A community statement on MIT’s response to hate speech
Hate speech is not a matter of nuance
The letter below was written before March 5th, 2023. The president has since released a video acknowledging the incidents described below. While we are glad the president wishes she had denounced the sentiments, this does not fully address all the harms in the early phase of the response, and our community firmly rejects the framing of these posters as a matter of nuance. We call on MIT to act consistently and immediately against hate speech when it occurs.
Dear President Kornbluth, Chancellor Nobles, and Provost Barnhart,
We represent a broad coalition of MIT communities and we denounce MIT’s response to recent posters targeting marginalized communities.
On Tuesday, February 21st, MIT staff and students arrived back from the holiday weekend to find the steps on Mass Ave and the bulletin boards along the Infinite Corridor covered with hate speech - namely homophobic slurs and anti-gay slogans. Alarmed staff and students immediately united in an effort to remove this material, which continued to be posted anonymously over a series of four days, culminating in a series of posters featuring language lifted directly from the Westboro Baptist Church.
During this time the MIT administration refused to take down posters, actively discouraged staff from taking down the posters, and when a formal response was finally shared with the MIT community, they did not condemn the posters as hate speech. Instead, they attempted to dilute the severity of the hate speech by pointing out that other controversial while non-hateful views were also included in the campaign. MIT's statement made some suggestions as to the intentions behind these posters, but the intentions do not matter; the fact remains that MIT allowed and defended posters that featured slurs.
In the only response from the MIT administration, the Institute opted to call this speech “extreme” and full of “provocative terms.” We will call it what it is: hate speech. The fact they found the attack on their policy more distasteful than the attack on their community is telling. In contrast, two weeks earlier when the Black Graduate Student Association & Black Students’ Union posters were defaced, MIT made no meaningful acknowledgment of the attack on the Black community. In both cases, MIT’s apathetic response establishes a hostile work environment where violence and discrimination against marginalized communities is normalized and tolerated.
Whether staff, faculty, postdocs, graduate workers, or undergraduates, we all deserve a working and learning environment in which our walls and sidewalks are not literally festooned with slurs and hate speech. This is a bare minimum which we feel constitutes a reasonable norm for an academic community and workplace.
MIT must identify and fearlessly name hate speech when it occurs.
MIT must reject hate speech and slurs as forms of civil discourse.
MIT must demonstrate that they value the marginalized communities who live, work, and learn here.
If you would like to co-sign onto this letter as an individual or a group, please go to https://tinyurl.com/nohateatmit. The co-signing groups below that follow are current as of March 15, 2023. For the most updated list, please check https://tinyurl.com/LBGTQatMITletter
African, Black, American, Caribbean (ABAC) Employee Resource Group
Asian Pacific American Employee Resource Group
Black Graduate Student Association
Black Students’ Union
Disabilities Employee Resource Group
EECS Resources for Easing Friction and Stress (REFS)
G@MIT (Gay at MIT)
LatinX Graduate Student Association (LGSA)
LBGTQ+ Employee Resource Group
Millennials Employee Resource Group
MIT Asian American Initiative (AAI) Exec
MIT Graduate Student Union
MIT Libraries, Committee for the Promotion of Diversity and Inclusion (CPDI)
MIT Musical Theatre Guild
MIT Postdoctoral Association
MIT Postdoctoral Organization for Women Engaged in Research (MIT-POWER)
qtPhDs @ MIT LGBTQIA+ Postdoctoral Group
Queer Advocacy Space in AeroAstro
Womxn of Materials Science