Majority of interim student suspensions stemming from on-campus pro-Palestinian protests lifted

Of the 23 who received interim suspensions following a May 6 protest, two remain active.

The information presented in the following article comes from a series of interviews between The Tech and members of the pro-Palestinian campus movement, faculty members, and other individuals with knowledge of the situation. These accounts were corroborated by additional documentation, emails, and other written communication obtained by The Tech.


“Dear [student]: We are writing to address concerning behavior that you engaged in on May 6, 2024, at the unauthorized encampment that has been on Kresge Oval since April 21, 2024.”

On May 8, several students received a letter from the Division of Student Life (DSL) notifying them that disciplinary action has been taken against them—they have been interim suspended for their participation in the campus pro-Palestinian movement.

23 different students received these suspensions; over the following weeks, they engaged in what they described as stressful, demoralizing meetings with representatives of the administration while continuing to engage in increasingly escalated process action, in a weeks-long review process that ultimately saw many of these sanctions lifted.


Students receive interim suspensions following high-profile protest

The May 8 letter, signed by Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson and Senior Associate Dean for Student Life Dean David Randall, came just two days after an emergency protest action in front of the pro-Palestinian student encampment on Kresge Oval. 

That day, on May 6, dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators and hundreds of onlookers swarmed the Student Center plaza in response to an evacuation order by President Sally Kornbluth and tore down a set of six-foot-tall barricades, amidst a threat of disciplinary sanctions by Chancellor Melissa Nobles. Separate articles from The Tech detail the events from that day and the resulting aftermath, most notably the May 10 dismantlement of the encampment and a slew of student arrests.

The May 6 written warning from Nobles, distributed shortly after noon, had threatened that student protestors not voluntarily exiting the encampment by 2:30 p.m. would be placed on immediate interim academic or full suspension “lasting through Institute commencement activities.” 

Mila Halgren G, who is entering her 7th year as a PhD student in neuroscience, recounted the timeline of events which led to her suspension. “There had been some threatening emails sent out a day or two before [May 8] threatening disciplinary action that was dismissed by other people in camp as a pretty naked scare tactic,” Halgren said, noting that many viewed the threats as a sign that the encampment was significantly putting pressure on the administration. 

“So, that morning I blocked the parking garage for a few hours, marched through Lobby 7 and chanted, then went to camp, went into my lab briefly—and then I got an email saying I was suspended, and then [I] didn’t really receive any word for a week after that,” she added.

Nelson’s May 8 letter which issued these interim suspensions noted that while most students ultimately exited the encampment within the deadline—but for five students who remained in the enclosure until the barricades were torn down by other protestors—“students encouraged others to join a rally protesting MIT’s efforts to end the encampment,” and that the suspended students “exited temporarily but continued to engage in escalating activities that endangered members of the community.”

“The administration and the COD [Committee on Discipline] together, we view this interim as a necessary action when we really need to stop things,” President Sally Kornbluth said in a May 15 interview with The Tech. “There were many reasons I really felt that the encampment was getting dangerous, for the people in the encampment and for others in the community.”

The interim suspension mechanism was initially set up for cases of sexual assault; their use in these cases is a point of criticism from students and faculty who see the suspended students as being compared to alleged perpetrators of sexual assault.

“You have a group of students who are asking for MIT to withdraw from complicity in the genocide—basically asking for peace—and they have not attacked anyone,” Professor of Linguistics Michel DeGraff said in a May 18 interview with The Tech. “How can you... compare students that are [doing] the right thing with potential rapists?”

A suspended undergraduate student echoed this statement: “It [the interim suspension mechanism] was meant to be used for literal safety issues, and not peaceful protesting. I think they’re really stepping out of lane in trying to use that,” the student said.

In a typical suspension case, the Committee on Discipline (COD)—a Standing Committee of the Faculty charged with reviewing and responding to cases of alleged misconduct against students and student organizations—reviews the complaint presented to it in a series of meetings and hearings with the accused individual. Any Institute responses, among them suspension, expulsion, or revocation of a degree, are not implemented until after the COD has heard a case in full. The interim suspension mechanism instead goes into effect immediately, during which time the committee goes through its review process.

The May 8 letters issuing these interim suspensions were distributed in a sparsely-populated email by Suzy Nelson, titled “Important Disciplinary Information,” that only read: “Dear [student]: Please carefully read the attached letter and contact if you have any questions.” 

The letters, which were different from student to student, made no mention of specific policy violations and noted that “at this stage, no findings have been reached.” Some students received academic suspensions, which prohibited them from engaging in academic and extracurricular activities, but were still permitted to utilize campus services; others’ suspensions were noted as “full suspensions,” which entirely barred them from utilizing campus services (except for MIT Health medical services) and evicted them from campus housing. All students were referred to the COD for full review, who would then determine whether to officially uphold the suspensions.

“You must leave campus immediately,” the letter read for students facing interim full suspensions.

Justifying the reasoning behind the evictions, Kornbluth said that “during the interim suspension, you can’t participate in any campus activities. And if you live on campus, it becomes very difficult to implement that in any way.”


Nearly two dozen students referred to disciplinary offices in weeks-long review process

Ultimately, 23 students—a mix of undergraduate and graduate students—were struck with varying levels of interim suspensions. Many of these students, though not all, were among the 23 students arrested this semester for protest action. (Five were arrested on April 26 as part of a crackdown at Emerson College’s encampment; eight were arrested on May 9 during a sit-in at the Stata Center parking garage; and another ten were arrested during the May 10 sweep of the Kresge Oval encampment.)

In all cases, the May 6 action was pointed to as the leading cause for the suspensions.

The following correspondence that the students received came as an electronically-distributed letter from the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards (OSCCS) on May 14. (The OSCCS, as per its page in the Division of Student Life website, is the "beginning point of all conduct and academic integrity complaints." The office facilitates and oversees the case review process alongside the COD.) This letter expanded on the disciplinary notice put forward in the preceding May 8 letter; among its contents, the letter identified specific protest actions the students were allegedly part of which contributed to the suspension decision and described specific policy violations. 

Such protest actions noted included a May 1 protest which led to the establishment of a temporary second encampment on 84 Mass Ave, the high-profile May 6 protest, the May 8 and May 9 blockades of the Stata Center parking garage, and a May 10 protest at Lobby 7 that concluded in a street march to Building E1; the individual letters to each student listed some combination of these specific protests and other noted actions.

The letters then went on to list the policies that the students were charged with violating: all students were charged with violating the “Use of Facilities” clause of the MIT Policies & Procedures as well as some combination of clauses from the Mind & Hand Book (such as “Disorderly Conduct,” “Improper Use of Institute Property,” and “Reckless Endangerment”). The policy violations listed did not connect to specific actions where they were alleged to have occurred.

Many students described that their letters made reference to protest action which they did not actually take part in.

“In my initial letter that DSL sent me, they said that I was involved in certain actions that I physically just was not there at in any sense... They were just saying things that I straight up didn’t do,” Jonathan Anziani ’25 said.

The various suspended students, in the following two weeks, then met with representatives of OSCCS to further discuss the sanctions. In the meetings, students were accompanied by faculty advisors from the Alliance of Concerned Faculty (ACF), a faculty-organized group formed to support students engaged in campus tensions from administrative backlash; graduate students were additionally accompanied by a steward from the Graduate Student Union (GSU), which had been contesting the sanctions placed by MIT on its graduate students as violating the current union contract and various relevant labor laws.

Halgren described the meetings as feeling “farcical.”

“It was someone in admin asking a series of relatively open-ended questions... and asking about things which were factually incorrect, like asking if I hopped the fence [on May 6]—which I didn’t; asking if we had blocked an ambulance [during the May 8 blockade], which we let through that morning,” Halgren said.

Parts of the meetings were dedicated to reviewing the specific evidence brought to the COD by the DSL. Among other documentation, the evidence presented include CCTV photos, on-the-ground photos taken by the MIT Police Department, screenshots of social media posts, and stills from broadcast news coverage. One student shared that, regarding the evidence behind their suspension, “I think a lot of it was just hearsay.”

The meetings were reportedly highly emotional, with some students sharing that “my meeting was 30 minutes of me crying, out of 45 minutes of meeting.”

Upper-level DSL administrators David Randall, Helen Wang, and James Reed were among the representatives that administered the meetings.

At the same time, faculty members part of the ACF engaged in a concerted effort to have the administration lift the suspensions. A motion put forth for the faculty to call for the lifting and hotly debated in the May 15 and May 17 Institute faculty meetings was ultimately rejected in a 154-191 vote, as previously reported by The Tech.

From there, interactions between the students and OSCCS diverged into case-specific action.

In the week that Institute faculty held their meetings to discuss the suspensions, the students that had been hit with interim full suspensions packed up their belongings and moved out of campus following their eviction. (The students were told that they were to leave campus housing within seven days following receipt of their suspension notices.)

“I’ve heard things like ‘please don’t let students sleep on park benches or send them back to conflict zones.’ That’s not the MIT way in any way... I really think it’s administered humanely—no one should suffer because of this,” Kornbluth said.

The students forced to move out refuted this account: “I [lost] my housing because I think that genocide is bad,” one student said.

“Throughout the entire process, DSL and COD—they kept saying things like... ‘Why didn’t you tell us this was affecting you? Why didn’t you reach out to us to explain how this has been impacting you?’” Anziani said of the stress that the suspension and corresponding eviction had put on him. “Why would I have to tell you that removing my housing is bad?”

In the following weeks, after back-and-forth conversations and meetings between the students and OSCCS, alongside private discussions between the OSCCS and the COD, most of the suspensions were gradually lifted.

In the end, the only direct line of communication between many of the suspended students and the COD was in the lifting of their suspensions.


Students respond to interim suspension claims

Many students who received the suspensions expressed frustration with the decisions made by the administration on who was to be suspended. 

A graduate student who had been suspended said that they only began to participate in the campus movement days into the beginning of the encampment. “I honestly think the main reason I was suspended was that I happened to be front and center of the AP [Associated Press] live stream on Monday [May 6] because it’s not like I’ve been involved in the CAA [Coalition Against Apartheid] or anything until a week before that point,” the student said.

“I was never an organizer or anything, and the only reason I feel like they came after me is because they [the administration] just personally didn’t like me,” Anziani said.

The suspended students also shared frustrations with their charges: specifically, many pointed to the Reckless Endangerment charge—with reckless endangerment being defined as “conduct that could reasonably and foreseeably result in physical injury even if no injury actually occurs,” according to the Mind & Hand Book—as being “ridiculous,” as described by one graduate student. 

“The only time[s] people were hurt were when police violence happened,” Anziani said.


Five students mistakenly receive suspensions, soon lifted

Among the 23 suspensions issued relating to the May 6 protest, five were quietly lifted by the Institute in a first round of reversals due to insufficient evidence or misidentifications. 

“Some of those suspensions were based on evidence that was just straight racist. They [the administration] literally mistook one person for another because they both have brown skin and are roughly the same size,” Prahlad Iyengar G, who was also struck with a suspension, said.

Daniel Shen G, a 3rd-year PhD student in the EECS department, is among those who mistakenly received suspensions. Shen’s interim full suspension was also based on the May 6 protest, but he “wasn’t physically in the encampment” that day.

“In my case, I wasn’t even physically in the Boston area when they claimed I did the things—so I’m just really not clear how they came up with these charges or came up with the list of people to issue these kinds of disciplinary notices to,” he added.


Suspensions reversed as semester came to a close; two suspensions still active

By the time of this article’s publication, 21 suspensions have been lifted by the administration. Some received word through formal emails sent by OSCCS soon after the initial meetings in mid-May while others were informed in private calls with administrators. Many liftings were done by the COD around the time of commencement, although some students had their suspensions removed as early as mere days after their hearings with OSCCS.

The reversals delivered by the COD were sent to students through an emailed letter from Committee on Discipline Chair Tamar Schapiro. “The COD recognizes that your actions are forms of civil disobedience motivated by sincere political conviction and that they are largely peaceful,” the letter wrote. “That said, you have displayed a willingness to persist in conduct that disrupts Institute operations and forces the Institute to divert an undue share of resources away from normal operations.”

These letters restated the specific policy violations the students had been charged with and presented the specific findings that led to them being brought up; they noted whether the students were found “responsible” or “not responsible” for each violation they were charged with.

The reversals were not made without conditions, and most students—besides the five that had been incorrectly issued suspensions—were sanctioned to disciplinary probation for the next year. “Probation is a strong warning from the Institute that your behavior in this situation violated Institute expectations,” the letter read, which also noted that during this period additional violations would result in more serious sanctions but that the probation is not to be noted on students’ transcripts.

For the undergraduate and graduate students allowed to walk in commencement and graduate from the Institute this semester, they instead received bans from campus grounds for periods of one to two years.

There is no appeal to these decisions, as they were reached via “administrative resolution.” As per the COD's charter publicly available on the Faculty Governance webpage, disciplinary actions such as suspension and expulsion decisions "may be appealed to the Chancellor."

Anziani noted that even after the lifting of his suspension, “I felt like the police were watching me at all times.” 

Anziani shared several anecdotes of what he considered to be undue, inappropriate police supervision of his activities. “There was one specific situation where I was not even on MIT’s property, I was just walking down Mass Ave and talking to a friend, and a[n MIT] police [officer] decided to call for backup and started taking pictures of me,” he said.

Mass Ave is considered public property and is not legally part of campus grounds.

“Even when I was unsuspended, there were still police constantly keeping their eyes on me... [One time], a police officer was just staring at me practicing [fire spinning] and—according to my friend who was listening to the police scanner—[the police officers] were trying to issue a trespass warning for me,” Anziani said. “I was perfectly allowed on campus... It makes me feel really unsafe, especially being a Black student.”

Several seniors were, despite the lifting of their suspensions, still unable to graduate due to already-incurred effects on their academic standing. “Once they were unsuspended, they didn’t have enough time to resolve [a required] class before commencement. So, there are several people who are in this boat where they have to finish up over the summer because of the interim suspensions,” an individual familiar with the matter said.

Two students, including Iyengar, are still facing disciplinary action and are currently hearing from the COD in a review process that is set to continue into the summer.

“COD has a lot of actions available to it,” Kornbluth said. Among them, the committee has the power to reverse the suspension entirely; they can take administrative action to make a ruling, although Kornbluth noted that “I don’t think they take administrative actions when it’s something as serious as a suspension going forward”; or they can hear the full case.

Speaking about the COD review process, Kornbluth said that “[the panel] is a whole group—it’s not just the Director of the COD. The students have the opportunity to give their own testimony evidence... This [interim suspension action]”—most cases of which were still active at the time of that interview—“is a pause so that the COD can hear the full cases.”

Iyengar, a 1st-year PhD candidate in Electrical Engineering, is attending MIT as part of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. “I was told that if MIT decides to actually go through with a suspension or changes my student status in any way, then I will lose the NSF funding permanently,” he said.

“My charges are no different from other people’s charges—it’s not like they decided to go after me because they had a particular charge that was different,” Iyengar added.

“There is a particular alum[nus] who they have not banned from campus, and that man’s name is Bibi [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Iyengar said. “They consider us enough of a danger to campus to ban people from campus, but they don’t consider the man who is the architect of a genocide dangerous enough to ban from campus.”


June 21, 2024 (6:43 PM): Edits were made to this article to clarify the suspension review process and the corresponding roles of the Committee on Discipline and Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Other minor typographical corrections and clarifications were made across the article.