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The Student News Site of Simmons University

The Simmons Voice

The Student News Site of Simmons University

The Simmons Voice

Student removed from Simmons Leadership Conference amid protests against Raytheon sponsorship

After Witaconis was escorted out of the building, they posted a photo of the pamphlets on their Instagram story. The cover of the pamphlets read “Simmons University supports genocide. Do you?”
Image via the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership’s Facebook page.

“‘Creating impact,’ Simmons? I think not,” read Madd Witaconis’ Instagram story after they were escorted out of the 45th Simmons Leadership Conference (SLC) by police on Wednesday. 

Witaconis, a Simmons sophomore in the 3+1 Masters in Public Policy program, was asked to leave following a disruption in the conference programming. 

The SLC was paused around 10:30 a.m. following alarms and an intercom announcement saying that there was a “threat identified in the building,” and to be ready to evacuate if necessary. 

At the time of the alarms, Raytheon Deputy President Annabel Flores was speaking in a business leadership panel. Witaconis told the Voice that they attended the conference because they had a free ticket and they wanted to pass out pamphlets raising awareness about Raytheon’s sponsorship and participation in the SLC. 

SLC Chief Operating Officer Kristen Palson told the audience that the alerts were a “false alarm,” but that the conference would take an early networking break. 

At the time, Palson said it was unclear whether the event would be rescheduled during this announcement, but the panel returned to finish their section after the break. 

All other programming continued as scheduled throughout the day. 

For Witaconis, though, the day at the conference ended there. 

Witaconis says that between eight and ten Simmons police officers, alongside the Boston Police Department, told them that they and their sister matched a description for the people who pulled the fire alarm. 

“Unless there is another short curly haired red head (sic) with a green backpack and little sister in a white jacket, they were absolutely lying to me,” said Witaconis. 

At the time of the fire alarm, Witaconis and their sister were seated at their table inside the SLC mainstage ballroom, two seats down from a member of the Voice. Witaconis also provided the Voice with a video they took of the mainstage from their seat moments before the alarm went off. 

Witaconis told the Voice that the Simmons police did not ask them what they were protesting, and told them to provide both their Social Security number and their dorm room number. 

After Witaconis was escorted out of the building, they posted a photo of the pamphlets on their Instagram story. The cover of the pamphlets read “Simmons University supports genocide. Do you?” 

Image from Madd Witaconis’ Instagram story.

“Let it be known that Simmons police officers escorted me out and banned me from Hynes Convention Center for leaving [the pictured] pamphlets around the conference,” read Madd Witaconis’ Instagram story.

The Voice spoke to a Simmons police officer at the convention center, who said they can “neither confirm nor deny [that a Simmons student was escorted out of the building], but [the Voice reporter] is probably on the right track.” 

Laura Wareck, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Simmons, gave an emailed statement to the Voice as a spokesperson for the university. 

“A Simmons student was escorted out of the building by Boston Police at the request of Hynes Center public safety. Any investigations related to events at the Simmons Leadership Conference are being handled by the Boston Police Department within their jurisdiction,” wrote Wareck. 

Boston Police told the Voice to speak to Simmons police when approached at the Hynes Convention Center.

Amy Eicher, a member of the Simmons Class of 2009 who now works in the entertainment industry, attended the conference virtually. She told the Voice that she had no idea that Raytheon was a major sponsor of the event.

Eicher said that Raytheon’s involvement in the conference did not align with the Simmons values she remembers. 

“It’s really disappointing…anytime I talk about Simmons, I talk about a culture of activism and the values I was instilled with there,” said Eicher. 

When asked for her thoughts about Witaconis’ removal from the event, Eicher said “it sounds to me that students were not listened to. Simmons always accounted itself as supportive of free speech…but why are we still not listening to [student voices].” 

Witaconis’ pamphlets came from Massachusetts Peace Action, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering “a more just and peaceful U.S. foreign policy.” 

The organization had two planned protests against Raytheon’s involvement in the SLC, at 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. outside the Hynes Convention Center, the SLC venue. 

Brian Garvey is an organizer with Massachusetts Peace Action and attended both protests. 

“Our goal was to spread awareness,” said Garvey. “This is a progressive conference, but it’s being sponsored by a group…that’s not progressive at all.” 

Garvey told the Voice that they spoke to Witaconis after they were removed from the conference. “That’s quite a bit of response for a pamphlet,” said Garvey. 

Student organizations Simmons Jewish Voice for Peace and Simmons4Palestine both attended Massachusetts Peace Action’s protests. 

The Voice reached out to both organizations via Instagram, but did not hear back in time for publication. 

This is a developing story, if updates arise we will add them to this article and update our social media accordingly. 

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About the Contributor
Olivia Ray
Olivia Ray, Editor-in-Chief
Olivia Ray (2024, she/her) is a Journalism major with minors in Political Science, History, and Integrated Media and has been writing for the Voice since her freshman year. She is also a member of the Honors program and Simmons University Dance Company. She is passionate about cycling, good coffee, affordable housing, and all things student-driven media.

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