A preview of DSL's spring agenda [Undergraduate Students]

February 5, 2019
Suzy M. Nelson, Vice President and Dean for Student Life, 2016–2021 |

tl;dr: Take time for your well-being this winter; Housing and W20 enhancements; FSILG facilities assessments; Accessing support resources and shuttles; Room assignment and move-in design effort; Whole Foods gift cards and TechMart; Important policies; Friday office hours 11:30 am to 12:30 pm.

Dear students,

Welcome back to campus! If this is your first term at MIT, I extend a special welcome on behalf of Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz. Our teams—the Chancellor’s Office, the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC), and the Division of Student Life (DSL)—work very closely with students to ensure that your MIT experience is the best it can be.

I am writing to preview some of DSL’s spring priorities (click here to see DSL’s longer-range plans) and to share resources that can help you navigate MIT. I also want to invite you to DSL deans’ open office hours on Fridays from 11:30 am – 12:30 pm in 4-110. Please come by for a snack, visit with therapy dog Addie, and let us know what’s on your mind. We are here for you and all MIT students.

Staying Healthy in Mind, Body, & Spirit

The days are currently short and cold, but staying active in mind, body, and spirit can make even the harshest New England winter go more smoothly. One of my favorite weekly events is Mondays in the Chapel, which bills itself as “A time of reflection and inspiration bridging the sacred and secular.” I’ve enjoyed attending a number of these events, and encourage you to visit or learn more about The Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life’s programs, its weekly services, and the more than 20 chaplains and 40 affiliated student groups. All are welcome.

Also, the connection between physical activity and mental and emotional well-being is well known. Our Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation offers so many ways to get moving—club sports, intramurals, and our award-winning recreation programs and facilities—so please take a break for yourself and your well-being soon.

Enhancing Housing & Student Spaces

The 450-bed New Vassar Street Residence Hall is really taking shape! As construction progresses, we are planning the community’s opening in 2020. We are also working with a large team of student residence hall leaders on an exercise to design the best move-in and housing assignment processes. Students have told us they want a sense of community where they live, a close group of friends, and a smooth and supportive transition for students during move-in. They have also shared that some can be hurt by forced moves and the rejection that can result from mutual selection; that the houses’ move-in experiences can vary and can be stressful; and that the room assignment chair position is a time- and labor-intensive role. Chancellor Barnhart and I believe that, working together, we can build on the positive aspects of the current processes while addressing the less-than-positive aspects. Please read more on this effort and consider attending a faculty panel on social group processes this Thursday, February 7. You can also submit a question using this online form.

In the FSILG community, DSL and the Association of Independent Living Groups have worked with chapters and their alumni to complete an assessment of facilities throughout the FSILG system. While the assessments are holistic and examine numerous aspects of each facility’s condition, we are taking immediate steps to address life-safety needs. Chapters can use funds donated by FSILG alums and friends to the Independent Residence Development Fund (IRDF) to make improvements to their houses and address issues identified in their facilities assessments. This important effort is helping to ensure that the FSILG community remains a vibrant part of the MIT student experience for years to come.

If you’ve been to the Student Center recently, you may have seen signs about the fifth-floor Athena cluster renovation. One of our goals is to improve student spaces across campus, and I’m excited to share plans for this new study space, which was first envisioned by IS&T in 2015 and reinvigorated by the Committee on Student Life in 2018. When completed, it will better reflect the way students work and study now, with soft furniture, a number of collaboration spaces, and lots of natural light. Until the space opens later this spring, we added printers to the Coffeehouse Lounge and are making it available for all students to use (access with a valid MIT ID). And if you’re looking for the color printer, it has been moved to the first floor of the Student Center next to the copier by the stairs.

We are planning improvements to other areas of the Student Center. There is new furniture and some upcoming aesthetic enhancements in common spaces, and a team of staff and students from the GSC and Undergraduate Association will help us imagine the next evolution of Lobdell Food Court. Watch for more Student Center updates throughout the semester. Visit the DSL website for additional information on student space enhancement projects across campus.

Accessing Student Resources

Do you have MIT Mobile (known simply as “the MIT app”) on your phone? If not, I encourage you to download it now (for iOS or Android). It’s a great tool for navigating MIT, and now also for finding support. The new student support button in the bottom-right of the screen makes it easier for you to connect with a wide range of resources that can help with physical and mental well-being, food security, and more.

Among the groups listed on the app is the Accessing Resources at MIT (ARM) Coalition. As it says on their website, “Life as a student can be expensive,” and this student-faculty-staff collaboration has created guidance and resource directories for all students, as well as information for faculty and staff on how to help students in need.

Following its successful pilot in the fall, we have officially launched the MIT Engage platform (certificate required) supporting student groups and activities. It’s much more than a way to register events; it’s also a directory of 500+ recognized student groups and a way to track and document your involvement in activities outside the classroom.

Thanks in part to great rider feedback, the Boston East fixed-route SafeRide shuttle will operate until 1 am during the academic year, continuing the schedule piloted in the fall. The Parking & Transportation Office also extended Tech shuttle service to 11 pm, which should help community members access the Theater Arts building (W97) on Vassar Street more easily. The shuttle team is addressing more student concerns. For example, enhancements to shuttle information on the MIT app will provide more accurate route timing predictions as well as real-time shuttle alerts. Soon you will also see new shuttle-stop signage that clearly identifies stop locations and shuttle services for that stop. Lastly, you can now reach the shuttle team with issues or questions at 617-253-1440 or at shuttles@mit.edu. Please also see the MIT shuttles page for more details as MIT continues to enhance transportation services.

Lastly, wherever you are in your MIT career, you can find guidance on next steps beyond MIT through the Alumni Advisor Hub. Alumni volunteers are ready to share perspectives on careers, do mock interviews, critique resumes, and much more.

Dining & Food

Dining has rolled out some new features, most notably a 160-meal block plan (created thanks to student input). Also, Chancellor Barnhart and I heard from a number of students that it would be great if dining dollars were valid at local grocery stores. Implementing such a program takes time, but right now you can purchase Whole Foods gift cards using dining dollars. Visit the TechCash website to get started (certificates required). We hope that the gift cards and shuttle updates will make grocery shopping easier.

Students have told us that they love the TechMart at-cost grocery store in Walker Memorial, and we are looking for more ways to enhance the shopping experience (please email foodstuff@mit.edu or fill out a comment card in the store). While there, you can also grab a bite to eat or coffee at Rebecca’s Café, which hosts and operates TechMart. The store—like the SwipeShare program—derived from the Food Insecurity Solutions Working Group’s work, and we are looking to implement more of their ideas this semester and in the future. Click here for more information.

Speaking of SwipeShare, the program has really taken off since its introduction in fall 2017. So far this year, we have received more than 3,000 swipe donations from 600 meal plan subscribers and helped almost 400 students. Thank you all for making SwipeShare such a success.

Understanding Key Policies

The Mind and Hand Book contains important information about policies intended to help you stay safe and healthy, including the following:

  1. MIT’s Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act statement, which includes the Institute’s policy, potential sanctions, health risks, and resources available for the prevention of illegal drug use and alcohol abuse;
  2. The Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy, which protects students and student organizations who seek help in medical emergencies involving alcohol and prohibited substances;
  3. The federal Title IX law and MIT's sexual misconduct policy and Title IX resources, which address sexual misconduct prevention and response;
  4. The Massachusetts state law on hazing and MIT's own anti-hazing rules, which contribute to a positive student life experience; and
  5. MIT Police's Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, which outlines important information about campus safety, crime prevention, and ways the MIT Police can support community members.

I hope to see you soon at DSL dean’s office hours in 4-110. Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and productive spring,

Suzy M. Nelson
Vice President and Dean for Student Life