#They Knew protesters rally against MIT’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein

‘Research funded by rape, war, or oil is not worth it,’ sign says

Students, researchers, faculty, and other members of the MIT community gathered at the steps of the Stratton Student Center Sept. 13 to protest the donations Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier accused of sex trafficking, made to MIT. The protesters criticized the administration for its lack of transparency regarding these donations and its involvement with figures such as Epstein and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of human rights violations.

The protest was organized by MIT Students Against War (MITSAW), headed by members Husayn Karimi ’19, Mani Mengiste G, and Alonso Espinosa-Domínguez ’20, and included speakers such as Quinton Zondervan from the Cambridge City Council, Chelsea Hodgkins from UnKoch My Campus, and MIT students in the Media Lab and CSAIL. Karimi also read aloud a statement sent by Signe Swenson, the whistleblower and former development associate at the Media Lab who first revealed the extent of Epstein’s donations, who was unable to attend the protest.

In an interview with The Tech, Mengiste said that the protest likely saw a turnout of more than 200 people overall, with many coming and going during the two hour demonstration.

Participants held signs reading “Accountability not avoidance,” “Research funded by rape, war, or oil is not worth it,” and “I apparently think Reif must resign.” The sign referenced an email sent by President L. Rafael Reif to the MIT community, in which he stated that he “apparently signed this letter [thanking Epstein for a donation] on August 16, 2012,” and while he does “not recall it, it does bear [his] signature.”

Between speeches given by the speakers, Karimi led the crowd in call-and-response chants such as “Reif, Reif, you can’t hide. We demand that you resign.” 

After the program of scheduled speakers ended, members of the crowd were also invited to speak in an open mic session, and about thirty minutes later, the protest culminated with a march to Reif’s office, where protesters delivered their signs and continued to voice their dissatisfaction with the Institute’s administration. 

With the tagline “#THEY KNEW,” the protest was publicized by MITSAW through emails and flyers posted and distributed around campus. The flyers prompted community members to “speak out against MIT + Epstein scandal.”

The main goal of the protest, Mengiste told The Tech, was “to give a voice to serve the MIT community, and to give us a chance to respond to the events that have unfolded for the past three weeks.” She described these events as “symptomatic of a bigger problem … the fact that there’s no transparency with which the Institute handles donations.”

Addressing the crowd, Karimi outlined the demands made by MITSAW to the administration. First, he said that the administration must “release all the information, release all the names of the people who accepted the money,” and that those who were aware, including Reif, must resign or be fired.

Furthermore, he proposed “a body of faculty, of staff, of students, and of community members that has final decision-making power over” donations. He also demanded that MIT no longer accept anonymous donations.

Lastly, Karimi called for the firing of Seth Lloyd, an MIT professor known to have visited Epstein in jail, prompting the protesters to chant, “Seth Lloyd has got to go.”

Nathan Foster, a protest organizer and student at Tufts University, said, “There needs to be student and faculty and community voice … or the Jeffrey Epsteins of this world will keep doing whatever they want with MIT’s resources and with MIT’s name recognition and with MIT’s power. We need to demand that that power be placed back in our hands.”

Speakers at the protest also denounced other significant donors, such as the Koch brothers for climate change denial, and Stephen A. Schwarzman for his role in the housing affordability crisis. 

Mengiste told The Tech, “Our hope is that members of the MIT community stop and think [about] the relationship between money, who it comes from, the science that we do with it.”

Arwa Mboya G, a graduate student at the Media Lab and member of the Future of Women student group, spoke of the concerns they felt as women on campus, citing the email defending Epstein sent by visiting scholar Richard Stallman to those affiliated with CSAIL. Stallman has since resigned. 

Mboya said during the protest, “I challenge MIT’s administration to dream much much bigger; it’s not about science, it’s not about technology, it’s about humanity, and if we can’t get that right, then we are not a good institution.”

Following the protest, Edmund Bertschinger, a professor in MIT’s physics department, said in an interview with The Tech that he was “very happy others who felt like me could share [our] feelings today in solidarity.”