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Peace activists intend to stay

By Prabhat Mehta

Anti-war activists who have set up an information center on the third floor of the Julius A. Stratton '23 Student Center say they hope to continue to remain there despite some opposition by students who say they are occupying space designed for general student use.

"We're not obstructing any activities that occurred before the war," said Archon Fung G, a member of the MIT Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, which runs the information center.

The "Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Center," as the anti-war activists call it, began operations on Jan. 14, shortly before US-led forces launched Operation Desert Storm to evict Iraq from Kuwait. At the time, said Undergraduate Association Secretary-General Stacy E. McGeever '93, few students complained.

However, now that students have returned for classes and many come to the Student Center for meals and group meetings, the peace center has become a nuisance for some, she said.

"Many students have complained that the presence of the peace center makes them uncomfortable," said UA Vice President Colleen M. Schwingel '92.

McGeever added that a flurry of on-campus activity over the initiation of the Persian Gulf war had initially made the peace center seem relatively unobtrusive.

In response to complaints over the presence of the peace cen

ter, the UA Executive Board on Feb. 3 voted to limit the presence of the activists on the third floor.

While the ExecBoard did not formally ask that the peace center be removed, it recommended that "the third floor remain exclusively a lounge area" and that only "the east wall on the third floor balcony in the Stratton Student Center be used as temporary postering space until the Middle East war ends." Currently, both the east and west sides of the third floor balcony are covered with anti-war posters.

The ExecBoard further recommended that "the space provided on the east wall be divided exclusively and evenly between recognized student activities that advocate anti-war and pro-Operation Desert Shield sentiments."

The UA Council will likely vote on the ExecBoard's resolutions at its Feb. 21 meeting, McGeever said. Any resolution passed by the UAC regarding usage of space in the Student Center would then be taken up by the Campus Activities Office, which has final say on the matter, McGeever said.

According to Fung and Lisa M. Havran '92, another member of the MIT Initiative for Peace, volunteers at the peace center have not received direct complaints from anyone. Members of the UA were the first to inform them that some students were upset by their presence on the third floor, Fung said.

Technically, the area which the peace center occupies -- behind the lounge on the southern end of the third floor -- cannot be reserved, McGeever said. "The existence of the peace center is not the problem," she said. "It's that they're not allowed there."

The peace center has never received formal permission to remain on the third floor, Fung said. Since the "all-nighter for peace" on Jan. 14, the MIT Initiative has relied on an "informal" agreement that the protesters would not be removed forcibly, said UA Floor Leader Hans C. Godfrey '93.

According to Schwingel, the concerns of five groups need to be addressed: "average" MIT students who are disturbed by the presence of the activists in a lounge area; members of the Initiative for Peace; supporters of the war; other student groups concerned about what they perceive as "special treatment" for the peace activists; and groups using the adjacent Mezzanine Lounge and Twenty Chimneys room.

"There needs to be work on all sides to try to recognize there

are special circumstances, but we have to be careful about what precedents we set," Schwingel said.

Havran said the Initiative for Peace has made special efforts

to accommodate students whose needs conflict with those of the peace center. This past weekend, she said, the Initiative avoided a possible conflict with the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, which used the rooms on the third floor for a conference.

Currently, support for the anti-war movement is still strong and the MIT Initiative for Peace has no plans to remove the center, according to Havran. "I think we're getting stronger because we're more organized now," she said.

Fung said, "A lot of people have put school on hold for now."