Student protesters at MIT vowed to continue protesting despite the threat of suspension, vocal opposition from counter-protesters and pressure from university leaders to shut the demonstration down.

Dozens of interim suspensions and referrals to the school’s Committee on Discipline are “in process,” MIT Chancellor Melissa Nobles said in a statement Tuesday. Administrators had issued a deadline for Monday at 2:30 p.m. for protesters to clear out or face disciplinary action from the school.

Senior Safiyyah Ogundipe said she’s determined to remain at the encampment as long as possible, despite the risk of not finishing her degree.

“It is scary because it does affect your future,” Ogundipe said. “But it’s nothing compared to what we are fighting for, which is to fight for a better future for the people in Gaza. I think that’s all that really matters.”

Israeli and American flags propped up on the Kresge Lawn outside a pro-Palestine encampment at MIT in Cambridge
Israeli and American flags propped up on the Kresge Lawn outside a pro-Palestine encampment at MIT in Cambridge, May 7, 2024
Tori Bedford GBH News

Students at the encampment are demanding that MIT cut ties with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and divest from companies that work with the Israeli military.

“This is simply another form of protest, like a walkout or a rally or anything like that,” Ogundipe said, “except this is one of the first protests that we’re doing at MIT that’s actually hitting them and putting pressure on them where it hurts.”

As of Tuesday, students at the encampment told GBH News they had not received individual notices about suspensions.

Alex, a seventh-year PhD student who asked to go by his first name citing a need to protect his visa status, is planning to graduate in August. He said he hoped the warnings were a “scare tactic” designed to disperse the encampment without following through on the academic sanctions.

“They were hoping that the threat of suspension would have been enough to clear the camp out,” he said. MIT and Cambridge Police didn’t conduct arrests to clear the encampment, unlike recent sweeps at Emerson College, Northeastern and UMass Amherst.

Even if he doesn’t finish his PhD, the culmination of nearly a decade of study, Alex said he’s not scared to continue..

“This matters more to me than the degree,” he said.

Two counter-protesters hang an Israeli flag on the fencing surrounding MIT's pro-Palestine encampment in Cambridge, May 7, 2024
Two counter-protesters hang an Israeli flag on the fencing surrounding MIT's pro-Palestine encampment in Cambridge, May 7, 2024
Tori Bedford Tori Bedford

One MIT professor, Sally Haslanger, suggested that the school was using “interim suspensions” to speed up the school’s procedures for discipline.

“They can’t remove students if they are nonviolent, unless they could remove them for trespassing — and they’re not trespassing if they’re MIT students in good standing,” Haslinger said. “So they have to suspend them in order to demand that they be removed and arrested.

“The thought that they’re going to suspend them and have these very serious, life-changing consequences without due process is very horrifying to me,” she added.

Regardless of whether a complaint is brought before the school's Committee on Discipline, “the Institute reserves the right to take any interim or permanent administrative action that it deems necessary and appropriate under the particular circumstances,” according to school policy. MIT did not respond to questions about the specific measures being taken for students in the encampment.

Around 75 to 100 students have been identified for potential suspension as a consequence of protesting, Haslinger said, citing information from the “Alliance of Concerned Faculty,” a group of professors supportive of the protesters.

In a statement Monday, MIT president Sally Kornbluth expressed concerns for student safety, citing “a variety of actions involving people from outside MIT, including a series of rallies organized by people who have no MIT affiliation.”

On Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of around 100 pro-Israel counter-protesters set up a DJ booth abutting the encampment on the lawn, calling for the encampment to end. Organizers said they had reserved the lawn area to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, or Israel Day, a national holiday commemorating Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948.

Organizer and MIT post-doctoral fellow Dvir Harris invited those in the encampment to join the event while calling for the protest to end.

“Hopefully in the very near future, you're going to see that encampment go down, that's our goal,” Harris said to the crowd roughly 100 people. “In the meantime, everybody in the encampment is welcome to celebrate with us, the state of Israel. Although they're about to be suspended, some of them are in the process of being suspended and expelled, but for now, you can come and celebrate with us.”

Mihal Mizrahi, who came from Italy to visit a friend at MIT, spoke at the pro-Israel celebration about a man she knows who was kidnapped and has been held hostage by Hamas more than 200 days ago.

“It’s been really, really difficult,” she told GBH News. “We have no news of whether he’s alive or dead.”

Mizrahi’s MIT friend, a Palestinian student who has taken part in the encampment, stands on the opposite side of the issue. Mizrahi said the two of them both know the man who is being held hostage, their former supervisor at a boarding school.

Mizrahi said it was “hard to hear” the news of MIT bringing suspensions as a penalty to student protesters.

“I got very sad because while I don’t agree with the encampment, I do think that my friend has the right to express himself as long as he’s peaceful,” she said, “which I know he is.”

Students in the pro-Palestinian encampment invited faculty to join them for dinner and a meeting Tuesday evening, while pro-Israel supporters waved flags nearby and blasted Israeli hip-hop from a loudspeaker.