Clarifying the Parties and Events Policies

September 10, 2020


Dear students,

Following my email to graduate students and undergraduates on Monday, some students wrote asking for clarification on policies related to social interactions. I write to share more information on how students can connect with friends and how you can manage risks associated with the spread of COVID-19. For additional details, please see the policy on parties and events (for graduate students and undergraduates).

Let me start by saying that MIT has confidence that students will do the right thing and take precautions to protect the health and safety of our community. Even with precautions, though, there are no foolproof ways or absolute event-size numbers that will prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in social settings. Our biggest concern is students holding events and parties like the ones we read about in the news that have shut down other colleges and universities and undermined the wellbeing of thousands of community members. Boston mayor Marty Walsh said it succinctly: “Do not have parties.”

Understanding the science behind the spread of the virus will help us gauge the probability of transmission and employ safeguards. Consider the following environmental factors: the size of an event; the location (indoors vs. outdoors); the capacity guidelines for a space; the ventilation of a space; the cleanliness of a space; and if there is food, the way it is cooked and served. It’s also important to consider whether there is the expectation that people are physically distant and wearing face coverings; the attention to personal hygiene of those in attendance; and the time that people occupy a space (the CDC currently advises that individuals who have been closer than six feet for 15 minutes or more are considered “close contacts” due to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission). You can read these short articles from MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) to learn more.

While events and parties are not permitted on or off campus, there are other ways to engage in social connections with friends. A small circle of close friends who socialize only with each other and who limit their interactions outside of the group is generally safer than interacting with a broader group of people.

  • Residential undergraduate students may form a pod in their residence hall (see COVID-19 Residential Pod Program). As a reminder, undergraduates participating in pods are part of MIT’s testing protocol and are strongly encouraged to maintain the integrity of their pod. They should not socialize with friends outside of their pod.
  • Residential graduate students may have one in-house visitor at this time; however, if graduate residence halls are interested in forming a pod program, DSL is willing to begin this conversation in collaboration with residents and House Teams.
  • Off-campus students may maintain a small group of friends. As I said above, a small circle of close friends who socialize only with each other and who limit their interactions outside of the group is generally safer than interacting with a broader group of people. See MIT’s IDSS analysis of pods for more information.

Residential students approved to be on MIT’s campus this semester can meet in groups of 10 outdoors on campus (see the section on “Outdoor Common Space” in the COVID-19 Student Life Policies for graduate students and undergraduates). If you are indoors in your MIT residence hall, students can use pre-approved space as determined by Housing & Residential Services and the House Team (see the section on “Indoor Common Space” in the COVID-19 Student Life Policies for graduate students and undergraduates).

Students who wish to socialize in pairs or small groups may spend time outdoors engaging in activities like running, walking, and hiking together. Other examples of ways students can interact safely is by having a picnic or enjoying a coffee in an outdoor space with a few friends. At present (at least until 9/22), Cambridge allows people to be outdoors without a face covering, provided people are physically distant.

Students may attend religious or family gatherings that are in compliance with state and local guidelines.

We will revisit these policies on an ongoing basis. If needed, we will also adjust them to reflect prevailing public health guidance, current conditions, and our evolving understanding of best practices for preventing COVID-19 transmission.

Thank you for your diligence and commitment to keeping yourself, your friends, and MIT safe as the fall semester begins.

Sincerely, 

Suzy Nelson
Vice President & Dean for Student Life