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President Vest praises MIT community for standing together

President Charles M. Vest
President Charles M. Vest

To the MIT community, Sept. 11:

We have been witness to a series of events of unprecedented tragedy and horror in this nation's history. Every one of us has been affected in many ways. Even as we pray and meditate about the many victims of these unspeakable acts, we must also care for each other and assist each other's families and friends throughout this troubled time.

I want to thank all those who serve the needs of the MIT community and salute those who must deal directly with the death, injury and pain of those in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

To the families of MIT students, Sept. 12:

In light of Tuesday's terrible events, I know that you have great concerns about your children, many of whom are away from home for the first time. Indeed, Becky and I are constantly thinking of our son who is a physician tending to the wounded in New York.

Since yesterday morning, we have focused our efforts on helping our students--as individuals and as members of our community--to deal with this tragedy.

We continue to hold classes, but business as usual clearly is not possible. Some had suggested that we close the Institute and cancel classes, but we believe that this is precisely the time when faculty, students and staff need to be together. Consequently, we have asked faculty to hold classes, but have encouraged them to use class time to discuss the issues. We have asked them to grant extensions to students who may need extra time to complete their assignments, and to excuse absence from class by those who have been touched more personally by this tragedy.

Some of the other ways we are helping to support our students in this difficult time include the following:

  • The deans, other student services staff, and faculty and staff from throughout the Institute have been meeting with students at all hours.
  • Housemasters, as well as graduate tutors in the residences and independent living groups, have been meeting with individuals and groups of students.
  • The chapel has been open during the evening as well as the day, with chaplains in attendance for counseling and support.
  • We are holding community gatherings where all students, faculty and staff are invited to bear witness to our loss, to support each other, and to draw strength from our common sense of purpose and caring.

Each of us has been affected in profound ways by these attacks. Our first priority is to assist each other, especially our students, through this troubled time. We know that students from some backgrounds or countries may be especially fearful or concerned, and we are determined that this occasion will not undermine our commitment to respect and learn from the rich variety of cultures that make up MIT. I am confident that together, we will sustain and strengthen our diverse and vibrant community.

We hope that you will keep in close touch with your children through the difficult days and weeks ahead. If you want to keep current with activities on campus, you can check the MIT home page and, as always, you may contact the Offices of the Dean for Student Life, the Associate Dean for Residential Life and Student Life Programs, or Counseling and Support Services, as well as the housemasters.

I pledge that we will continue to do our best to educate and sustain all of our students through this time, and always.

Again, my prayers are with all those who are touched by this tragedy, and I am confident that we will be able to sustain each other through this heart-wrenching time.

To the MIT community on the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, Sept. 14:

We have shared a terrible moment in history that should never have occurred. The reality and enormity of that moment weighs ever more heavily upon us with each passing day.

We have persevered, however, because we have strengthened and sustained each other--in a spirit that I know will continue to serve us through the days ahead. As we seek to understand these events and their consequences, I am confident that we will move forward with common purpose and sense of community. I also encourage each of you to stay in touch insofar as possible with your families and friends across the nation and throughout the world.

As you may know, I have been out of the country and unable to be with you directly, but I have remained in nearly constant touch. Despite my own deep sadness and anger, I am filled with pride at the way MIT students, faculty and staff have stood together with each other in an hour of unprecedented need. We have journeyed through these bewildering days together and will continue to do so in the days ahead.

I want to thank each of you, and will join with you in spirit as we meditate on these events and pray for all the victims, their loved ones and, indeed, for humankind.

Community Relations at MIT--a message to the MIT community, Sept. 16:

I want to commend you for the many expressions and actions taken in recent days to help us both express our emotions and better understand the tragic events of this past week. MIT has once again demonstrated that it is a caring and compassionate community whose members are committed to learning from each other.

We must continue in this spirit in what are sure to be trying days ahead. In this regard, I am very pleased that a number of initiatives are being planned for this week and beyond that will continue the dialogue and learning process. For example, on Monday afternoon [Sept. 17], Professor Richard Samuels and colleagues will hold a second open forum on possible US policy responses to the Sept. 11 events. This week we will launch an on-line moderated forum, "Community Expressions," to support continued dialogue and expressions of views on events as they unfold. And faculty in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences are planning a series of forums that will be followed by dinner discussions.

In these and all other conversations, it is essential that we maintain respect for diversity of views and freedom of expression, consistent with our standards of respect for each other. Scapegoating or stereotyping of Muslims, others from the Middle East or any other group is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

As MIT's Policies and Procedures state in part: "MIT is committed to creating an environment in which every individual can work, study and live without being harassed. Harassment may therefore lead to sanctions up to and including termination of employment or student status ... Harassment ... includes harassment of an individual in terms of a stereotyped group characteristic, or because of a person's identification with a particular group."

Any member of the MIT community who feels harassed is encouraged to seek assistance and resolution through one of the channels listed here.

I am confident we will continue to support each other and to learn from the rich diversity and range of expertise within our community as events unfold in the days ahead.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2001.

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