MIT Avoids Norovirus; Campus Police Conduct Routine ‘Well-Being Checks’

This occasional feature follows up on news stories long past their prime. In this edition: a contagious stomach bug misses the Institute but strikes close to home for one campus leader; don’t be alarmed if the police come knocking — they might just be checking that you’re OK; and a Walker Memorial bathroom has now been getting the same anti-gay graffiti for five years.

MIT avoids stomach illness

While a Boston-area college shut down to try to contain a stomach bug, MIT avoided the disease altogether.

Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass., closed for four days in March after a hundred students contracted the norovirus. The disease spreads in close quarters like cruise ships and college dormitories.

MIT Medical administrators spread firm warnings to wash your hands and ordered cleaning staff to wipe down doorknobs, in an effort managed by Associate Medical Director David V. Diamond.

Meanwhile, Medical administrators made contingency plans: “We set up an incident command center, and I was the incident commander,” Diamond said.

The Medical organization saw no more stomach flu cases than usual.

Coincidentally, just as Medical was sending out its messages, one senior administrator was home, ill.

Jason M. Pontin, the publisher and editor in chief of Technology Review, who also serves as Director of Communications and Advisor to the President of MIT, spent Monday, March 30 “home, sick as a Delhi street dog with food poisoning,” he broadcast via Twitter. He diagnosed himself with the norovirus, but he wasn’t diagnosed or treated by MIT Medical.

Pontin came back to work the next day; while his caution may have kept the Institute safe, things didn’t go so well at home.

“OMG, Ferdinando apparently has the Narovirus [sic], too,” Pontin said in a tweet. “He’s at home throwing up. I’ve infected my bulldog.”

Pontin and his dog have recovered.

Are you safe? The police might be checking

Has an MIT police officer been knocking on your door lately looking for your neighbor?

Your neighbor may not be in any trouble. The police could just be doing a “well-being check,” a routine verification that a student is okay.

Police will perform a check when a student’s parents call them, scared they haven’t heard from their child in several days.

If the police conduct a wellness check on you, they will search for you, checking your dormitory room, talking to your neighbors, even staking out your student groups — to make sure that you’re OK. They’ll report back to your loved one to let them know that things are all right.

“Police are part of the MIT community,” said Campus Police Chief John DiFava, and “community policing is our philosophy.” Well-being checks are an example of “community members helping other community members,” he said.

Hate graffiti continues into fifth year

Someone has been filling a bathroom in Walker Memorial with an anti-gay message for the last five years.

In September 2005, The Tech reported that anti-gay graffiti had been found in a bathroom near the Rainbow Lounge in Walker. The graffiti, written on a chalkboard, included the text “Homosexuality may be politically correct, but it will never be BIOLOGICALLY correct,” and proceeded to graphically describe homosexual sexual acts, ending with, “Small wonder that’s a prime vector for contracting AIDS. Enjoy.....”

Similar messages were reported to the Campus Police in 2004, an MIT staff member told The Tech in 2005.

The writing was reported to the MIT police four times in September 2006, when The Tech reported that the writer had still not been found.

Most recently, on the afternoon of March 6, 2009, police took a “report of hateful graffiti written on the bathroom wall,” according to police reports.

Throughout the years, the handwriting and message content have stayed about the same. The writer’s message has now outlasted an entire class of MIT undergraduates.

“Because it’s anonymous, it’s very hard to track down the person who’s doing it,” said Abigail Francis, assistant director of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender at MIT. “We kind of have to catch someone in the act.”

MIT police said in 2006 that the perpetrator would be punished once caught. If the writer is an MIT student or employee, internal Institute sanctions might apply. If not, MIT could still ban the perpetrator from coming to campus.

Since the graffiti started, LBGT has held town hall meetings where Walker occupants, Campus Activities Complex managers, and MIT Police representatives have offered support and discussed how to report incidents.

To stop the messages, why not just take the chalkboard down? That’s been tried, Francis said. The writer started using permanent marker on the wall instead.

The chalkboard messages may have lasted for five years, but at least they are easy to erase.