On Sept. 28, the lobby of MIT’s normally bustling Student Center (Building W20) fell quiet. Students stood up from their laptops and lounge chairs and drifted toward the center stairwell, where Maryanne Kirkbride, MIT Medical’s clinical director for campus life, announced the unveiling of a new sculpture and interactive project on campus. Onlookers wondered: What was this small glass sculpture and wood tank, entitled “Helping You, Helping Others,” and how might it help the MIT community?
Jared Berezin, lecturer in MIT Comparative Media Studies and Writing, who received a grant from the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund to design the sculpture, was happy to explain. “Seeking help is often a private interaction between two people, rather than a community-wide event. The ‘Helping You, Helping Others’ project aims to take one small step in making the hidden more visible.”
According to Berezin’s research, “An estimated 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students visit Mental Health and Counseling (MH&C) at MIT Medical each year. Student Support Services (S3) has well above 5,000 student visits each year.” He hopes the interactive sculpture will tangibly share that data with the community. “When a student visits Mental Health and Counseling, Student Support Services, the MIT Chapel, and other resources at MIT to seek support of any kind, the student can take a wooden marble from a bowl in the department’s waiting room, and deposit it in the installation. As marbles accumulate over time, the sculpture will provide a visible reminder of how common help-seeking behavior is, and students who are struggling may be inspired to reach out for help when they need it,” he told the crowd.
Berezin then introduced four students whose personal challenges, or concern for others, led them to seek help at MIT. Each student dropped a marble into the sculpture and shared their own story of reaching out to friends and the supportive services available at MIT. Each story described how asking for help led to growth — personally and academically.
Flora Liu, a senior in mechanical engineering, began by sharing: “I learned that rather than waiting for someone else to notice that I might need help that I need to treat myself like I am worth taking the time to get help.” Lorraine Wong, a major in brain and cognitive studies and women's and gender studies — who is also Berezin’s co-chair on the MindHandHeart Help-Seeking Working Group and head of special projects at Active Minds at MIT — shared that “Everyone can feel better by talking to someone, whether it’s a clinician, a friend, or any of the support resources we have on campus.”
Juliana Kerrest, an MBA candidate in the MIT Sloan School of Management in a dual degree program with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, told her story of struggling with depression and balancing a demanding course load. Juliana explained, “When I started to get sick, things changed and I began to fall behind in my academics. I spoke with the Disabilities Services Office, [Office for the Dean of Graduate Education], and MIT Medical, and I got advice on how to talk with my teachers. They helped me to express that I was committed to my schoolwork, but that I had something very serious going on. The resource professionals that I talked to helped me be able to attend the Kennedy School because I had so many advocates.”
Kathy Dieppa, a senior in civil and environmental engineering who is also vice president of Active Minds at MIT, spoke last and shared what it was like to switch from the class of 2016 to 2017 after taking a semester off. “Taking a leave from MIT turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Coming back was scary, but I was careful. Since then, I’ve felt I had a responsibility to my peers to make sure they know about the resources here.”
Berezin emphasized that each of the speakers displayed “exactly the kind of behavior that we as teachers, staff, and administrators should be proud of, model, and celebrate for our students.” Though seeking help may feel like a solitary action, it is one that connects the entire campus community. In addition to students, the crowd represented a cross-section of the community, including Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart; Senior Associate Dean of Student Support and Wellbeing David Randall; Office of Minority Education Director DiOnetta Jones Crayton; Assistant Dean of Graduate Support and Advising Jason McKnight; counselors from MH&C; MIT Chaplains; and members of the Department of Facilities. Also in the crowd and eager to participate were various faculty members, about 200 students, and representatives from MIT Libraries, the Alumni Association, and the Department of Athletics Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER).
Berezin then thanked the artisans who crafted the sculpture’s glass and wood elements at Fiamma Glass in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Mark Ferioli Woodworking in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Berezin also expressed his gratitude to his wife, Laurie Berezin, who helped design the sculpture; the MindHandHeart Initiative, which supported the project; and Campus Activities Complex Associate Director Mike Foley, who found space in W20 for the sculpture.
Less than a month since its launch, the sculpture in W20 has started to amass a ground coat of marbles. Glass bowls filled with marbles can now be found in MH&C, S-cubed, the Office of the Chancellor, the Office for the Dean of Graduate Education, the MIT Chapel, the Division of Student Life, the Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming Office, MIT Community Wellness, various MIT Libraries, the School of Architecture and Planning, School of Engineering, and a growing list of others. Departments or individual staff, faculty, and students interested in distributing marbles should contact email@example.com. The “Helping You, Helping Others” sculpture will remain beside the stairwell in W20 throughout 2016-2017, collecting marbles.
MindHandHeart Initiative’s Innovation Fund grants, like the one that supported “Helping You, Helping Others,” are currently available. Now through Oct. 31, MIT students, staff, and faculty can submit project ideas in an easy and automated online application.