Over the long CPW weekend, flyers and chalkings with hateful speech targeting marginalized groups appeared again across campus and in one of our undergraduate residences. Recognizing that members of our community were concerned and upset by these posters, yesterday I met with several student leaders. I have also been working closely with MIT’s senior leaders about how to respond to this situation.
I’m writing now to update all students about:
- What happened;
- How we are responding; and
- What steps you can take when you encounter speech you find deeply offensive.
The current situation
As when similar flyers and chalkings were posted in February, these messages were part of a protest by some students against the Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom, which the faculty approved, and its accompanying report.
Protecting the right to free expression is extraordinarily important in an academic community; in that spirit, we are all free to express our own views on the statement and the report.
But — as our MIT Values make clear — free expression is not the only thing we value: “Because learning is nourished by a diversity of views, we cherish free expression, debate, and dialogue in pursuit of truth — and we commit to using these tools with respect for each other and our community.” We can and we should respect each other’s right to free expression, and we must respect and care for each other as individuals.
As President Kornbluth explained when she commented on the previous set of flyers, there’s “a clear distinction between what we can say to each other — in other words, what we have a right to say — and what we should say to each other, as decent human beings living together in a community.”
It is past time that we reject and move beyond hurtful, intentional provocations like this. Let’s take a restorative, educational approach and focus our energies on learning how to be more empathetic and how to listen to one another. Individually and collectively, and without infringing on anyone’s rights, we can model a more productive approach while standing up to intentionally harmful speech.
An ideal example is what East Campus students did yesterday: posting counter-messages along the Infinite Corridor expressing MIT’s wholehearted support for all members of our community. My colleagues and I found it inspiring, and I heard many of you did, too.
How we are responding
- Providing support: We are in direct touch with the student leaders who are closest to this situation to offer our support. You should also feel free to reach out directly to our support resources.
- Reviewing policies: We have identified Institute policies relevant to the free expression statement and are reviewing them for any needed revisions. As a first step, we are fast-tracking the creation of an Institute-wide postering policy that will make clear our expectations for what is — and what isn’t — in bounds, based on the time, manner, and place of expression.
- Creating opportunities for dialogue and education:
- DSL and the ICEO are continuing to offer opportunities for students to learn about, practice, and model the skills to express themselves constructively across differences and engage in difficult conversations. Recent examples of our work include piloting Sustained Dialogue and working collaboratively with house teams and living groups on navigating conflict.
- Last month, we held our inaugural “Dialogues Across Difference: Building Community at MIT” guest lecture. The series will continue next academic year.
Practical steps for responding to offensive speech on a flyer
As I mentioned above, we are fast-tracking a review of postering policies, but here are some practical steps you can use now:
- If you object to a flyer on campus, respectfully contact those who posted it to let them know. This is why flyers must clearly include contact information.
- If you choose to counter-post your own flyer, please be sure to prominently sign your flyer, date it, and include contact information.
- Take care not to obscure the flyer you’re responding to.
The postering areas on the Infinite are checked twice a week for timeliness, and all posters are subject to routine removal after 48 hours.
I am encouraged by those who have counteracted what happened over the weekend with more speech — the kind of speech that embodies our aspirations to be a community that treats each other with care, dignity, and compassion.