Five students interrupted the semiannual meeting of the UR Institute of Optics Industrial Associates Program on Monday by playing a recording over the May Room public address system and entering the meeting with an eight foot tall plaster model of a missile.

Since the demonstration, Dean of Students Jody Asbury has issued a public letter asking students to remit any details of the event to the administration. UR Security is also investigating the event.

Members of the group that interrupted the conference included seniors David Ladon and Vivek Shah, junior Adam Machson-Carter and sophomores Jessica Bell-Masterson and Madeleine Cutrona. Although all are members of Students for Social Justice, they contend that this action was not an SSJ event, and in fact few SSJ members knew of its existence.

This event is under special scrutiny from the administration because of the nature of the offenses committed. Specifically, a control room was entered in order to play a compact disc containing a message coincident with the presence of the students. The entrant to the control room was not authorized to be in that location.

“The difference in this case is that [the control room] had a locked door,” Asbury said. “The keys were not accessible.”

The group has not admitted to entering the control room, but defends their presence in the May Room.

“We weren’t trying to hide what we did,” Bell-Masterson said. “We went into [the May Room] without masks on. We stand behind our actions.”

The event taking place in the May Room was a presentation from Marek Konopnicki of the Lockheed-Martin Corporation, a technology company and defense contractor. The presentation was part of the larger Industrial Associates conference, which has been hosted at UR since the 1960s.

Before the event, the members of the group planned their action at the Community Living Center, listening to the CD containing the speech to be broadcast over the May Room speakers. Members of the group planned their entrance and exit from the May Room, and included detailed alternate plans to implement should they be asked by an administrator to leave the private conference.

After leaving the CLC, the group carried the missile across campus to the fourth floor of Wilson Commons, where they prepared to carry out their plan.

The group entered the May Room with the missile as the speech played over the intercom at volumes described in Asbury’s letter as “ear-splitting.” After some time, the group left the area. UR Security arrived a short time later.

The group sees their production not as a protest but as a piece of performance art. “A piece of performance art challenges people to question accepted norms,” Bell-Masterson said. “A protest can run the risk of attacking beliefs, instead of questioning them.”

Despite the group’s claimed benign intentions, administrators viewed their actions as an offense to the spirit of the university.

“Our Communal Principles state clearly that ‘each person has the responsibility to express their ideas in ways that do not limit or threaten others’ freedom to learn, teach and work,'” Asbury said. “The action of a few may have done just that.”

According to the group, their intent was not to protest the presence of members of the “military-industrial complex.”

“There were dual motives – it was a creative form of self-expression voicing our discontent at the presence of these companies while challenging others to critically consider the military-industrial complex and its implications,” Bell-Masterson said.

Others in the group expressed differing ideas of the meaning of the performance. “We’re engaged in a war in Iraq that I am unable to make sense of,” Machson-Carter said. “One thing that does make sense to me is that these companies profit from, benefit from, and promote the use of the tools of war. For this reason I want people to think critically about how these companies hold a measure of responsibility for the current situation in Iraq.”

Asbury’s letter included language designed to establish the limits of the right to protest at University events. “The University venerates freedom of expression,” Asbury said. “But we do not license violation of basic rules such as disrupting the essential activity of the University or our own standards of conduct.”

Despite this, the group contends that their performance was not designed to incite hostility. “Our intent was not to create a battlefield or hostile environment,” Machson-Carter said. “It was to ask individuals to critically consider the issues these companies raise.”

UR Security is continuing to investigate the situation, in addition to preparing a report for the Dean of Students’ Office.Majarian can be reached at mmajarian@campustimes.org.



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