIT.

How we treat each other matters deeply. I restate these familiar truths because, as we all know, under pressure or in a hurry, it can be too easy to lose track or look away.

Supporting the people around us and taking responsibility for our own behavior is a simple, powerful daily way of caring for our community, and I hope we can attend to this with special focus as we re-make our community this fall.

I look forward to seeing you soon.


L. Rafael Reif