Students at MIT who refused orders to vacate a campus lobby Thursday where pro-Palestinian demonstrators and counterprotesters loudly confronted one another will be suspended from “non-academic” activities but can still attend classes and labs, President Sally Kornbluth said.
In a letter to the campus community Thursday, Kornbluth said demonstrations inside Lobby 7 began in the morning, defying an advisory from campus officials that the protests weren’t allowed there so as not to “disrupt the work” happening in the building.
By late morning, face-to-face confrontations between the dueling camps had “intensified,” Kornbluth wrote, prompting “serious concerns that it could lead to violence.”
That’s when officials took action.
“After exhausting all other avenues for de-escalating the situation, we informed all protesters that they must leave the lobby area within a set time, or they would be subject to suspension,” Kornbluth wrote. “Many chose to leave, and I appreciate their cooperation.”
Some did not, however, and MIT initially said Thursday that students who remained at the protest after 12:15 p.m. “will be subject to suspension from MIT,” according to a letter from school officials that university staff distributed to students at the demonstration.
But by Thursday night, administrators had backed off the threat of an academic suspension after speaking with demonstrators throughout the day, according to Kornbluth.
“Because we later heard serious concerns about collateral consequences for the students, such as visa issues, we have decided, as an interim action, that the students who remained after the deadline will be suspended from non-academic campus activities,” Kornbluth said. “The students will remain enrolled at MIT and will be able to attend academic classes and labs.”
She didn’t specify how many students would be subject to suspension from non-academic activities.
“Note that MIT has also received additional complaints about conduct by individual protesters and counterprotesters, and will be following up on those promptly,” Kornbluth wrote.
She said the Massachusetts Institute of Technology values free expression on campus.
“As I have affirmed many times, MIT staunchly supports the right to free expression for everyone at MIT,” Kornbluth wrote. “However, as the MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom makes clear, “the time, place, and manner of protected expression, including organized protests, may be restrained so as not to disrupt the essential activities of the Institute.”
Kornbluth said MIT has “set that boundary to protect the safety of our community, so that all of us may express our views in places and ways that do not interfere with MIT’s essential mission.”
On Thursday, MIT’s 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.”
The coalition vowed to continue the protest until 8 p.m., long past the deadline to leave without facing disciplinary sanctions.
“The MIT-wide Coalition for Palestine stands strong against these fear tactics,” organizer Alejandro Tañón Díaz said. “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.”
Díaz didn’t immediately return a request for comment Friday.
At MIT, the doors leading into the lobby were locked after about 6:30 p.m. but protesters could be seen continuing the demonstration inside. A campus security guard said no one was being allowed in or out.
Inside the lobby, a student with a bullhorn stood at the door and led a chant with about 75 demonstrators on the steps 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, officials say more than 11,000 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.
Material from the Associated Press and from prior Globe stories was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.