November/December 2023Vol. XXXVI No. 2

Thanking the Protesting Students

An MIT Faculty Member

As the administration has repeatedly noted, the MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom reserves the right to limit “the time, place, and manner of protected expression, including organized protests . . . so as not to disrupt the essential activities of the Institute.”

As a long-time employee and two-time parent of undergrads at MIT, I want to thank the students who chose to peacefully protest in Lobby 7 last week, reminding us that organizing and voicing dissent – even when it is loud or uncomfortable – is in fact one of our “essential activities.”

As for the administration’s surprise at the fairly predictable response they received when they attempted to preempt the protest (an 11th-hour email “reminder” dictating specific outdoor locations as the only authorized free speech zones), the entire communications misstep could have been avoided by simply looking up the definition of the word “protest” in the dictionary.

This protest was well in line with well-established MIT tradition, continuing a long line of vigils, demonstrations, and other activities over many, many years. To declare Lobby 7 or other central indoor gathering spaces to be “off-limits” to protest is as absurd as declaring Kresge Theater off-limits for a cappella or Barker Library off-limits for reading/napping. In the miniature city that is MIT, the Infinite is our Main Street and Lobby 7 is our downtown: these spaces are where we meet, gather, discuss, celebrate, sing, promote, mourn, shout, and in other ways attract attention to the causes and issues that matter to us.

Most impressive of all were those steadfast protesters who remained after the distribution of the administration’s hasty memo threatening suspension (apparently improperly: this was subsequently rolled back when senior administration recognized that only the faculty Committee on Discipline has this authority), along with the many supporters who flocked to the lobby in support of the right to protest. All of our students are thoughtful individuals and this cannot have been an easy decision for any of them, weighing conscience and moral right vs. sudden, scary, and disproportionate real-world consequences. In considering any cases called up for disciplinary review, I hope the Committee will discount the charges to compensate for the debt we owe these brave students for pointing out the Institute’s multiple mistakes.

Name withheld upon request.