In mid-February, the residents of Next House, one of MIT's undergraduate residence halls, were shocked by a tragedy that struck close to home: Next House resident and MIT junior Brian Anderson was found deceased in his room by MIT Police. Though a cause of death has yet to be determined by the Massachusetts Medical Examiner's office, there is no strong indication that his death was a suicide.
The tragedy hit the community very hard, say students, graduate resident tutors (GRTs), and others who live in the building. The shock and sorrow has led residents to come together in a variety of ways to share their grief, show support for one another, and ensure that everyone understands that they are part of a caring community.
"We were all deeply affected by Brian's death," says MIT Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo, who lives with his family in Next House as its Housemaster. "But the community's response has been incredibly touching. It's been truly wonderful to see the students come together."
One early effort was a handmade poster created by a student who felt the effects of the tragedy. Madeline Clark, a senior at MIT and resident of Next House, drew the poster in the week after the death to remind students of the on-campus resources that are available to them.
"I created the chart because I know that figuring out where to go for help when you need it can be overwhelming," Clark says. "MIT has an amazing support network but it can be intimidating to break into it."
Clark's chart started out as just an idea. On a piece of printer paper she wrote down the different services that students could access when they are experiencing any problems — academically, socially or personally. Using different colors for each branch, Clark not only listed the different resources, but also the specific people who are available to assist Next House residents and how to contact them.
The eight categories that were included on the chart were: Housemasters, GRTs, RAAs (Resident Associate Advisors), S3 (Student Support Services), MedLinks, Mental Health and Counseling, friends and advisers. Within each category, Clark included the name of someone who could be directly contacted, their email address, where they were located, and available walk-in hours, so that students wouldn't have to spend time searching for this information.
"I actually wasn't aware that MedLinks' training involved helping students with stress or other emotional issues," Clark says. "I had a floor-mate look over the chart before I finished it, and they told me about MedLinks' training. I got a lot of input on the chart from other Next House residents."
The resources listed on the posters are not specific or restricted to Next House. For example, each undergraduate residence has Housemasters, GRTs and MedLinks, while services such as Mental Health and Counseling or Student Support Services are open to any MIT student.
Julie Rothhaar, the assistant dean for first-year experience and house director for Next House, says that the poster was one of many ways in which students, GRTs and others have come together.
Immediately after the tragedy, Next House's GRTs met with their wing's residents to make sure that no one felt isolated or overwhelmed. In addition, there was a separate gathering with Brian Anderson's wing and a full house meeting on the night of the discovery with Henry Humphreys, the senior associate dean for residential life and dining; Barbara Baker, senior associate dean for students; Rothhaar; and other representatives from Student Life and MIT Medical. Colombo, who was away on business, arrived back at Next House late that night and visited with all the wings individually.
"I've noticed a continued closeness in the past few weeks," Colombo says. "Whether it's groups eating together in the dining hall or activities and conversations in the wings, I sense that people are really trying to stay connected.
"It can be so easy to feel like you are alone, but MIT is full of wonderful, caring people who are more than happy to lend a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on," Clark adds. "So whether you're having a tough time or you're worried about a friend, there are more resources available to you than you'll know what to do with. All you have to do is ask."
For a list of offices that offer support to the MIT community, please visit together.mit.edu.
NOTE: MIT will hold a memorial service commemorating the life of Brian G. Anderson on Saturday, March 17, at 4 p.m. in the MIT Chapel. A reception will follow in Building W11.