Northeastern University students, staff and faculty will gather on the Boston campus on Wednesday to protest the school’s $7.7 million research contract with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
More than 2,000 members of the Northeastern community have signed an open letter demanding the university drop the contract and distance itself from the federal immigration agency in light of the government’s recent actions of separating migrant families at the southern U.S. border and keeping children in cages.
Now, hundreds will gather at Northeastern’s Krentzman Quadrangle at noon on Wednesday to voice their opposition.
“People have tried to defend [the contract] as something that’s relatively innocuous,” said Dr. Mary Annas, a faculty member in the school’s English department. “Yet I personally believe that any collusion with ICE, taking money from ICE, taking money from any organization that defends ICE is collaboration with them, until they stop separating families.”
Annas plans to attend the Wednesday protest. She is not one of the organizers, she said, but learned about the demonstration and open letter through a mass email that circulated through the school community.
The contract with ICE awards Northeastern more than $7,750,000 to fund data mapping research on "dual-use technologies,” which could be used to make weapons, that are exported from the United States. The research is unrelated to immigration, the school says. The contract began in Sept. 2016 and is set to go until August 2021.
"The contract is with ICE because they are the agency that is responsible for collecting data on exported goods," Northeastern Professor Glenn Pierce, who is conducting the research, told State House News Service. "We're discussing something that has no overlap with [the protestors'] concerns."
Still, members of the Northeastern community say any connection with ICE effectively doubles as support for the agency’s recent actions.
"They are taking money from ICE indirectly or directly, and I know that there are people who will be offended [by the protest] because they will say that this kind of research should be supported by every university, that every point of view should be voiced,” Annas said. “But at the same time, I see a direct connection to what’s going on at the border, and I would love to see the university give the money back.”
On a Facebook event for the protest, students are encouraging current students and alumni who cannot attend to take a picture of themselves holding a sign calling on Northeastern to “Drop the contract with ICE” and to share it on Twitter with the hashtag #CanceltheContracts.
“Every university has a responsibility to determine what constitutes ethical research. At this moment in history, when families are being torn apart and children are being locked in cages, collaborating with an agency like ICE is clearly unethical,” said Lester Smiley, a Northeastern University School of Law student helping organize the protest, in a statement. “The administration is trying to spin this to the press and sweep it under the rug, but that’s not going to work. We won’t stop until the university makes clear that this contract will be canceled, and no further contracts with ICE will be pursued in the future.”
Northeastern ICE protest: What to know if you go
When? The #CancelTheContracts protest will happen on Wednesday July 11 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Where? Rallygoers will assemble on Krentzman Quad.
How: Protesters are encouraged to simply show up, and bring a sign. Organizers said some signs will be made available.