January-March 2024Vol.XXXVI No. 3

The Student Protesters and MIT

Sally Haslanger, Jonathan A. King, Ceasar McDowell, Nasser Rabbat, Balakrishnan Rajagopal

The massacre and kidnappings in Israel and the ongoing war against Palestinians living in Gaza have revealed deep fault lines within the MIT community. We use the term fault lines because the tensions on the campus have resulted in administrative actions that have cast one segment of our community as people from which the broader community needs to be protected. For those who study Critical Race Theory and Critical Feminist Theory, we are not surprised that the students we are being “protected” from are all students of color and predominantly female. We are, however, dismayed.

On December 1, 2015, the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and the Black Student Union (BSU) presented a series of recommendations to MIT’s President and Academic Council “. . . advocating for greater transparency and accountability in the Institute’s handling of race-related issues.”  Five years later, acknowledging the progress that has been made, the BSU and BGSA were compelled once again to write a letter “. . . calling on MIT leadership to be proactive in making MIT a place where Black people and POC can exist safely and thrive.” After these and other efforts by students of color, it is reasonable to expect that before relying on existing policy and regulation (or making up policies in haste, as things are unfolding), there would be a pause for reflection, an inquiry to understand: Why are these protests happening? Why are the people who are being disciplined all people of color? Amid such ongoing trauma, do we have the appropriate resources and capability to support the students? How do we engage with the fundamental question the students are asking: What does complicity look like in a time of genocide?

Instead of responding to the needs of all students, a different approach was taken. As illustrated by three articles submitted to the FNL, the impact on the students marked for disciplinary action is profound. Each article offers insight into what is happening to the students who are protesting MIT’s unwillingness to address the question of complicity in the face of Palestinian genocide.

These extraordinary times call for MIT to embrace the challenge of supporting these students of color through this defining moment in their lives. It is a pivotal moment for testing our commitment to the Institute values. It is a moment for testing our moral courage.

Editorial Subcommittee