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MIT Technology Review

Weathering the Covid-19 crisis

The MIT campus has become strangely quiet. But the selflessness, kindness, and courage of our community keep us connected, over any distance.

MIT Presiden L.Rafael ReifMIT Presiden L.Rafael Reif
MIT Presiden L.Rafael ReifSimon Simard

As this issue of MIT News goes to press on March 24, MIT has joined the nation, and the world, in facing an unprecedented public health crisis. Our community has a significant role to play in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this extraordinary challenge has called for dramatic action.

The scope of that action may be unparalleled in MIT’s history. Following the advice of public health experts, we have taken decisive measures to protect the well-being of our community and the many other communities we belong to. Two weeks ago, we made the painful decision to suspend classes and required undergraduates living in our residences and FSILGs to pack up and leave for the semester. The libraries have shut their doors. Most offices are empty and dark, their regular occupants working from home to help minimize the virus’s spread. Even a week ago, the Infinite Corridor was strangely quiet.

Faculty are racing to move course-work online, and researchers are tackling the problem of scaling back MIT’s immense research enterprise, ensuring the kind of social distancing we are learning to practice. Staff and administrators–from medical and emergency management to technical support to student life–are working tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of our community. And many of our alumni are reaching out to us with heartfelt expressions of care and concern, as well as generous offers to help students who are navigating unexpected hardships.

Perhaps more than any other members of our community, MIT graduates can best understand the sense of loss our students are experiencing–especially the Class of 2020, compelled to leave their campus “home” at just the time when they should be able to enjoy and appreciate it the most. We now must rethink even our most cherished and long-standing traditions, including commencement and MIT Tech Reunions. (We have just scheduled a special online commencement ceremony for May 29, and will plan a future in-person celebration of the Class of 2020. And although 2020 Tech Reunions will not occur as they usually would, we will explore ways to honor class milestones and bring the community together again.)

My consolation in this unsettled and deeply distressing moment is that while the public health situation changes rapidly, the spirit of MIT remains constant. From day to day and from moment to moment, I am inspired by the selflessness, kindness, and courage of the MIT community. I can only guess at the situation the world will be facing as you read these lines. But I have immense faith that we will weather this crisis, and I look forward to the time when all of us can be together on campus again.