SDS protests military contractors recruiting CMU students at the TOC

The College of Engineering Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC), hosted in the Wiegand Gymnasium and Rangos Ballroom this past week, was teeming with both anxiety and excitement as employers met with potential employees from across campus disciplines. For some, it was not just an opportunity “to make connections for both full-time and summer employment,” as the official event website states, but rather a showcase of the military-industrial complex.

Carnegie Mellon’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) protested the conference on Monday, Sept. 24, for the reason that “some of the attending institutions are, simply put, bad for humanity,” as explained in the flyer they handed out to attendees.

The SDS protest took place outside of the conference by the Black Chairs in the Cohon Center, with around 10 members distributing flyers and talking with attendees, representatives, and the organizers of the event. There were three speakers from SDS who stood on a table in the middle of the Black Chairs using a bullhorn.

Drama student Larry McKay, technical writing student Wilson Ekern, and philosophy student Hazel Grinber gave first-person accounts of growing up after 9/11, read articles about the impacts of drones, and told students and recruiters that they were not asking them to give up jobs in subjects they were passionate about, but to also consider the impacts of what they were creating. Onlookers at the black chairs largely continued preparing for the TOC, but some looked on with bemused interest.

The bullhorn use led Carnegie Mellon University Police to intervene in the protest and get protesters to quiet down, who continued to distribute flyers and converse for around 15 more minutes.

The flyer, titled “4 Companies You Should Avoid at the Technical Opportunities Conference,” listed Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Mission Systems, Honeywell, and Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation as companies to “steer clear of at the TOC.” Each company was given a specific write up of ethical hazards. For example, Lockheed Martin was described as a company that made “$50.1 billion in 2017 alone, [building and selling] missiles, planes, helicopters, automated defense systems, space weapons and other products specifically designed to harm human beings.”

The protest continued briefly without the use of the bullhorn, but as Calvin Pollak, an SDS member and Ph.D. student recounted, University Police “told us that if we went outside, we would not be able to use amplification for our protest,” which he called “absurd, because numerous campus organizations use amplification by the fence or on the Cut.”

As far as the success of the protest is concerned, both Pollak and Rosie Haynes, a Logic and Computation and Political History sophomore, state that the protest was at least effective in fostering a conversation on campus about the military-industrial complex and the corresponding on-campus apathy to defense contractors’ presence.

Haynes said of people’s negative responses to the protest, “So many seemed immediately turned off by our presence, people certainly don’t appreciate when others bring questioning of their morality to the table when they are trying to present their best selves to these companies.”

Regardless, the protest raised points on defense contractors’ participation in the TOC, how we discuss these issues on campus and the future of Carnegie Mellon University’s relationship with defense contractors and weapons manufacturers.

Wilson Ekern is the Copy Manager at the Tartan.