Getting set for September, together

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The following letter was sent to the MIT community today by President L. Rafael Reif.

To the members of the MIT community,

For those undergraduates who will return to campus this semester, the next ten days will be full of planning, packing, logistics and checklists – and that image is a useful way to think about these next two weeks for MIT overall: We are getting ready, together, for an important journey that will be both familiar and strange.

Whatever your role at MIT, between now and the start of the semester, you will hear from us a great deal – lots of emails, including some long ones. I ask that everyone take time to read them and think through how they apply to you. 

So far, the Institute’s careful, conservative, rigorous approach to the continuing pandemic has allowed thousands of members of our community – including most of the graduate students, postdocs, staff and faculty involved in MIT’s research enterprise – to return to work on campus safely. No outbreaks. This is a serious shared achievement.

On the strength of this approach, which we continue to fine-tune, and bolstered by the record of our state and our city in controlling the spread of Covid-19, we are ready to try something more difficult: bringing back a portion of our undergraduates to live on campus. We will still rely on strict, sensible practices and protocols, lots of clear communication, including the new MIT Now site – and lots of Covid testing. And we know that in such a new and complex operation, honest mistakes are bound to happen, and I take responsibility for that fact.

But the only way we will succeed in keeping our community safe is if all of us take active responsibility for each other – just the way we would in a high-risk lab. 

As a community of creative thinkers, the people of MIT have always valued autonomy and distinctive ways of looking at the world. But this semester, while we continue to celebrate and learn from each other’s individuality, we cannot afford individualism. I must take care, for your health; you must take care, for mine. 

Depending on your age and circumstances, the prospect of contracting Covid-19 may feel remote or not that serious. But there are many thousands of people in our community for whom the risks and consequences are real and profound – from our food service and cleaning teams, to senior faculty and staff, to people in every role who have health conditions, or whose family members do, that make them especially vulnerable. They make MIT possible. So – with empathy, compassion, respect and common purpose – we must all take care to protect ourselves, to keep them safe too. And we must offer the same respect and care in how we treat our Cambridge neighbors.

Of course, whether or not you are living or working on campus, the next few months will continue to impose the now-familiar challenges of pandemic life: Remote learning, remote working and constrained socializing. For many, the extreme difficulty of balancing childcare with working from home. And for all of us, the disorienting borderlessness of days, weeks and months, with work spilling across every waking hour.

None of us expect the rest of 2020 to be easy. But given our community’s exceptional efforts since March, I feel confident that this new journey can succeed – if we all stand by the science and model the solution. If we do, I believe we will also find great meaning and satisfaction in having endured this test together and in using the pressures of this pandemic moment, the immense natural experiment of the past few months and the innate creative positivity of our community to invent a future worthy of MIT.  

Time to wash our hands – and get started.

In solidarity,

L. Rafael Reif

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