Reaffirming Our Support for Students

December 1, 2016
Cynthia Barnhart, Chancellor, 2014–2021 |

To the members of the MIT community,

In President Reif's message of November 9, he reminded us that, “Whatever may change in Washington... it will not change the values and mission that unite us.” I write today to update you on our work to fulfill this pledge, and the steps we are taking to protect the safety and wellbeing of our students.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

The election has created uncertainty about the future of DACA and, as a result, understandable concern for our undocumented students. We have met with these students to understand and respond to their needs, and we will continue to do so.

I say to you what we have said to them in person: MIT's commitment to our undocumented students will not change. We will do everything we can that is legally permissible to continue to enroll undocumented students and ensure they have the same student life and learning experience as documented students.

In addition to meeting undocumented students' immediate and long term needs, MIT has reaffirmed its unequivocal support for the continuation and expansion of DACA. Last week, President Reif joined over 400 other university and college presidents from across the nation in signing an open letter citing the “moral imperative” and “national necessity” of the program.

Federal immigration law enforcement

In the days since the election, questions have arisen about MIT's role in enforcing federal immigration laws. Like the City of Cambridge, MIT Police have a longstanding practice of not inquiring about individual's immigration status, and our officers do not enforce federal immigration laws.

Moreover, MIT does not voluntarily share information about the immigration status of our undocumented students, and law enforcement officials seeking to enter our community are expected to alert MIT Police first.

To prepare for possible changes to current federal law and agency practices, Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo has been working with his team and outside legal experts to better understand these complex issues. His office has created a helpful Frequently Asked Questions document with more information about DACA, federal immigration rules, and how to obtain legal advice. This document will be updated regularly to account for new developments or requests for information.

Establishing a working group

I am in the process of establishing a working group of faculty, students, and staff that will be responsible for helping to address potential changes to federal policy and law that limit student access to MIT or ability to thrive here. I am pleased Associate Professor of History and Secretary of the Faculty Christopher Capozzola has agreed to chair this group.  

We are working to finalize the group's membership and charge before the end of the semester. I believe it will enable us to respond nimbly to new federal rules or laws in a manner consistent with MIT's core values and mission.

Caring for ourselves and others

The free exchange of ideas and beliefs is the lifeblood of academic institutions—something that we all have a responsibility to vigorously defend. MIT's commitment to protecting and encouraging freedom of speech, regardless of policy preferences or political viewpoints, must remain steadfast.

Sadly, national reports of intolerance, harassment, discrimination, and violence are on the rise. To protect every MIT community members' rights, safety, and wellbeing, we have longstanding policies against bias, harassment, and discrimination, and processes in place to report violations of these policies. Human Resources, the Division of Student Life, the Offices of the Dean for Graduate and Undergraduate Education, the Ombuds Office, and the MIT Police are among the offices available to assist any community member who is subject to a bias-related incident.

The Division of Student Life, Title IX Office, and other departments are currently reviewing existing reporting processes to ensure they are easy to access, coordinated, and responsive to community members' needs.

In addition to being in the midst of an uncertain, anxious political climate, we are entering the most stressful time of the term. As a result, we all must be mindful of our own health and wellness. MindHandHeart has compiled a list of December community events related to wellness, mental health, stress relief, and post-election dialogue.

Students have told me time and again how much they appreciate faculty members who acknowledge and discuss issues that impact students' academic and personal wellbeing. The Office of Student Support and Wellbeing has compiled these outreach tips that faculty, as well as staff and peer mentors, may find useful in the days and weeks ahead.

As we focus on the better world we are committed to creating, I know we will find strength in our community's big, bold ideas—and our even bigger and bolder hearts.


Cynthia Barnhart