College moved US army event off-campus to avoid protests, fearing reputational damage

Over €2,000 was spent hosting DEVCOM, a wing of the US military for developing weapons and military technology

Trinity Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Group yesterday revealed that College spent €2,000 to host US military officials in February, at an event which was secretly relocated off-campus to avoid protests.

Emails released under Freedom of Information (FOI) show that College officials were aware of potential disruption “given the ongoing situation in Gaza and US support of the [IDF]”, advising colleagues not to “shout it from the rooftops”.

A meeting with the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) was planned with the aim of obtaining research funding. DEVCOM is a sector of the US military tasked with developing “technology-enabled solutions” for the US army.

Information presented by DEVCOM included a variety of military applications, including research on “soldier lethality”.

The meeting was hosted by the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) and the Advances Materials and BioEngineering Research institution (AMBER) who hoped to secure funding from DEVCOM.

The event was intended to take place in the Science Gallery building on February 26. Having planned to protest at the event, Trinity BDS found no one present upon their arrival.

An FOI request by the group revealed that College decided to move the event to an off-campus location, in an attempt to avoid disruption. The event cost approximately €2,000 in venue hire and catering.

Correspondence shows that College became fearful of “controversy at an institutional level” after a group of around 10 academics from the School of Computer Science and Statistics voiced opposition to the event.

In an official statement issued by BDS, it was noted that emails provided as part of the FOI request showcased “concerning attitudes from staff members regarding the event”, with concerns expressed in relation to the “reputational damage” which the meeting may have caused the college.

Those organising the event expressed their concern around the publicity of the meeting, noting that “we thought it best not to widely publicise this one given how controversial US foreign policy is at the moment.”

Trinity BDS criticised College for “once again prioritising its reputation [over] its ethics”.

The correspondence also noted that “there appears to be a nervousness in college about the optive of the visit and it now looks like there will be some institutional pushback and/or questions about the visits, despite the need to diversify funding sources and Trinity winning such fundings in the past.”

In one email, one member of staff defended the decision to host DEVCOM, saying “military funding does not mean we are making bombs for the US army”.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of foreign aid from the US, receiving approximately $300 billion between economic and military assistance since the foundation of the state, and around $3.3 billion each year.

Chair of BDS Isobel Duffy issued a statement in relation to the event.

“Trinity over and over again has decided that it stands on the side of genocide, racism and apartheid, while simultaneously treating students who protest this stance as unreasonable and disruptive.”

”Ultimately, College is made up of its staff and students, the majority of which are disruptive. Without us, the College would be merely a soulless tourist attraction run by overpaid bureaucrats,” Duffy continued.

“We must not be discouraged by College’s attempts at intimidation and their unwillingness to listen. I encourage all students to get active and get involved to hold our College and its senior management to account.”

Expressing a similar sentiment, a statement issued by TCDSU president Laszlo Molnarfi noted: “The United States is an imperialist power and a terrorist state that has brought nothing but suffering and destruction to the world.”

“The most egregious of their crimes is their constant support for the apartheid state of Israel.”

“This event needed to be shut down, which we attempted to do, because we are not standing for war criminal US army to come to campus and promote research which will directly be used to kill innocent people. Trinity’s sneaky attempt to move it off-campus, and then wining-and-dining the DEVCOM representatives, represents yet another flagrant disregard for the student and staff voice as well as ethical considerations.” Molnarfi continued.

In a post shared to the TCDSU instagram account, the union noted that “College must, however belatedly, do what is right and cut all ties with the Israeli apartheid state.”

In a statement issued to Trinity News, a spokesperson for College said: “Any decision to meet with a visiting delegation is the right of each individual academic.”

“It was the organisers decision where to locate the event”, they added.

Over 34,600 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza since October 7, with over 77,816 others injured.