Letter to MIT community regarding sexual-assault prevention

The following email was sent Tuesday to the MIT community by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart.

Dear members of the MIT community,

Since early February, when President Reif charged me to understand and address the issue of sexual assault and misconduct at MIT, I have made myself a student of the problem. I am still learning, but I write today to tell you where we stand so far. From listening to dozens of students, faculty and staff, a few themes stand out:

  • Students want clear answers about what behavior constitutes sexual assault.
  • Students are eager for practical strategies to prevent sexual assault and change environments that encourage unhealthy and unsafe behavior.
  • Students who have used our support services in this area generally give them high marks. But most students are not clear about their rights and their options for advice and support.
  • A significant barrier to progress is the complex social and psychological dynamics that discourage people from seeking help or reporting sexual assault or harassment.
  • Students who experience sexual assault often turn for help to a friend or a faculty member they respect, so we need to help both students and faculty understand the best ways to respond.

Based on this community input, we are already planning more and better education programs for the fall. And we have identified a number of areas where we need to gather data, take action or both. [See below.]

From this spring's online survey, I expect to learn much more. More than 30 percent of undergraduates and graduate students have responded so far – thank you! (In case you have not had time to respond, we are accepting survey replies through the end of May.) Now, for the first time, we will have solid, baseline data about the prevalence of sexual assault, attitudes around it and obstacles to progress.

I will analyze the data this summer and provide information to the community on what the data reveals. Based on those findings, I will continue my listening tour to deepen our understanding and further inform our future actions.  If you would like to be involved, or have insights you want to share now, feel free to reach out to me directly. Next fall, I will report in more detail on the survey findings.

I'm grateful to everyone who has helped me in this work so far, including the devoted MIT staff members who have been working on this problem for years, the faculty members who are eager to contribute to a solution and the thousands of members of the community who have shared their perspectives through the survey. I am especially touched that so many students have had the courage and generosity of spirit to share with me their thoughts and experiences around sexual assault. And I am impressed with all the student groups that are instituting practical changes to help prevent and address the problem of sexual assault in our community. In this sensitive, important work, I am thankful to have so many brave, committed partners.

I will continue to update the community on our work to ensure a welcoming and safe learning, living and working environment for everyone in our community.

Cindy Barnhart



  • All first-year graduate students
    • Will, before they arrive on campus, complete a new, expanded online training course that covers sexual harassment, assault, interpersonal violence and stalking, and the relevant campus policies, procedures and resources.
  • All first-year undergraduates
    • Will, before they arrive on campus, complete the online training described above.
    • Will, during Orientation, attend an interactive program that explores questions around consent, communication, healthy sexuality and bystander intervention, an enhanced version of what they receive now.
  • All new staff, post-docs, and faculty
    • Will complete, during new employee orientation, an online training program as described above, but tailored for them.


  • Analyze the survey data to provide a baseline on prevalence, attitudes, bystander actions, barriers to reporting and the effectiveness of MIT's existing resources.


  • Review relevant MIT policies and procedures for students, faculty and staff, to make sure they are consistent.
  • Study the reports of the Office of Civil Rights and the White House Task Force as well as promising practices at other institutions.
  • Review the Committee on Discipline's process for handling allegations of sexual misconduct and incorporate promising disciplinary practices. 


  • Develop and deliver ongoing training to faculty, post-docs, and staff on sexual assault and misconduct.
  • Enhance and expand education for students about sexual misconduct; bystander intervention skills; response to students who experience sexual assault; alcohol and drug use; and civility.
  • By tapping the community's collective creativity, devise more effective ways to increase awareness about resources and options for those who experience sexual assault, and about the complex issues around confidentiality, privacy and reporting obligations.
  • Continue to work with focus groups to improve training and outreach and to determine whether we need further resources.
  • Encourage and foster student living groups, social groups and sports teams to develop their own prevention initiatives. As an example, the Interfraternity Council has enhanced its “Party Safe” workshop to include sexual assault bystander intervention and response training.

Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct at MIT

If you or someone you know needs to talk, help is available.

To report an incident to the Institute:

For 24-hour support & information, or to report anonymously:
Violence Prevention and Response (VPR)
To report a crime or for police assistance:

Topics: Letters to the Community, MIT Administration, Community, Faculty, Staff, Students

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