Supporting our Asian community in a difficult time

March 18, 2021

To the members of the MIT community,

This message is for everyone. But let me begin with a word for the thousands of members of our MIT family – undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and Corporation members – who are Asian or of Asian descent:

We would not be MIT without you. 

You are our colleagues, our students, our classmates, our lab mates, our teachers, our mentors, our leaders – and our friends. 

Across the country, a cruel signature of this pandemic year has been a terrible surge in anti-Asian violence, discrimination and public rhetoric. I know some of you have experienced such harm directly. The targets are very often women and the elderly.

These acts are especially disturbing in the context of several years of mounting hostility and suspicion in the United States focused on people of Chinese origin. The murders in Georgia Tuesday, including among the victims so many Asian women, come as one more awful shock.

I write today to express the outrage and solidarity of our community against these terrible acts, to recognize the fear, pain and sadness you may naturally be feeling – and to let you know that you are not alone.

Resources and reporting

Below my signature, you will find a listing of the many people and offices at MIT who stand ready to help. Even if you have never considered doing so before, I encourage you to reach out. Sometimes a listening ear can make an enormous difference. 

And if you have experienced harassment or discrimination at MIT, please do not hesitate to contact the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office

An upcoming community event

With leadership from Institute Community and Equity Officer (ICEO) John Dozier, his office and SPXCE, we are planning an online community event focused on our students. With help from a range of MIT cultural organizations, we are determining what kind of program would be most welcome and helpful, and what other steps we can take to further support our Asian community. We will share the details as soon as we know them.

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Earlier this month, we lost an extraordinary citizen of MIT, ChoKyun Rha ’62, SM ’64, SM ’66, SCD ’67, a professor post-tenure of biomaterials science and engineering, at the age of 87. Raised in Seoul in a family that expected her to become a doctor, she came to MIT because she wanted to be an engineer. In 1974, she joined our faculty; in 1980, she became the first Asian female faculty member to earn tenure at MIT. Dr. Rha went on to build a remarkable career as a teacher, a mentor and a scholar.

It is difficult to imagine how alone she must have felt in her early years at MIT, when women students and Asian students numbered in just dozens. But the trail she and so many others blazed helped lead to the rich diversity of MIT we treasure today.

As we struggle against the persistence of racism and discrimination within our society, let us honor her memory by standing together and standing up for one another.

With sympathy, respect and appreciation,

L. Rafael Reif