Photo Credit: WCVB TV screenshot
Dozens of pro-Hamas demonstrators retake a cluster of empty tents after MIT's deadline for students to avoid discipline had passed, May 7, 2024.

An Air Force veteran pursuing his MBA at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s prestigious Sloan School of Management, Dan Zeno, found himself in a precarious situation along with several other students. On May 6 and 7, they were suspended from the university for participating in an unauthorized encampment protesting the war in Gaza, as reported by The Boston Globe on May 12. Zeno’s suspension went beyond just being barred from classes; he, his wife, and their 5-year-old daughter were evicted from their campus housing, and given a week’s notice to find alternative living arrangements.

But regardless of his suspension and eviction, along with his family, Zeno, who helped organize MIT’s “Scientists Against Genocide” encampment on April 21, told The Globe he remained “fully committed, without reservation” to the student-led effort to compel MIT to cut research contracts with the Israeli defense ministry.

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The suspensions dealt a severe blow to the protesting students, derailing their academic plans and livelihoods. For some, it meant missing out on their long-awaited graduation ceremonies, while others saw their fellowships revoked, cutting off a vital source of income. Ongoing research projects were abruptly halted, jeopardizing months or years of hard work. Despite these harsh consequences, the students remained resolute, vowing to persist with their pro-Hamas protests, undeterred by the university’s punitive measures.

The suspension notice sent to Zeno by university administrators cited an ongoing investigation into his conduct during the May 6 rally, an event in which he acknowledged participating. A subsequent communication outlined six policy violations, including charges of disorderly conduct, property damage, and misuse of campus facilities. The specifics of Zeno’s purported transgressions remained unclear, but the university’s decision to level multiple accusations against him suggested a firm stance against the protesters’ actions during the illegal encampment.

Zeno found himself in a desperate situation, with nowhere to go on such short notice. The challenge was compounded by the exorbitant rental market in Cambridge, Mass., where MIT is located. According to Apartments.com, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the area was a staggering $4,065 per month. Adding to the family’s predicament was the need to remain within a reasonable distance from their disabled daughter’s current school. The apartment hunt was further complicated by Zeno’s wife being out of town on a work trip, leaving him to handle the packing and apartment viewings alone.

Eventually, Zeno told Higher Ed, the university offered him a special deal, allowing him to stay with his family in their on-campus apartment provided he committed not to participate in any more protests.

So, only a limited Nakba.

As pro-Hamas encampments have sprung up on campuses across the US, numerous students have received suspension and expulsion notices and have been barred from campuses which for many of them are their only places to eat and sleep.

In a dramatic display of force, New York police swept through an encampment on Columbia University’s campus on April 18, leading to the eviction of more than 50 student protesters from Barnard College, an affiliated institution. However, the standoff proved short-lived. Just three days after handing down the suspensions, Barnard announced that it had reached resolutions with the majority of the disciplined students, paving the way for their immediate return to campus.

In a bold move, Lee D. Goldstein and Jeffery M. Feuer, attorneys based in Cambridge, penned a letter to MIT’s administration on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, challenging the university’s authority to evict students without a court order, asserting that the students enjoy the same tenant protections as any other renter in Massachusetts.
The letter stated, “We therefore ask that you immediately rescind the part of the ‘suspension notices’ that orders students to vacate their housing without any court order in a summary process action requiring them to do so. Should it wish to continue to try to evict students from their housing, fairness, equity, and the laws of Massachusetts require it to utilize the statutory summary process procedure and obtain a court judgment against each individual student, awarding possession of said housing to MIT.”

MIT posted an FAQ on the school’s website, describing why administrators felt the interim suspensions were appropriate:

“The encampment had come to infringe on the rights and privileges of others on campus and had effectively commandeered a key communal space,” the school argued, stressing that students had been given ample warning that suspensions would be coming. “In addition, the administration had ample reason to believe—based on experiences on other campuses, and on the increasingly unstable interactions of groups within and outside MIT around the encampment—that steps were needed to end this situation or risk an altercation that could lead to injury,” the school reiterated.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.