CAMBRIDGE — Top MIT administrators warned students who participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration Thursday, as well as counter-protesters, that they could face suspension if they did not clear the university’s main lobby that they occupied for several hours, according to a letter sent to the students.
An MIT spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the letter issued by university President Sally Kornbluth, Provost Cynthia Barnhart, and Chancellor Melissa Nobles.
The MIT-wide Coalition for Palestine said it held a “peaceful demonstration in MIT Lobby 7 to demand that MIT stop funding research that supports Israeli apartheid and the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people.” But a letter from the administrators said the demonstration caused a “disruption of Institute activities” and “a line has been crossed.”
MIT spokeswoman Kimberly Allen said the demonstration began Thursday morning in a lobby that is not approved for demonstrations and grew into an “intensifying protest and counterprotest among students in one of our main lobbies.”
“MIT leadership felt it was essential to lower the temperature for the personal safety of all present – including protesters and passers-by,” Allen said in an e-mail to the Globe.
In the letter, which was distributed to the students at the protest by MIT staff members, administrators said students received information Wednesday “outlining the boundaries for protest on our campus.”
“By choosing to violate our policies and guidelines, you have chosen to accept the consequences, and made yourself subject to MIT disciplinary action,” the letter read.
Students who remained at the protest after 12:15 p.m. “will be subject to suspension from MIT,” the letter said.
“Many students did depart as requested, though some remained,” Allen said. “Appropriate follow-up action will be taken in days ahead.”
In a statement, the MIT-wide Coalition for Palestine said it would continue protesting Thursday until 8 p.m.
“The MIT-wide Coalition for Palestine stands strong against these fear tactics,” organizer Alejandro Tañón Díaz said in the statement. “We condemn this action by the administration for exactly what it is, a means of suppressing our voices. We are confident that our movement will only grow.”
At MIT, the doors leading into the lobby were locked after about 6:30 p.m. but protesters could be seen through the doors continuing the demonstration inside. An MIT campus security guard said no one was being allowed in or out.
Eesha Banerjee, an MIT senior, said the organization’s leaders were meeting with senior administrators.
“We are asking them to retract the threat of suspension,” she said.
A student inside the lobby stood at the door with a bullhorn leading a chant with about 75 demonstrators on the steps leading to 77 Massachusetts Ave. They called out: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
The Israel-Hamas war, now in its second month, has cost thousands of lives. In Gaza, more than 10,000 people have been killed since Israel began bombarding the territory following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 people. More than 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas during the rampage and are being held in Gaza.
Fatimah Bouderdaben, 25, a second-year Ph.D. student at Boston University, traveled across town to take part in the protest. Wearing a black and white checked headscarf, a black hospital mask, and waving a small cardboard sign that said “cease fire now”, she chanted with others on the steps.
She said Kornbluth, MIT’s president, has threatened students’ freedom of speech, so she came out to “show support and solidarity.”
“I am calling for a cease-fire, I’m calling for free Palestine,” Bouderdaben said. “And I won’t stand by while my tax money is funding a genocide in Gaza.”