Protests Continue At MIT As Deadline Approaches

MIT students protesting the war in Gaza gather outside their encampment on the Kresge Oval on MIT's campus in Cambridge. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The atmosphere was tense on Monday at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as students and faculty were warned by the institutions that they would take strict action against anyone taking part in the ongoing pro-Palestinian protests across the country. The schools’ administrations issued statements stating that the protestors camping on the campuses could face involuntary leave if they did not comply with the rules and regulations of the schools.

Harvard University announced that protestors camped in Harvard Yard for over a week would face involuntary leave, which would require them to leave the campus until they were reinstated. Interim President Alan Garber said in a statement that while protestors have the right to free speech, it is not an unlimited one and their continuation of the encampment poses a significant risk to the educational environment of the University. Garber also warned that those involved in perpetuating the encampment would be referred for involuntary leave from their schools.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth made a similar announcement later that day, giving the protestors a 2:30 p.m. deadline to leave the encampment or face suspension. In a statement, Kornbluth cited recent findings by an MIT committee on academic freedom and expression, which stated that occupying a shared resource against the rules is not protected by freedom of expression. She warned that protestors must face the discipline as part of their civil disobedience.

As the deadline approached, dozens of protestors, many of whom were high school students, took to the streets near MIT to show their support for the pro-Palestinian protesters. The protestors halted traffic on Massachusetts Avenue for several hours. Meanwhile, at Harvard University, interim President Alan Garber's house saw protests by students who chanted slogans such as ‘Alan Garbage’. However, the interim president was not present at his house at that time.

Amidst the chaos, there were concerns from Jewish students at both schools who felt that the protestors were engaging in anti-Semitic chants. They said that the encampments at both universities should have never been allowed as they violated school policies, and the administration failed to protect Jewish students. Some also stated that the protestors have not been able to achieve their goal of cutting ties with the Israeli military.

While some Jewish students expressed disgust at the protest and chanted ‘Shame’ and 'Boo' towards the protestors, pro-Palestinian demonstrators have stated that they are standing up for their beliefs. Sam Ihns, a member of the protest, said that their stance is still the same and they want their schools to end any financial dealings with Israel's military.

As the deadline approached at MIT, the atmosphere grew more intense as the administration notified that no arrests had been made contrary to online misinformation. However, many protestors left the encampment, but some tore down metal gates that had been set up around the tents and reclaimed the center of the campus. The protest continued even after the deadline, with students forming a circle around the remaining tents. MIT released a statement in the evening saying that as the protestors violated the rules, the police came to preserve public safety.

Finally, both institutions are still figuring out how to handle the situation. While Harvard University has stated that students will be placed on involuntary leave, it is still unclear when that will happen. At MIT, protestors who leave voluntarily before the deadline will receive a warning and will get a chance to defend themselves. However, those who stay would be suspended and would be required to leave the campus immediately. The statement did not mention whether the encampment would be removed or not.

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