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Pro-Palestinian Protesters at MIT Resist Order to Clear Encampment

Tensions escalated on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Monday, as pro-Palestinian student protesters resisted a 2:30 p.m. deadline set by the university to clear an encampment on the school’s grounds.

Brief shoving matches broke out between the police and protesters, whose numbers swelled when hundreds of high school students showed up to offer their support.

The protesters blocked a busy road past the Cambridge campus at rush hour on Monday, shutting it down for hours and snarling traffic, and tore down metal fencing that had been erected last week to separate pro-Palestinian protesters from a growing number of pro-Israel counterprotesters.

The police were an increasing presence around the edges of the protest as evening fell, including state troopers with tactical gear and zip ties, which are commonly used in place of handcuffs during mass arrests. By 7 p.m., about 200 students filled the lawn, linking arms and writing phone numbers on their arms in case they were arrested.

The uptick in activity followed a letter from the university’s president, Sally Kornbluth, on Monday warning students that they would face immediate academic suspension if they did not leave the encampment voluntarily.

Administrators at Harvard sent a similar message on Monday, calling the right to free speech “vital” but “not unlimited.”

“I must now take action to bring closure to a situation that has disrupted our campus for more than two weeks,” Dr. Kornbluth wrote at M.I.T. “My sense of urgency comes from an increasing concern for the safety of our community.”

Concerned parents of students at M.I.T. sent a letter to administrators on Friday objecting to the stress, trauma and “poisonous reality” they said their children faced from the protest, which began on April 21.

Campus police began restricting access to the encampment on Monday afternoon, allowing students to leave but not to re-enter. Some left voluntarily and stayed away. Others who remained said the university would only hurt itself by taking aggressive action to end the protest.

“Right now I’m not thinking about the police, I’m thinking about how bad this looks for M.I.T.,” said Hana Flores, 24, a doctoral student in biology.

At one point, Ms. Flores shared a moment with her husband, holding his hand through a fence as he urged her to stay safe and promised to tell her mother what was happening.

Dr. Kornbluth was one of three university presidents who faced harsh criticism last year for their testimony in a congressional hearing about campus antisemitism and discipline for hate speech. The other two leaders, Claudine Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, both resigned in the fallout, and hundreds of M.I.T. alumni signed a letter calling for stronger actions to combat antisemitism.

About 200 high school students from a dozen schools in cities including Boston, Cambridge and Somerville also protested at M.I.T. on Monday afternoon; two 16-year-olds from Somerville High School, Olive Redd and Leyla Abarca, a co-founder of Massachusetts High Schools for Palestine, were among them. Ms. Redd said she had spent time at both the Columbia University and the M.I.T. encampments and found them to be very peaceful.

Campus protest organizers said they worked with the local high school students to help plan their visit. The younger students stayed at a distance from the encampment; some sat in the street writing messages like “Free Palestine” and “Defund and Divest” in colored chalk on the pavement.

“I think it’s just like so disappointing to see that this peaceful, beautiful community is being shut down,” Ms. Redd said. “That’s why we’re here, because even though we’re young, we know that our voices matter.”

In an echo of actions taken by students on some other campuses, a small group of protesters briefly set up tents and banners inside M.I.T.’s Building 7 earlier on Monday before the students were forced out onto the building’s front steps, across the street from the encampment.

Pro-Israel counterprotesters were also a presence during the day. Some yelled “Killers!” at the students from the encampment, who responded with their own chants, all while state police officers stood between the two groups.

Baltasar Dinis, 24, a first-year doctoral student in computer science, said he believed the counterprotesters had the right to express their views, but “asking for M.I.T. not to make weapons of genocide, I don’t see how that can be perceived as an aggression against the Israeli students.”

He criticized M.I.T.’s threat of disciplinary actions, and said the school had not negotiated in good faith with protesters.

“The oppression of free speech on campus is detrimental to the entire community,” Mr. Dinis said. “It’s abhorrent that we cannot even do the minimum as an institution to stand against genocide.”

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