About once a month, Steven Millman bakes a batch of cookies or brownies. Taking them around to students in his wing of Next House, he knocks on doors, checking in with as many of his 45 students as possible. He wants to see how they are doing, help them solve any small problems that have come up, and just let them know he’s there-an adult presence they can rely on. But Millman, a doctoral candidate in political science who is now in his fifth year as a graduate resident tutor, has more on his mind than just shooting the breeze. “It’s to see what their rooms look like,” he confesses. “If things are really trashed or broken, that tells me something.”Millman and 79 other graduate resident tutors are the Institute’s front line of contact with its students who live in MIT residence halls. Through the resident tutors and the resident advisers, who oversee MIT’s fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, the Institute keeps watch on the emotional well-being of its students. And their well-being is very much a priority these days. Since the death of Scott Krueger from alcohol poisoning in the fall of 1997 and the suicides of Elizabeth Shin and Julia Carpenter in the springs of 2000 and 2001, the Institute has undergone a painful period of self-assessment, examining all aspects of student life, discovering where it falls short, and working diligently to improve the quality of student life outside the classroom. Nowhere is this introspection more intense than in the evaluation of students’ mental health needs and the services the Institute provides.
As a result of that self-scrutiny, the Institute has begun implementing a host of changes aimed at ensuring that students get the support they need. In addition to expanding the staff and extending the hours at the Mental Health Service, MIT has inaugurated an expanded Web site, coordinated a campuswide health-education program, and designed a “social marketing” campaign that uses traditional marketing techniques to overcome barriers that keep students from asking for help.