MIT is my home. There is no other way to say it. Over the years (let’s just say I’ve been here awhile), this place has gradually morphed from a place of discovery to a place of learning to a place of belonging.
There is a daily routine that sets in after a while; in my case it’s walking through the doors into Lobby 7 early in the morning, then pestering a lab colleague for some coffee, before deciding to battle the scary monsters residing in my email inbox. Over the remainder of the day I’ll be holed up in the lab working on my research or in a lecture hall listening to a professor impart knowledge. In between, I’ll try to bump into as many schoolmates and colleagues as possible in the corridors to catch up or scavenge some of the ever-present free food outside lecture and meeting rooms.
What really makes the days exciting are the small, delicious conversations that happen spontaneously, all the time, everywhere. These range from the dead serious (a discussion on the effects of budget cuts for science at the Federal Government in the graduate ecosystem), to the inventive (let’s measure the sensation of environmental coldness by analyzing thermal images of people’s noses), to the nonsensical (what would it take to create an index that rates the degree of liquidity in cats?). These conversations are food for the mind--they nourish the intellectual curiosity of the free-food scavenging graduate student collective and send me home every day with some food for thought.
Now all of this is great for the brain, but what about the heart? After all, home is where the heart is. I believe that heart is at the very core of MIT. To put it bluntly, people here care. Belonging here is a messy, stressful, chaotic process that ultimately yields an honest sense of community best expressed in the acronym “ihtfp” (it means both ‘I have truly found paradise’ or ‘I hate this f***ing place,’ depending on your mood’).
People here constantly amaze you with deep manifestations of caring and solidarity. Perhaps the one that left the deepest mark was during the last election. As a foreigner in a foreign land, one could often feel vulnerable and lonely hearing all the rhetoric of sharp exclusion. As a Mexican national, this election cycle was a rough emotional roller coaster for my country, my family, and myself. It's not easy explaining to your kids that their friends here in Boston still like them after the election, and that they will not be sent back to Mexico. How do you explain to children that none of what they are hearing on the TV about Mexican immigrants is their fault?
After the election ended many of us felt an apprehension that cut deep into our personal and professional psyche. Still the morning after, as I walked into the lab, I found it plastered with printed signs stating one sentence:
“You are safe with me, I stand with you.”
Our lab administrator had performed a simple but powerful action that cut through the heart of the matter. In a multicultural lab made up of people from all over the world, this wasn’t a small matter. The power, warmth, and agency stemming from the boards reaffirmed our sense of community, of place. I was going to be OK. Heart.
Nowadays, flying back into Boston, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of excitement and relief knowing that the unfinished columns of Lobby 7 are there to greet me tomorrow morning (they are carved and finished outside the building but plain inside signaling that the work inside MIT is never ending). As I pass them by I am already savoring my coffee and smiling. I wonder what I’ll discover today?