Further decisions about the spring

December 14, 2020

tl;dr: Seniors living near campus in the spring may gain access to campus under certain circumstances; All other undergraduates accessing campus must live on campus; Campus has remained relatively safe from Covid-19 – explained; FAQs for undergrads have been newly updated on a range of spring questions

Dear undergraduate students,

Last month, I wrote with our high-level plans for the spring semester and then to provide students invited to campus with more details to inform their decision-making. We’ve also hosted office hours to help answer undergraduate students’ questions about campus life during the Covid era. Today, I write to share key updates on our approach to the upcoming term.

Decision about seniors accessing campus in spring

To our seniors: We believe it is crucial to remove obstacles you may face as you seek to graduate during this disruptive academic year. That is why we have decided to give seniors who choose to live near MIT in the spring access to campus for research and academic activities such as thesis work, UROPs, and in-person instruction required for degree completion. Seniors will be able to request access through their thesis, research, or department advisors who will in turn work with the Office of the Vice Chancellor to assess and approve requests. Seniors approved for access will be issued Covid Pass and must stay current with twice-a-week testing, daily health attestation, and other Institute requirements to maintain their access. More information about this process will be shared directly with seniors, faculty, and staff early in the new year.

Please know we are aware that some seniors who live nearby may not wish to pursue this path. That is absolutely fine. We will continue to work with them, as well as seniors who are not planning to live in the area, to ensure all graduation requirements can be met remotely, and we will do the same for all first-years, sophomores, and juniors who decide that living on campus in the spring is not the best option for them. This does not change the requirement we announced last month that all other undergraduates must live in MIT-approved housing in order to participate in in-person instruction and research.

The targeted exception for seniors was informed by the fact that, to date, we have seen no transmission of the virus on campus in classroom or laboratory settings, and by how our testing, contact tracing, and student support systems withstood the pressures of the uptick in cases that MIT and the region experienced toward the end of in-person instruction last month. We weighed this decision carefully and are keenly aware that the holidays, long winter months, increased numbers of undergraduates on campus, and intensifying fatigue with Covid-19 constraints and precautions will continue to present challenges. And we know that the virus’s prevalence in Massachusetts and the rest of the country is likely to continue its troubling climb for the foreseeable future. Still, we believe that the infrastructure and safeguards we put in place for the fall, our community’s resolve to look out for each other, and our ability to pivot if conditions deteriorate position us to manage Covid-19 effectively on campus in the spring.

This doesn’t mean that it will be easy. In fact, we expect that the first several weeks of the semester, when cold weather promises to limit our movements, will be a significant test. However, we remain prepared and hopeful, and with the help and determination of our entire community, we believe we can see our way through it.

Other key updates and realities to inform your decision-making

As first-years, sophomores, and juniors contemplate whether living and learning on campus next term makes sense for them, please note that we have updated our Spring FAQs to reflect developments since I last wrote in early November. Information about Spring 2021 classes, grading policies, move-in dates, building assignment timelines, an FSILG pilot, and more has been added. We are also collaborating with the Undergraduate Association and the Parents Association on an IAP virtual session designed to prepare students and their families for the realities of campus life in Spring 2021. Keep an eye out for more details on this session after the holidays.

We prioritize these conversations because we take our responsibility to be clear and to manage students’ (and their families’) expectations seriously. Even with the welcome news that vaccines are on the horizon, Covid-19 will continue to significantly alter the way we operate and interact with one another for the duration of the next semester. In fact, we are assuming (and planning) that the pandemic will cast a shadow in some way, shape, or form over at least the next year.

Acknowledging and responding to the virus’s indisputable impact on our daily lives is essential. Based on our experience so far, this kind of awareness bolsters students’ adherence to the public health, safety, and residential life policies and protocols that we put in place for the fall, and that we will keep in place this spring.

In closing

I hope that these updates are helpful. I send my gratitude for your immense contributions to our community’s strength and wellbeing, and wish you the best as you wrap up a semester unlike any other in MIT’s history.