Coalition holds sit-in:
Students occupy Vest's office, demand divestment
By Brian Rosenberg
On the eve of President Charles M. Vest's inauguration, about 15 students from the MIT Coalition Against Apartheid entered his office, initiating a
sit-in. In a statement released shortly before the occupation began, the students said they will leave the office if Vest publicly announces his support for a binding referendum in the MIT community.
Students entered the office at around 4 pm, just as Vest was leaving the office for the day. "[Vest] talked with the students for a few minutes about things the administration has been doing," according to Laura B. Mersky, an associate with the Analytical Studies and Planning Group in the president's office.
Mersky said Vest expressed his feeling that there has been a "good dialogue" between the CAA and the administration. Vest said he was not willing to come out in support of a binding referendum, according to one demonstrator.
Approximately eight Campus Police officers went to the office when the sit-in began. Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin said the officers were there to "maintain the peace, insure that there is no property damage and prevent people from getting hurt."
Two campus police officers remained in the room with the protesters, while the others stood in the reception area and the hall outside. At about 6:30 pm, the outer office door was closed. "Those inside will be allowed to come and go freely," Glavin said. "They will not be allowed to bring food into the office, however," she added. Glavin said that additional protesters would not be allowed to enter the office.
Campus Police consistently refused to comment on the number of officers assigned to the protest, but protesters reported that only three officers remained after about 8 pm.
Several top administration officials met across the hall after the protest began to determine what the administration's course of action would be. The group included Corporation Vice President and Secretary Constantine B. Simonides, Provost Mark S. Wrighton, Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser, Chairman of the Faculty Henry D. Jacoby, Associate Dean for Student Affairs James R. Tewhey, Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver SM '75, Campus Police Lt. John E. Driscoll, Senior Assistant Director of the News Office Charles H. Ball and several others.
Keyser said the group decided to allow the students to stay in the office for the night. "These people are protesting, and that's part of what happens in a university," he said. Several protesters indicated that Keyser offered them dinner, but they declined the offer as a sign of solidarity with South Africans conducting hunger strikes.
Neither the police nor protesters were willing to comment on events beyond this morning. Campus Police Lt. Charles E. Heitman, who was in charge of last night's police detail, said he expected the "status quo" to prevail. Last night Vandiver, the incoming faculty chair, told protesters he would visit them at around 8:30 this morning, according to CAA member Sossina M. Haile '92.
The coalition planned a demonstration to protest a variety of issues, including divestment, in front of the Great Sail this morning. Jory D. Bell '91 explained the "division of labor" the coalition planned for the protest. "Of the 30 people who were here at the beginning, about 12 or 13 are staying for the night, [and the] others went to organize" the demonstration at the metal sculpture.
Both protesters and police described the atmosphere in the office as calm and civil.