A Graduate Student’s Open Letter to OSCCS: Response to Scientist Against Genocide Encampment (SAGE) Suspension

Publisher’s note: the following piece details a letter submitted by Dan Zeno to The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards in response to his interim suspension as issued by the Committee on Discipline. The work, published here as an open letter, has been edited by editors of The Tech for clarity and conciseness.


Introduction and Context for Open Letter

In recent weeks, the MIT community has been grappling with the consequences of a student-led protest encampment on Kresge Oval. The demonstration, which began on April 21, 2024, was met with a controversial response from the MIT administration, culminating in the suspension of several students involved in the protest.

One of those students, Zeno, a veteran and graduate student at the Sloan School of Management, has chosen to share his perspective on the events and his personal experiences in an open letter to the community, one which was also formally submitted to The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards (OSCCS). Zeno, who has faced significant challenges during his time at MIT, including a rare medical condition that necessitated leaves of absence, now finds himself facing serious allegations and an interim suspension from the institute.

In his letter, Zeno questions the fairness and justification of the disciplinary actions taken against him and other students, raising concerns about the lack of due process, the vagueness of the policies invoked, and the potential for bias and discrimination in the administration's response. He also shares his personal journey at MIT, highlighting his contributions to the community and the impact of the current situation on his academic progress, family, and well-being.

Through this open letter, Zeno aims to spark a conversation about the broader issues at stake, including the importance of free speech, peaceful protest, and the alignment of MIT's actions with its stated values. He invites the entire community to engage in honest reflection and dialogue about these events and the future of the institute.

The letter that follows is a heartfelt and thought-provoking perspective from a student who has found himself at the center of a complex and divisive situation. It offers a unique insight into the human impact of recent events and raises important questions about the principles and values that guide our community.

The Open Letter


Dear Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards,

I pen this letter with a soul laden with sorrow, my spirit deeply vexed by the egregious and precipitous actions taken against me by an institution I once held in the highest regard. The imposition of an interim suspension and the threat of eviction, bereft of even a modicum of due process, stands as a grievous miscarriage of justice and a disheartening betrayal of the very values that MIT purports to embody.

As a bastion of academic excellence, MIT has long prided itself on its unwavering commitment to fairness, integrity, and the relentless pursuit of truth. Yet, in this dark hour, the institution has fallen woefully short of these lofty ideals, denying me the fundamental tenets of a just and equitable process: fair notice, prior enforcement, substantial proof, equal treatment, and progressive discipline. Instead, I find myself at the mercy of an administration that appears more intent on quelling dissent and stifling the voices of those who dare to question the status quo than fostering an environment conducive to open dialogue, critical thinking, and the free exchange of ideas.

The ramifications of this capricious decision has already delivered non-interim discombobulation. My family, including my cherished five-year-old daughter and princess, has been cast into a vortex of uncertainty and anguish, our lives upended by the callous demand for our immediate eviction. The utter lack of empathy and understanding displayed by an institution that purports to value diversity and inclusion is as shocking as it is disheartening, particularly in light of my physical disability. The subsequent backpedaling and conditional retractions only serve to underscore the impropriety and haste with which these decisions were made, a damning indictment of an administration that has lost its way.

Moreover, the financial repercussions of this suspension have been deeply unnerving. As a veteran who relied upon the GI Bill to pursue my dreams of higher education, I now find myself facing the perilous prospect of losing the very stipend that keeps a roof over my head and food on my table. This, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding my academic standing at Sloan, has left me teetering, my hard-fought gains threatened by the abrupt actions of an administration that seems all too willing to sacrifice the well-being of its students on the altar of expediency.

Allow me a moment to provide some context regarding my journey at MIT:

In the autumn of 2018, I embarked upon a transformative journey at the prestigious Sloan School of Management, the same year I concluded my service in the United States Air Force. Little did I know that this new chapter would be marred by an insidious and enigmatic affliction that would test the very limits of my resilience.

As I immersed myself in the rigorous core curriculum of my MBA program, the first whispers of a sinister malady began to manifest. Eosinophilic Fasciitis, a deeply-painful condition so rare that it has only been well-documented in a handful of cases worldwide, slowly crept into my life, its grip tightening with each passing day. Accompanying this primary diagnosis was the specter of Morphea, a secondary condition that only served to compound my suffering. The path to understanding the nature of my ailment was a labyrinthine one, fraught with uncertainty and despair. For nine long months, I traversed the length and breadth of the nation, consulting with medical experts at countless hospitals, each visit a desperate quest for answers. The toll on my mind and body was immeasurable, as I grappled with the debilitating effects of my condition while striving to maintain my academic standing.

Inevitably, the demands of my health necessitated a fragmented approach to my education at Sloan. Multiple medical leaves of absence punctuated my journey, each one a reluctant but necessary respite to accommodate the experimental treatments that held the promise of relief. The halls of Boston Medical Center became my second home, a stark contrast to the hallowed corridors of MIT.

Yet, even as I navigated the depths of my personal struggle, I refused to let it define me. I channeled my energy into making a meaningful contribution to the MIT community. As the President of The Yarn, a renowned speaker series at Sloan, I curated thought-provoking discussions and gave voice to diverse perspectives. Through numerous speeches at Sloan admit events, I shared my story and inspired others to persevere in the face of adversity.

Music became my solace and my platform for connection. As a lead singer and performer of The Rolling Sloans, the business school band, I poured my heart and soul into electrifying performances. Our concerts at the iconic Paradise Rock Club drew crowds of over a thousand students, each one a testament to the power of art to unite and uplift.

In a poignant display of my commitment to the MIT community, I took on the role of lead actor in a play during admit week '23. The production served as a vital resource for incoming freshmen, highlighting the myriad support services available on campus to ease their transition into university life. It was a privilege to be a guiding light for these young minds, to help them navigate the challenges that lay ahead.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I now find myself at the receiving end of an institution's callous disregard. To have given so much of myself, to have overcome such unimaginable odds, only to be treated with such unprofessionalism and insensitivity, is a bitter pill to swallow. The very institution that I have served with unwavering dedication has chosen to cast me aside, my contributions and struggles seemingly reduced to mere footnotes in the grand scheme of things.

Regarding the allegations:

The allegations leveled against me are as baseless as they are unjust, a product of a system that seems all too eager to condemn without evidence or due process. I stand accused of endangering the community and serving as a leader of the encampment, yet not a shred of substantive proof has been offered to support these spurious claims. I held no formal role in establishing the encampment. The conflation of an outspoken nature with formal leadership is a deeply troubling notion, one that suggests a desire to suppress individual expression and stifle the voices of dissent.

Additionally, in the initial suspension letter, a document as fraught with inaccuracies as it is with unjust accusations, asserts that "We received information that after being directed to leave by 2:30 p.m., you exited temporarily but continued to engage in escalating activities that endangered members of the community." This claim, I must unequivocally state, is a gross misrepresentation of the facts and a distortion of the truth that lies at the heart of this matter. First and foremost, it is crucial to note that I was not, in fact, directed to leave by the arbitrary deadline of 2:30 p.m., for the simple reason that I was not present within the confines of the encampment when these letters were disseminated. To suggest otherwise is to engage in a willful distortion of reality, a shameful attempt to paint me as a recalcitrant agitator bent on sowing the seeds of discord and chaos.

Moreover, the accusation that I engaged in escalating activities that endangered the community is one that I reject with every fiber of my being. It is a baseless and inflammatory charge, unsupported by any credible evidence and designed solely to tarnish my reputation and undermine my credibility. The only supposed proof offered in support of this spurious claim is a single photograph depicting me in the act of assisting fellow community members over a fence, an act of compassion and concern that has been cynically twisted into something sinister and malign.

Let me be clear: I did not plan, orchestrate, or encourage the actions of those who chose to climb over the fence that day. They made that decision of their own volition, driven by a deep-seated sense of moral outrage and a fierce determination to stand in solidarity with their fellow students trapped inside. It is my solemn duty as a member of this community to do everything in my power to ensure the safety and well-being of those around me, even in the face of an administration that seems determined to silence and punish us for daring to stand up for what we believe in. To twist this act of kindness and solidarity into something nefarious and dangerous is to engage in a grotesque distortion of the truth, a shameful attempt to paint those who dare to question the status quo as a threat to the very fabric of our society. 

Furthermore, the very policies I am alleged to have violated are couched in language so vague and subjective as to render them all but meaningless, requiring a thorough investigation before any punishment can be justly meted out. The fact that an overwhelming majority of the suspended students are people of color raises deeply troubling questions about the role of bias and discrimination in this process, a shameful indictment of an administration that has lost sight of its moral compass. 

The reported comparison of peaceful protesters to sexual assault perpetrators is not only deeply offensive but also indicative of a fundamental disconnect between the administration and the values it claims to uphold. As a descendant of Black and Indigenous ancestors who bore witness to the unspeakable horrors of ethnic cleansing, lynching and racial injustice in Texas and Puerto Rico, I am appalled by the insinuation that advocating for human rights and an end to genocide is akin to sexual misconduct. This comparison is a grave insult to the survivors of sexual assault and a painful reminder of the long and sordid history of oppression and discrimination faced by communities of color.

I implore the COD [Committee on Discipline] to act swiftly and justly in reviewing my suspension, to right the wrongs that have been done and to restore a measure of dignity and respect to a process that has been sorely lacking in both. Every day that passes without resolution is another day of injustice and harm inflicted upon us, a stain upon the very fabric of this institution. We are students who have dedicated ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of society, and we deserve to be treated with the same respect and consideration that we have shown to others.

In conclusion, I call upon MIT to live up to the values it so proudly proclaims, to be a beacon of fairness, integrity, and respect for human rights in a world that so desperately needs such leadership. I urge you to lift this unjust suspension, to allow me to complete my education and to take my place among the ranks of those who have gone before me, those who have fought tirelessly to make this world a better place. In the end, history will judge us not by the accolades we accrue or the titles we hold, but by the courage we show in the face of adversity and the integrity we maintain in the pursuit of what is right and just.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I eagerly await your response and stand ready to work with you to find a resolution.