Dissenters keep pressure on UMass to sever partnerships with defense industry

By Maddie Fabian

For the Gazette

Published: 05-09-2023 5:27 PM

AMHERST — As a child of immigrants from Nigaragua, Sabrina Lacayo has heard stories of war, poverty and loss experienced by her parents during U.S. military intervention in the 1980s.

Now a junior UMass student, Lacayo is a member of the UMass Dissenters, a movement against the university’s partnership with Raytheon Technologies, one of largest defense and aerospace manufacturers in the world.

“For those of us who have not known what it is to flee your country and live perpetually in the aftermath, it is not worth it,” said Lacayo at a protest on April 21. “We can start resisting war and empire here locally on campus by refusing the role of helping global cops like Raytheon.”

UMass Dissenters is a chapter of the national Dissenters movement, a grassroots effort across the country pushing institutions and officials to divest from imperialism and militarism. Students brought the campaign to the UMass Amherst campus during the fall semester, and have held weekly meetings, frequent events and several protests since then.

“We are lobbying, trying to get UMass to cut their ties with war profiteers like Raytheon and force them to get their students better options and places to work that aren’t war profiteers,” sophomore Ayva Holden said.

Raytheon Technologies was headquartered in Massachusetts for 100 years before relocating to Arlington, Virginia in June 2022. The company manufacturers aircraft engines, cybersecurity, missiles, satellites and drones, and has strong ties to the US military.

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Raytheon is currently partnered with the Isenberg School of Management and the Center for Data Science at UMass, and has ties to the College of Engineering and College of Information and Computer Sciences.

“Isenberg … works with a number of companies, like Raytheon, to provide discounted graduate educational opportunities to employees, some of whom are residents of the Commonwealth,” Allison Werder, assistant dean of marketing and communication at Isenberg, said in an email statement. Raytheon employees are eligible for a 10% tuition discount for certain Isenberg masters’ and graduate programs.

“These partnerships support our mission to offer state-of-the-art education that is accessible and affordable to all learners,” added Werder.

A 2020 analysis by the Gazette, which looked at 11 heavily redacted purchase orders, found that Raytheon research agreements with the university represented nearly $1.5 million in projects. In all 11 documents, entire pages about the proposed work were blacked out.

In a statement, UMass spokesperson Edward Blaguszewski said, “It is our mission to expand — not limit — the opportunities our students have to engage with meaningful research and employment opportunities as they find best suited to their own backgrounds and aspirations.”

“Many companies that conduct defense-related research are also involved in other industrial sectors, developing dual-use applications that can have broad societal benefits,” Blaguszewski added, pointing to Raytheon’s role in improving advance detection of severe-weather events through the UMass Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere.

On April 21, nearly 75 members of UMass Dissenters gathered outside of Isenberg and marched across campus, stopping at each school with a connection to Raytheon and demanding that UMass cut ties with war-profiting companies.

Protesters held signs reading statements like “war is evil” and “UMass you have blood on your hands,” while they chanted into megaphones, “Money for food and education, not for wars and militarization.”

Katie New, a senior, shouted, “I want my university to be a radical institution that is a leader in promoting peace, environmentalism, education… not building missiles.” Protesters cheered.

UMass Dissenters, which has a core group of over 30 students, frequently protest at campus job fairs, often accusing the company of openly profiting off war. In February, the Dissenters showed up to a Raytheon presentation for engineering students, distributing flyers and verbally interjecting throughout presentation. The demonstration ended when university police officers entered the room.

At an “art build” hosted by the group in November, students created protest art and gathered over 700 signatures on a petition demanding that Isenberg end its partnership with Raytheon. The group also has a social media presence, with nearly 800 followers on Instagram.

“So many movements have seen unrealistic and seem impossible until they’ve happened,” said Holden. “At Dissenters, we want a better world, we can envision it happening, and we’re not going to stop fighting until it does happen.”