Today’s protest and counterprotest
Dear members of the MIT community,
I want to describe some events that occurred at MIT today and reflect briefly on what they mean for our community.
As many of you know, starting at 8:00 this morning, Lobby 7 and the opening of the Infinite Corridor were the site of significant protest and eventually counterprotest. I am deliberately not specifying the viewpoints, as the issue at hand is not the substance of the views but where and how they were expressed.
Yesterday, Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson sent a letter to all students reminding them of the boundaries for protest on our campus, including the prohibition against the use of Lobby 7 for demonstrations, and making clear that it is not acceptable to disrupt the work of the Institute. Those guidelines were also personally conveyed to the organizers.
Today’s protest – which became disruptive, loud and sustained through the morning hours – was organized and conducted in defiance of those MIT guidelines and policies. Some students from both the protest and counterprotest may have violated other MIT policies, as well.
In late morning, the face-to-face confrontation between the protesters and counterprotesters intensified. We had serious concerns that it could lead to violence. To prevent further escalation and protect the physical safety of everyone present – including both student protesters and passers-by in our busiest lobby – the administration felt it was essential to take action.
After exhausting all other avenues for de-escalating the situation, we informed all protesters that they must leave the lobby area within a set time, or they would be subject to suspension. Many chose to leave, and I appreciate their cooperation. Some did not. Members of my team have been in dialogue with students all day. Because we later heard serious concerns about collateral consequences for the students, such as visa issues, we have decided, as an interim action, that the students who remained after the deadline will be suspended from non-academic campus activities. The students will remain enrolled at MIT and will be able to attend academic classes and labs. We will refer this interim action to the Ad Hoc Complaint Response Team, which includes the chair of the Committee on Discipline, for final adjudication.
Note that MIT has also received additional complaints about conduct by individual protesters and counterprotesters, and will be following up on those promptly.
As I have affirmed many times, MIT staunchly supports the right to free expression for everyone at MIT. However, as the MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom makes clear, “the time, place, and manner of protected expression, including organized protests, may be restrained so as not to disrupt the essential activities of the Institute.”
We have set that boundary to protect the safety of our community, so that all of us may express our views in places and ways that do not interfere with MIT’s essential mission. In that spirit, I’m especially heartened by an effort from faculty to develop a Day of Dialogue, which we would expect students involved in the protest and counterprotest to attend.
I know this is a time of great strain for many of you. I feel it too. I appreciate every effort to practice compassion, to exercise self-restraint and to respect each other’s humanity.