Campus safety and policies around protests, postering and free expression

November 8, 2023
Suzy M. Nelson, Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life |

TL;DR: Increased campus activism; reports of biased, hateful acts; taking steps to help community members feel safer; policies and guidelines re. events, postering, and free expression; expediting review of potential conduct violations; advocating dialogue, respect, and compassion.

Dear students,

This is a long email because there’s a lot of important information to share. Please take a few minutes and read it all the way through.

The context on campus

The Israel-Hamas war has spurred intense reaction and public activism within our community. Some on our campus have personal ties to the region and are coping with the grief and fear of having lost loved ones or worrying for their safety. Many more, without such close ties, are nevertheless deeply affected by the tragic violence and suffering. 

In keeping with our commitment to protecting free expression, over the past month on campus, widely different and intensely held views have been expressed. However, we also have a profound responsibility to protect MIT’s ability to advance its mission, and to make sure that no one on campus feels afraid for their safety. Unfortunately, some members of our community have reported encountering acts of antisemitism and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate here, leading them to perceive MIT as an increasingly unwelcoming place. 

This should be deeply concerning to all of us. As President Kornbluth said in her most recent video message, all of us are members of the MIT community, all of us ought to be able to live and work here without fear – and all of us have a role in making sure that that continues to be true.

I write now to clarify our policies and procedures for keeping our campus safe, and to highlight ways to strengthen dialogue, respect, and compassion in our community.

Campus safety

MIT Police have enhanced campus security measures and patrols. They also work diligently with federal, state, and local officials to protect our community and keep our campus safe.

Understanding MIT policies about events, vigils, rallies, postering, flags, and banners 

Anyone planning a vigil, protest, counter-protest, or demonstration should read these updated guidelines, seek advice from SOLE, and email the Events Management Team

You may not disrupt living, working, and learning spaces at MIT, and you may not interfere with students’ ability to study in peace or with any other aspect of MIT’s educational mission. 

The only approved protest venues are the following outdoor spaces: Stratton Student Center, the steps of the Stata Center’s Dertouzous Amphitheater, Kresge Oval, McDermott Court, and Hockfield Court. These spaces must be reserved in advance with reasonable notice. Group requests to use sound amplification will be considered. 

Failure to comply with these regulations will result in referral to the Committee on Discipline.

MIT has updated the policy for bulletin boards, postering, and display spaces, which can also be found on the Association of Student Activities (ASA) site. The ASA continues to monitor postering locations they manage; I ask that you respect the students carrying out these responsibilities. Note that large banners or flags may not be displayed. 

Accelerated action on reports of harassment and discrimination

If you have been harassedattacked, threatened, or discriminated against because of your beliefs, nationality, or racial or ethnic identity, please submit a report to the Institute Discrimination & Harassment Response Office (IDHR) or the MIT Hotline

To manage tensions in the current situation, we have created the Ad Hoc Complaint Response Team to make sure such reports can be addressed promptly. And if warranted, our student conduct process already allows for interim action to be taken promptly, while a case is under review. Complaints will receive a full, fair review followed by appropriate resolution.

Understanding and protecting the right to free expression

As the faculty articulated in the MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom

Free expression is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of a diverse and inclusive community. We cannot have a truly free community of expression if some perspectives can be heard and others cannot. Diversity of thought is an essential ingredient of academic excellence.

However, the statement goes on to clarify that

MIT does not protect direct threats, harassment, plagiarism, or other speech that falls outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. Moreover, 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.

The faculty report on free expression also explains that when universities have attempted to enact policies against hate speech, they have failed both in practice and in the courts. It is therefore of the utmost importance that, as members of one community, all of us consider the impact of our speech on others, and adjust in a way that furthers understanding and communication.

You can find useful background on this free expression policies and resources site and the ICEO website on free expression.

Fostering dialogue, respect, and compassion

Current events can feel overwhelming. But I believe there is a great deal we can do to build understanding and provide care and comfort within our own community. 

I’m heartened and inspired by faculty members from the Middle East who are hosting twice-weekly lunch conversations with students from the region. Earlier this week, MIT chaplains walked across campus together to spread a message of compassion. Student Mental Health and CounselingStudent Support Services, and GradSupport have also expanded services so students can get personalized support. 

And just as important are the actions we can all take to offer each other comfort, compassion, patience and goodwill. Please, let’s work together to find ways to spread more care and hope.


Suzy Nelson, Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life