Students Exposed MIT Admin’s Shameful Hypocrisy

After the Israeli military killed 35,000 Palestinians, many MIT students answered the call for justice and peace, setting up peaceful encampments on the grounds of this school, asking for divestment from a foreign military in an effort to ramp up pressure to end an ongoing genocide in Gaza.

We, a coalition of MIT alumni spanning multiple generations, nationalities, and racial backgrounds, including Jewish, Israeli, and Palestinian alumni, could not be more proud of this generation of students. The Scientists Against Genocide Encampment (SAGE) has challenged the administration and the broader MIT community to do better and live true to the Institute’s aspiration to campaign for a better world.

SAGE members embodied values MIT has previously honored. One such honor, the Bridge Builder Award, was granted to Austin Cole in 2023 for his study of civil disobedience during the U.S. civil rights movement [1]. Ironically, Cole was among the students suspended for their participation in the encampment and related demonstrations. Students are lauded for their commitment to studying justice, peaceful protest, and civil disobedience. Still, when students put those lessons into action, they are met with foreign-sponsored provocations, disciplinary actions, eviction, and finally, arrest.

SAGE and the protesters at the encampment follow a strong tradition of MIT civil disobedience. In fact, between 2017 and 2019, MIT granted the Disobedience Award, which operated under the belief that “you don’t change the world by doing what you’re told” [2]. Recipients included Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Professor Marc Edwards, who faced harassment and ridicule for bringing attention to Flint’s water crisis [3].

MIT loves rule-breakers, but only when they fit the Institute’s ideal image, valuing creativity and humor over substance. Around campus, we can find the memorialization of historical and famous hacks. Still, we won’t see any reference to the multiple meaningful campus protests and demonstrations like the ones against the Vietnam War or the South African apartheid—which birthed the now-suspended MIT Coalition Against Apartheid. Despite being ostracized and ignored by an MIT administration that never divested from unethical ties to the South African apartheid regime, those rule-breakers were pushing MIT in the right moral direction.

More recently, the administration has demonstrated a clear moral commitment to justice. Within 24 hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, then-President L. Rafael Reif suspended the MIT Skoltech program [4]. SAGE and its allies are asking for less than MIT’s response to the Russian government’s war on Ukraine. They—and we—are asking to cut ties with Israel’s military, a small ask given that more children have died in Gaza in the past six months than in four years of conflict worldwide [5].

The irony is not lost on us, MIT alumni, or prospective students looking to MIT for their future. As the main representatives of MIT, at this moment, we cannot in good conscience promote MIT as a place for brilliant minds, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, to attend and where they will experience the freedom to express themselves, thrive, and where they can feel safe. 


And while we debate the merits and efficacy of economic divestments and academic boycotts, it is worth remembering that every single university in Gaza has been demolished and bombed by Israeli forces. 

MIT benefits from its students' rebellious and innovative behavior, rejection of limits, and pushing of the envelope. If MIT actually wants to build a Better World [6], should it not support its students, especially those crying out for that world to be a just and fair one, and encourage the next generation of students to follow in these footsteps?

As MIT Alumni, we write in strong support of our Palestinian, Jewish, and Israeli students and their allies and their demands to end all MIT research ties with the Israeli military. We write in support of the students who, as stated in their pledge [7], stand against apartheid [8], against land grabs [9], against the burning of olive trees and farmland [10], and against manufactured famines; who stand against genocide. 


Citation Links: 

[1] Bridge Builder Award (Individual or Group). MIT Awards. https://awards.mit.edu/awards/bridge-builder-award-individual-or-group

[2] Disobedience Award FAQ. MIT Media Lab. https://www.media.mit.edu/groups/disobedience-award/faq/

[3] Ito J. and Zuckerman E. (2017, July 20). Announcing the winners of the 2017 Media Lab Disobedience Award. MIT Media Lab. https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/reflections-on-the-disobedience-award/

[4] Reif, L.R. (2022, February 27). Responding to the tragedy in Ukraine. MIT. https://reif.mit.edu/speeches-writing/responding-tragedy-ukraine

[5] (2024, March 13). Gaza: Number of children killed higher than from four years of world conflict. United Nations. https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/03/1147512

[6] MIT Campaign for a Better World. MIT Better World.  https://betterworld.mit.edu/about-the-campaign/ 

[7] (2023, December 14). Scientists Against Apartheid Pledge. MIT CAA.  https://caa-mit.gitlab.io/pledge/ 

[8] (2022, October 28). Israel/OP: Latest UN recognition of apartheid comes amid soaring attacks on Palestinian homes. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/10/israel-opt-latest-un-recognition-of-apartheid-comes-amid-soaring-attacks-on-palestinian-homes/

[9] Brown, C. (2024, March 22). Israel announces the largest West Bank land seizure since 1993. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/03/22/israel-largest-west-bank-settlement-blinken-visit/

[10] Hedroug, L. (2023, March 11). Israel’s Campaign Against Palestinian Olive Trees. The Yale Review of International Studies. https://yris.yira.org/column/israels-campaign-against-on-palestinian-olive-trees/