Speaking out Against Genocide in Palestine and Repression of Free Speech on MIT’s Campus
A statement from a collective of graduate students in HASTS at MIT
We, a collective of graduate students in the MIT Doctoral Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), forcefully condemn the recent actions of the MIT administration toward members of our campus community speaking out against the violent oppression of Palestinian people and genocide being enacted in Gaza by the Israeli state, which has received military and financial backing from the United States. We stand in solidarity with student groups across campus—including MIT Jews for Ceasefire, the Arab Student Organization, the Black Graduate Student Association, the Black Students’ Union, the Asian American Initiative, and the broader MIT Coalition for Palestine—in calling for the liberation of Palestine and an end to more than 75 years of Israeli settler-occupation, towards a land with freedom and equal rights for all. We grieve all lives lost and fiercely oppose all forms of Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist violence.
We are extremely concerned that the Institute chose to deploy armed campus police to cancel a peaceful teach-in on Friday, November 10, 2023, quashing dissent through fear-based tactics that have infamous historical precedents at MIT and in the US more broadly. We are especially alarmed by the Institute’s threat to suspend students—even if only from non-academic activities—who had participated in a sit-in on Thursday, November 9. While MIT justified this disciplinary action by claiming that demonstrators were acting against Institute guidelines by organizing a demonstration in an unapproved location, the guideline changing Lobby 7 from a preferred location to a by-approval-only one was introduced after the sit-in had already been organized and announced, raising questions about its timing and purpose. We see this as a contradiction to MIT’s stated commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression.
Our concerns are heightened amidst rising censorship on US university campuses about Palestinian human rights, which scholars have termed the “Palestine exception” to free speech. Actively preventing students and researchers from speaking openly about historical events and their ongoing implications is not only a moral and ethical failure—it also flies in the face of MIT’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge based on empirical evidence. It is disturbing that Institute administrators chose to punish students who are standing against a “mass ethnic cleansing,” in the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories. We are worried that the Institute’s current approach—including the expansion of police presence on campus—impedes campus safety for all students, especially those from already marginalized groups, and degrades the Institute as a space of learning and empowerment.
We applaud student protesters for addressing the uncomfortable and complicated ways that MIT abets global violence and militarism. As historians and anthropologists of science and technology, we too feel driven to identify and challenge how MIT programs aid and benefit from settler-occupation, militarization, and genocide, both past and present. MIT’s active participation in the violent projects of American slavery and settler-colonialism has been well-documented, and its alignment with US policy support for the Israeli government and military continues this legacy. MIT is also imbricated in the violence through its own research ties: the MIT-Israel Lockheed Martin Seed Fund, for instance, openly fosters the MIT community’s involvement with Lockheed Martin facilities in Israel that conduct research in potential service to the development of military and carceral technologies.
While we acknowledge the complicity of our respective academic disciplines in global projects of colonial and imperial oppression, we also staunchly believe in their ability to contribute to our ongoing scholarly commitments to feminist, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive research. We amplify the voices of scholars in our fields who are speaking up. We draw inspiration from the long history of the MIT community’s opposition against the Institute’s complicity in global injustices, ranging from the Vietnam War to apartheid in South Africa. We urge MIT to oppose apartheid in Israel and call out the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by severing its academic, financial, and political partnerships with entities that facilitate this violence, including the Lockheed Martin Seed Fund. We are optimistic that institutional change is possible given the precedents set by such student movements of the past. In 1969, for example, MIT students and faculty held an anti-war research strike, successfully forcing MIT to officially divest from the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (now Draper Laboratories).
Informed by this history, we believe in MIT's power to create meaningful change, in both the local and international spheres. We ask the MIT administration to support all students whose safety and well-being are adversely impacted by the decades-long violence in Israel and Palestine and who are expressing their views on campus. To ensure this, our requests are as follows:
We urge that peaceful demonstrations be allowed on campus, including by groups that were unfairly threatened with suspension from non-academic activities for the non-violent sit-in on November 9. The way we see it, the goal of a demonstration is to disrupt, to acknowledge that business should not go on as usual. Even so, the demonstration for which protestors were punished did not prevent any students from going to class nor cause significant disruption.
We demand that MIT conduct open and thorough investigations of ongoing harassment, intimidation and doxxing faced by students supporting Palestinian human rights, faced by students supporting Palestinian human rights, and to take concrete measures ensuring that all students are protected from such harassment. This includes ensuring that protesters are not filmed against their consent with the goal of intimidation and doxxing as occurred at the sit-in on November 9.
We ask the Institute to be transparent about its Ad Hoc Complaint Response Team, including communicating to the community: what behavior constitutes harassment; where and how it can be reported; how complaints will be reviewed; what the disciplinary consequences are for specific harassing actions; and where further support and resources can be found at MIT.
We ask that the proposed council Standing Together Against Hate clearly distinguish between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on the one hand, and the protest of states and state policies on the other, as MIT Jews for Ceasefire has also demanded.
We ask that the administration and its various offices make clear what students’ legal and institutional rights are in demonstrating on and off campus, and how to seek protection if needed. We echo the demands made by faculty for clarity about disciplinary decision-making processes and students’ right to due process.
We ask that the Institute allocate financial and human resources to existing departments, centers, and programs that are best suited to provide educational programming on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially through the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS). The History department already offers courses that explore MIT’s historical and ongoing involvement in systemic inequality and oppression, such as MIT and Slavery and The Indigenous History of MIT. We ask MIT to similarly invest in educational programming about MIT’s ties to militarism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by, for instance, developing a course on MIT and Defense Funding/Research.
Above all, we ask that MIT be an institution true to its values as a place where rights to freedom of expression are upheld, and where commitments toward making a better world are driven by the desire for human flourishing—not the interests of donors, the net gain of financial holdings, or US foreign policy agendas.
Until that time arrives, we join our voices to those of our campus colleagues to demand that MIT stop repressing members of the community who are bravely giving their time and energy to advocate for an end to the violence in occupied Palestine. An institution of MIT’s caliber deserves better leadership.
This statement was collectively authored and/or endorsed by a group of 20 doctoral students in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at MIT, a program committed to the interdisciplinary study of the social, cultural, and political life of science and technology. It represents our own views, not those of all individuals in the program nor those of the program itself.
Traditionally, The Tech requests that opinion pieces carry the names of the authors to ensure credibility and accountability for the content. However, in light of doxxing incidents faced by students at other universities, we have chosen to not include the names of the individual students whose views are represented here.
-Srinidhi Narayanan, Editor-in-Chief