Reaffirming our values following incident in Lobby 7

February 6, 2019
Alyce Johnson, Interim Institute Community and Equity Officer, 2018–2019 | Suzy M. Nelson, Vice President and Dean for Student Life, 2016–2021 |

Dear members of the MIT community,

Yesterday, our Bias Response Team (BRT) was alerted to a drawing of what appeared to be a swastika with the message “Buddhist Swastik History is Knowledge” written underneath it. It had been drawn on a column poster in Lobby 7 that is part of an art installation students organized in recognition of Black History Month. We do not know who is responsible for this act, nor can we say with any certainty what their intent might have been.

While the symbol has positive origins in the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain faith traditions, in a modern Western context, other versions of this symbol have been used to convey a message of hate, racism, and anti-Semitism. The individuals who alerted us to the drawing and then removed it were shaken. The image would be distressing anywhere on our campus. But the fact that it was drawn on a Black History Month display designed to encourage community discussion about issues affecting the black community and celebrate black student activism at MIT makes it that much worse.

We don’t know the motivation of whoever is responsible for the drawing. At best, the act demonstrated a lack of understanding about the pain it would cause to members of our community. At worst, it may have been intended deliberately to cause that pain.

Regardless of the intent, this incident prompts us, on behalf of President Reif and MIT’s senior leadership, to passionately reaffirm the core values our community stands for: empathy, compassion, inclusiveness, and respect for all. MIT’s embrace of diversity of backgrounds and ideas is fundamental to our strength as a community. Racism, hate, divisiveness, and bullying have no place at MIT.

We hope that we can take this moment to come together to reflect and to support one another, to learn and to grow. At the end of this message, you will find more information about where you can turn if you want to talk one-on-one or in a larger group. We hope you will consider taking advantage of these resources if you need to.

If you have information you would like to share about the drawing, you may contact the MIT Police (617-253-1212), who are investigating the incident, or the BRT (you can report anonymously here).


Alyce Johnson
Interim Institute Community and Equity Officer

Suzy Nelson
Vice President and Dean for Student Life

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