Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass students stage demonstration at Raytheon presentation

“If I sign up to work for Raytheon, will I get a guarantee that I won’t kill people?”
Anshul Singh / Daily Collegian (2023)

On Thursday evening, University of Massachusetts engineering students, many of them dressed in professional attire and carrying hard copies of their resumes, funneled into a steep lecture hall to listen to a presentation by Raytheon Technology, an aerospace and defense company.

The primary speaker, Daniel Segarra, is a UMass alumnus who works in Raytheon Missiles and Defense. A second speaker, Tony, was also present, though did not speak much in the presentation and refused to provide his full name when asked. The two presenters stood under a slideshow projection of their company’s employment opportunities as they gave career advice to their prospective interns: engage with job recruiters, be bold and stay focused. A distraction came knocking at the door.

Five minutes into the recruiters’ talk, a silent parade of over a dozen students entered Engineering Lab 2 and distributed flyers to the students who were already seated. Five minutes later, the demonstrators began verbally interjecting and referencing slogans contained in the material they had disseminated in the classroom.

The vague taglines read in bold letters, “don’t be a coward, don’t avert your eyes” and “is this how you want to spend your life?”

“If I sign up to work for Raytheon, will I get a guarantee that I won’t kill people?” a protestor interjected.

Raytheon Technologies is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of national security and intelligence equipment. The company was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1922, but relocated its Waltham headquarters to Arlington, Virginia. It maintains offices across the Bay State as well as a close research partnership with the University.

By 2019, funding from all private donors grew to represent seven percent of all research dollars awarded at UMass. A year later, an investigation by the Daily Hampshire Gazette revealed through 11 heavily redacted purchase orders that Raytheon’s research agreements with the University amounted to an almost $1.5 million investment.

Not everyone agrees that the defense contractor’s ties to UMass contribute to the betterment of the institution — certainly not the group of demonstrators who protested Thursday’s presentation and who challenged what they believe is the moral price tag of employment with Raytheon.

Protestors continued to interject as one protestor from the back of the room asked, “How do you feel about Raytheon selling weapons to Saudi Arabia?” Raytheon Saudi Arabia is a recent subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, but its newer headquarters in Riyadh solidified a storied, five-decade relationship between the defense contractor and the Middle Eastern hegemon.

Amnesty International reported in 2022 that a Raytheon-manufactured laser-guided bomb was deployed by the Kingdom during an air strike on a detention center in north-western Yemen, killing 80. In 2018, Saudi Arabia accounted for an estimated five percent of Raytheon’s annual sales, about $340 million.

The student who asked about the company’s ties to Saudi Arabia was told to save their inquiries for the end of the presentation, but an avalanche of questions continued to stream from the back of the room.

“This is ultimately about the elites trying to enrich their pockets. And what do we get at the end? We get inflation, we get higher taxes, and we continue funding these wars. Wars for what? Wars for a greater share of the world, wars for profits for these companies,” a protestor said.

Sally Darby’s voice sparred with students who chose to interrupt the presentation. Darby is the associate director of the career development and experiential learning center at the UMass College of Engineering, and she repeated a stern reminder to protestors that their uninvited commentary, which ranged from sincere to profane, was disruptive to the learning environment.

Eventually, Darby placed a call to the UMass Police Department and three officers reported to the scene. No arrests were made as officers primarily stood watch.

Darby declined to provide a comment to the Collegian.

As the presentation ended, one student stood to ask a question and Darby moved to have him escorted out of the room. In retaliation, he began reciting a hushed countdown. In unison, the protestors formed a huddle near the door and began to chant “Raytheon kills children.” Disrupting, it seemed, was not a concern of theirs — it was a priority.

“We wanted to disrupt the event because a lot of people try to distance themselves from the reality of how their job can actually impact their community and the world around them,” James Sullivan said, who last semester founded Revolutionary Student Action, a labor-focused organization aimed at building solidarity with UMass’s faculty and staff unions.

“You just want to go to work, and then leave, and then have a normal life, but when you work for such a huge exporter of destruction — people’s lives have been destroyed by this company, people have been killed by this company — you need to confront that. And if you never confront that, you are complicit,” Sullivan continued.

RSA belongs to a patchwork of leftist organizations that joined the protest on Thursday. The coalition represents radical organizations like the Prison Abolition Collective, Students for Justice in Palestine, Marxist Reading Group and UMass’s own chapter of the national Dissenters movement, whose mission is to “[turn] the tide against endless war.”

Student activists said they caught wind of Raytheon’s recruitment presentation from engineering students affiliated with leftist organizations on campus. On Wednesday afternoon, UMass Dissenters sent out an email encouraging its members to “crash” Raytheon’s recruitment visit – some 15 activists answered that call to action.

Antimilitarist organizations have demonstrated against Raytheon’s presence on campus before. In September 2022, a small group of dissenters protested the defense contractor’s presence at a college fair geared towards engineering students.

A protestor’s comment that they would “see [Raytheon] at the next career fair” indicated the coalition isn’t finished rallying for the expulsion of the weapons manufacturer from campus.

Leo Narbonne, a junior mechanical engineering student who was among the disruptors on Thursday, extended understanding and sympathy to other budding engineers searching for someplace to cut their teeth in the industry.

“Rocket science is the holy grail for a lot of engineers,” Narbonne said, adding that “for a lot of people who want to work in NASA, Raytheon is the first step. But, coming from another engineer, I think we can still change a lot of hearts and minds.”

Raytheon speakers did not meaningfully engage with the barrage of questions the protesters presented during the public event. Daniel Segarra said later in conversation with the Collegian that while he “doesn’t know all the answers,” he believes that “there are facts in the world that show [Raytheon] in a negative light, but there is more good that we have to offer.”

At the end of the presentation, as UMPD officers entered the auditorium from the front and dissenters left from the back, dozens of students lined up along opposing staircases to meet the recruiters. The speakers left with a large pile of resumes.

Rebeca Pereira can be reached at [email protected]. Siddharth Sharma can be reached at [email protected]

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    Linda RolandFeb 17, 2023 at 12:02 pm

    How about all the ways Raytheon has benefited the US and Americans because of our strategic defense systems!! Raytheon is a leader in our defense and I for one find that is plus in a world that not only has people that align with the US but those that don’t- good job to all the employees of Raytheon in keeping America safe!