A tumultuous week for MIT culminated on Saturday in a rally that drew several hundred involved and enthusiastic students to the steps of 77 Massachusetts Ave. and raised more than $11,000 for the Leukemia Society of America.
One of the event's successes was to make participants and the wider community aware of the plight of sophomore David Li, who himself is fighting leukemia and awaiting a bone marrow donor. Mr. Li, who lives in Brooklyn, NY, could not be present at the event but sent a letter to the community which was read aloud by his former roommate, Grant Kristofek, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. (See related story.)
President Charles M. Vest received a rousing ovation when he was introduced by Benjamin Chun, vice president of activity organization of the Interfraternity Council (IFC).
"Let it be understood that as your president, I am deeply proud of this student body and of my colleagues on the faculty and staff and administration of MIT," President Vest said at the rally. "I am proud of your brilliance. I am proud of your dedication. I am proud of what you accomplish in our classrooms and our laboratories and I am proud of the kinds of things that you are going to do after you graduate and go out in the world, wherever that may be. I really am deeply proud to be a part of your community.
"Now we also have some less pleasant things to talk about and think about together. I know that everybody here is feeling a bit frustrated and uncomfortable with the degree of public scrutiny that we've felt in the press and in the public these last few weeks. But I want to tell you why we are being scrutinized -- why it is that we feel this way about being under the microscope. It's the very fact that we are privileged to be part of this great world-class community and institution that causes people to expect us to have the most exemplary behavior; the sense of responsibility and accountability that flows from the privilege we have of being here."
President Vest then discussed events that led to the public spotlight that has been focusing on MIT in recent days. "There have been a few among us who have done thoughtless and dangerous things," he said. "But they must and will be held accountable and responsible.
"We all understand that we are going to deal with those things and then we're going to move on. Because we're going to live up to our potential and what others expect of us and more importantly, what we expect of ourselves."
President Vest ended by providing a "jump start" for the fundraiser, a personal check for $1,000.
Hundreds crowded the steps at 77 Masachusetts Ave. for Saturday's rally. Photo by Chengwei Pei/The Tech
The IFC, the Undergraduate Association (UA) and the Dormitory Council organized the rally to raise spirits in the community and raise money for the charity following separate actions taken by Boston authorities against two fraternities last week, one of which led to the cancellation of a party that raises funds for the Leukemia Society.
On October 26, a Phi Kappa Sigma member's publicity stunt for the party exploded in Rm 10-250, injuring his hands. The next day, Boston's Department of Inspectional Services discovered housing and safety code violations in PKS's Beacon Street house and gave members three hours to vacate the premises. As a result, the fraternity canceled its biannual Skuffle party to raise funds for the charity.
As Saturday's rally began, student leaders declared their hopes of replacing the funds -- usually between $1,000 and $2,000 -- that would have been raised during Skuffle. By November 2, a total of $11,126.25 had been raised, with mail contributions still flowing in.
Members of the MIT administration, faculty and student leaders were united in their praise for organizers of the rousing two-hour event and the entire student body.
"Not only did the students come together for each other; they came together for the larger community and raised more funds for a good cause than they ever had before," said Vice President Kathryn A. Willmore.
Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow said, "Saturday's rally showed MIT students at their best -- using their organizational skills to support a good cause, and pledging to work together to be good neighbors."
"This afternoon's rally was a shining display of the shared values and cooperation at MIT and in the surrounding communities. I am very proud to see students, alumni/ae and administrators sharing in a general excitement about MIT. I'm excited about the energy on campus today and look forward to the impact this event will have on campus in the future," said Michael Trupiano, president of the IFC.
Dormitory Council President Jennifer Frank said, "The rally was a success in that it drew members of all factions of the MIT community together for a common cause. It really was a sign that students here do have school and community spirit, even if we sometimes don't have the time in our schedules to show it."
UA President Matthew McGann said, "I am incredibly proud of MIT today. Seeing so many people come together for a charitable cause and to support MIT shows me what 'community' really means."
Paul Parravano, co-director of the Office of Government and Community Relations, focused at the rally on the breadth of opportunities for community service offered at MIT and on the enthusiasm and dedication for which MIT students are known in Cambridge and Boston. He praised MIT students as teachers and as mentors. "You students have the ability to influence the children of this community," he said to vigorous applause.
Other students who addressed the rally included Phi Kappa Sigma President Lanny Chiu; IFC officers Amir Mesarwi, Damien Brosnan and Vicki Lin; and rally organizers Peter Shulman and Chris Rezek. Alumni Jeremy Scher, Joel Rosenberg and Erik Snowberg also spoke.
The rally also was attended by administrators and faculty, including Dean for Student Life Margaret Bates, Associate Deans Andrew Eisenmann and Kirk Kolenbrander, Assistant Dean Neal Dorow, Michael Owu of the Planning Office, and Professor Yossi Sheffi, among others.
Members of PKS, who moved back into their house on Friday evening after the code violations were rectified, also attended the rally. The injured student, two other members and an alumnus face a magistrate's hearing in Cambridge District Court on November 12 to determine whether misdemeanor charges sought by Campus Police should be issued.
"We regret having to take this action," said President Vest. "Phi Kappa Sigma is a fine group of young men [who were] having a little fun, as college students should.
"Nonetheless, the device that exploded caused injury and damage and endangered others. We have no choice but to hold them responsible. I urge that this decision be viewed in this context. There was no malicious intent. It was an accident, pure and simple."
In response to the incident, Cambridge and Boston mobilized public safety forces, including the bomb squads from both cities, and the campus and Massachusetts Avenue were disrupted for several hours. A number of MIT buildings had to be evacuated during the investigation.
The injured student, a sophomore, was treated and released at Massachusetts General Hospital.
SAE LICENSE REVOKED
In another development, the Boston Licensing Board revoked Sigma Alpha Epsilon's dormitory license on October 28 due to underage drinking and housing code violations. SAE members must vacate 484 Beacon St. by November 15. The decision was announced after students failed to appear to face the charges at a hearing on the preceding Tuesday.
The board has also scheduled a hearing for November 16 on neighbors' complaints about SAE's other house at 480 Beacon St.
Tuesday's hearing resulted from charges that an underage Wellesley College freshman was allegedly served alcohol at an SAE party on the night of September 2-3. The fraternity, which was supposed to be alcohol-free due to earlier infractions, was suspended by MIT after the Campus Police investigated the incident.
Carl King, an attorney representing SAE's alumni corporation, told the board that he advised the members not to appear since they were not acknowledging that the incident had occurred. He said alumni believed the incident had taken place and were conducting an investigation that could result in the chapter being disbanded. The Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education is also conducting an investigation.
MIT issued this statement after the license was revoked:
"MIT supports the decision of the Boston Licensing Board concerning the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. We are deeply disappointed that the SAE students chose not to appear before the board at its hearing earlier this week. Students must accept responsibility for their actions and must understand that they will be held accountable by MIT and by the civil authorities.
"The MIT Campus Police have brought charges against the fraternity on the basis of their investigation. The fraternity was suspended by MIT when those charges were filed. The charges will be heard by a Dean's Office disciplinary hearing panel. The actions alleged in these charges would be grounds for banning the fraternity from MIT. The final decision on the fraternity's status at MIT will be made at the completion of that hearing."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 3, 1999.