MIT women take a stand

More news about: MIT

Sonia Raman and the MIT women's basketball team decided to make a statement as a team in support of the campus members affected by President Trump's executive order on immigration.
File photo by Robert Krawitz, MIT athletics

It was a moment head coach Sonia Raman and the MIT women’s basketball team will remember for the rest of their lives.
Just minutes before tipping-off against Wesleyan University last month, the MIT women’s basketball team linked arms prior to the national anthem.
Yet, instead of standing together as one on this particular evening, the team left a space in-between the coaches and players, symbolizing the members of their institution that were impacted by President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
“When I hear startling news, I kind of switch off my emotional side and go straight into how can I fix it mode. However, this was a little different because of the nature of the executive order,” said MIT co-captain Liana Ilutzi, who is the senior class president. 
“The roll out of this order over the past few weeks personally affected us, and that was the most alarming wake-up call.”   
The executive order impacted five members of the MIT community – two students, two researchers and one visiting student – that initially were denied re-entry into the United States once President Trump signed the executive order on Friday, January 27.
Yet, according to an institutional release that was updated on Sunday, February 5, all five individuals were able to return safely to the Cambridge campus, roughly one week after the travel ban had been established, thanks to a temporary order issued by the Massachusetts federal district court.
As noted in the institutional release, “The MIT affiliates’ return to the U.S. was made possible by a temporary order issued by the Massachusetts federal district court last weekend, restraining the government from enforcing the executive order to detain holders of valid visas or green cards who travel from the seven affected countries to the U.S. through Logan Airport.”
Days after the institution confirmed the return of the five individuals, the campus celebrated the unanimous decision by three federal judges, which ruled against the Department of Justice’s emergency stay.
While it remains unknown if the Trump administration will issue another executive order on immigration – could the next mandate have an even bigger impact than their initial document? – it is Raman’s crew that has provided a sense of relief to the MIT community that has and continues to be affected by this controversial executive order.  
“We talked at the beginning of the season about current events and what was going on in our society,” said Raman, “and I told the team if we took (a stand on an issue) or if anyone wanted to do something, it should be well thought out and discussed with the team.
“Additionally, I told them I would support whatever they wanted to do.”
MIT planned to respond, however, they needed time to digest all the information, including the executive order, which Raman tasked her team with reading.
“I wanted them to read the executive order and do their homework because there is a high expectation of MIT students and I wanted them to live up to that, and I knew they would, but I wanted to make sure they were utilizing every resource they had to really contribute to an important team dialogue,” she said.  
The response of the executive order was not positive – in fact, sophomore co-captain Kara Holinski considered it a ‘disregard to human rights,’ while Ilutzi was dismayed by the entire document. 
“The wording of the order was so vague as to be unacceptable,” said Ilutzi, “and that vagueness caused mass chaos due to different interpretations.”  
Fortunately, the team’s dialogue during their Monday meeting was a tad bit clearer – each student-athlete was able to voice their opinions, which led to the team ultimately deciding their response would be to stand-up during the national anthem with arms locked, but with a space in-between. 
Literally 24 hours after the team meeting, MIT stood on the court prior to the opening tap against the Cardinals, showing support for those both at MIT and around the world who were being affected by the executive order. Before the national anthem echoed throughout Rockwell Cage, both the MIT public address announcer and broadcaster read the following statement written by the team: Due to recent changes in the U.S. immigration policy, the MIT women’s basketball team, in solidarity, leave a space for all of those affected within our community and around the globe.

Said Raman, “It really did feel very powerful. The pride I have in my team for the way they came to the whole decision and the fact they even wanted to do something – they know there is a risk involved, especially anytime you are taking a stance, even if it is a stance on human rights more than a stance on politics, but their names are attached to it and they very much wanted to proceed with this stand.
“To stand there unified as a team, saying we support the MIT community and the larger community that is being affected negatively by this did feel very powerful.”
MIT has exercised its stance twice since the Wesleyan game and will continue supporting their community this week when they visit Wellesley College on Wednesday and WPI on Saturday.
Since their initial stance, Holinski and Ilutzi have had some time to reflect on the message they and their teammates sent that Monday evening. They feel humbled, but honored to represent a great institution, while wearing MIT on their chest when they stand-up for what they believe is right.
“One of our core values is to define the jersey,” said Ilutzi. “And we try to do that in every action we take as a team, both in and out of season, so whether it is just wearing the jersey during a practice or wearing a shirt if we participate in a protest, I think at the end of the day we are extremely grateful for the opportunity we have been given to attend MIT.
“We are lucky enough to be student-athletes at a school that has given us so much. We feel we should give back by making a powerful statement, while playing our hearts out every single opportunity that we have.”
Added Holinski, “I felt this stance was the right thing to do, so the fact everyone else was on the same page was reassuring. And for me, I feel very lucky to play this game, and that certainly came across with how we played and continue to share our message throughout the rest of the season, while making sure people become more aware of what we’re doing.”
Since taking their stance, MIT has won five straight contests and currently boasts its best record in school history at 20-4 overall and is tied for first in the NEWMAC.

Matt Noonan

Matt Noonan is the head editor and founder of, a New England Division III college sports blog that covers basketball, football and lacrosse. Noonan's work has been featured on,, and, and has appeared in the Boston Globe, along with other digital and print outlets. No stranger to Division III, Noonan spent time as an Athletics Communications Assistant and Sports Information Assistant at MIT, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Wheaton College, and was recently an Associate Producer at Lax Sports Network where he oversaw a trio of weekly shows, while assisting producers, on-air talent, production assistants and directors with daily programming. Noonan graduated from Wheaton College in May 2010 -- Go Lyons! -- and currently resides in Somerville, Massachusetts.