Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

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

Letter: A call-to-action to Chancellor Reyes from the School of Public Policy Coalition for Palestine

Calling for an open and honest dialogue and the protection of students from harassment

Dear Chancellor Javier Reyes:

The following letter is an expression of the collective views of many at the School of Public Policy and beyond. However, it should be noted that this does not represent the official stance of the University of Massachusetts or the School of Public Policy. Therein lies the problem.

The question of a people’s right to self-determination is unavoidably a policy question. As a group of concerned students at the School of Public Policy of the University of Massachusetts, charged with a commitment to social justice and ethically grounded approaches to public policy, we are committed to a revolutionary horizon of political emancipation.

Our outrage and concern regarding the continuation of the siege and indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure in Gaza, justified by flagrantly genocidal rhetoric from top Israeli officials, cannot be understated. Every life lost is a tragedy, a potential unfulfilled and a family irreparably wounded. The death and suffering of civilians, Palestinian and Israeli, are unacceptable, and we must use every tool at our disposal to push for an end to this ongoing cycle of violence in the region. We stand alongside the many advocates in our campus community as well as the countless people around the world calling for a permanent ceasefire as the first step to stopping the immediate suffering of the Palestinian people and negotiating a lasting peace.

Recurring instances of pacification and suppression of open and honest dialogue by campus officials are alarming and unacceptable. It must be pointed out that our university has a long history of civil disobedience, and this is not the first time our student body has grappled with the presence of the military industrial complex in university institutions (see 1989 protests against Defense Department funding on campus). The act of targeting certain pro-Palestinian elements for the sole reason of expressing their views through peaceful protest is in direct contradiction to our university’s rich history, the fundamental principles of free speech and your own mandate to establish UMass Amherst as a thought leader in the Commonwealth. This issue demands attention and cannot be ignored.

There is an acknowledgeable difference between the bounds of law and the bounds of civility, and to only respect one part of this dichotomy is to force the voiceless to abandon the other. In hosting pacified forums for discussion, like the “War and International Law: Perspectives on Current Conflicts” panel hosted by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, that refuse to grapple with what lies at the heart of this issue, you are creating an unsafe environment for a nuanced discussion. This approach also works to delegitimize the struggle against the spike in islamophobia that we are currently facing. Instead of creating dialogues that serve the need to find healing, understanding and solutions, these “conversations” have only served to justify current circumstances as inevitable, normal and socially acceptable. We invite you to clarify your and the University’s policies, values, strategies or thought processes regarding this issue.

Above all, it is the University’s job as an academic forum to take on the challenge of hosting open and honest dialogue on pressing issues, rather than avoiding or diluting them for the sake of palatability. In this arena, we dive into complexity and conquer it to find real solutions to global problems. In selectively using your power, allowing for the arrest of one activist group while allowing another to dox and harass others at will, you have held power for one side of the conversation, leading to dangerous tactics such as doxxing, harassment and threats of violence against student activists. We have seen the consequences of these tactics play out in real time with the violence committed against three Palestinian-American students in Burlington, Vermont, and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks and rhetoric. The actions the University takes moving forward in protecting its students will either prevent or propagate a similar attack.

Your silence on this issue, including canceling a scheduled town hall with student activists with no clear cause, shows a timidity that is unbecoming of a UMass Amherst chancellor. In withholding equal protections, not with words but actions, you perpetuate an unsafe environment. We ask you to make public your thoughts on the role of higher education in providing forums for tackling complex and salient issues while protecting those who wish to participate in this forum with civility from harassment.

This includes the suppression of dialogue concerning the University’s harmful partnership with Raytheon Technologies (RTX), which is detrimental to the University’s overall objectives and values. It is a simple fact that the Raytheon Company profits by manufacturing weapons of destruction that murder innocent men, women and children. UMass is a vibrant university system with a strong commitment to social responsibility and a proven track record of supplying leaders that affect positive change globally. We also maintain a robust STEM curriculum, with several viable programs that have no concern with the military industrial complex. It is crucial for UMass to uphold values of peace and justice, fostering an environment where education is not linked to entities involved in the arms trade, particularly when such involvement exacerbates conflicts in regions like Palestine.

Furthermore, by dissociating from Raytheon, the University sends a powerful message against the involvement of academic institutions in activities that may compromise human rights and destabilize regions. We show our strength by forging a new path beyond Raytheon or continue our weakness by continuing to supply them with bright, young minds to perpetuate cycles of violence. We request that you clarify your stance on why you feel it is important to maintain the partnership with Raytheon, what exactly it contributes to the University and how you determined that the collaboration aligns with our mission and values as a prestigious university system. We believe that your refusal to engage with us in this dialogue is a clear indication of the University’s indefensible position in its relationship with the company. It also shows your reluctance and fear to address students on this matter. Chancellor, we know you are better than this, but you must respond to us.

We recognize that the loss of a human life is a deeply painful and heartbreaking experience for loved ones, regardless of one’s affiliation. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the individuals and communities at the University of Massachusetts affected by the tragic losses experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis. At the same time, we are incredibly outraged and alarmed by the disproportionate retaliation against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, which is in clear violation of international laws and treaties governing the treatment of civilians in conflict zones.

Thus, in solidarity with Palestinian people and their ongoing struggle for liberation and self-determination, we, the undersigned students of the University of Massachusetts School of Public Policy, hereby call on you, Chancellor Reyes, and the leadership apparatus of the University to execute the following:

  1. Reiterate that UMass Amherst has no place for ableist, anti-Arab, anti-Black, anti-immigrant/refugee, anti-Palestinian, antisemitic, Islamophobic, racist and sexist forms of hate, violence and exclusion on campus and beyond, and commit to provide more public safety support to protect all civil protestors and dissenters.
  2. Reaffirm the preservation of academic freedoms and free speech on campus, recognizing that faculty and instructors — particularly graduate instructors — are vilified for speaking about Palestine based on their scholarly expertise and need institutional support and protection, and denouncing the destruction of educational and cultural institutions within Gaza.
  3. Commit University resources to fostering a University-wide educational resource for students and the community to read and learn about the history of Palestine’s occupation, which can include links to resources and events already taking place on campus that currently lack any centralized mode of dissemination or access.
  4. A written statement from the Chancellor’s office denouncing the inhumane measures imposed on Gaza by Israel, including the existing blockade of the Gaza Strip, recognizing the existing apartheid state and multiple imposed displacements experienced by the Palestinian people. The institutional, political and academic silence and silencing must end.
  5. Participate in active discussions with the student body and members and movements such as UMass Students for Justice in Palestine, Dissenters and other similarly aligned support groups about the University’s relationship with Raytheon and the parameters for acceptable forms of nonviolent resistance.



School of Public Policy Coalition for Palestine:

Graduate Students of Color Association (GSCA)

Graduate Muslim Student Association (Grad MSA)

Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA)

UMass Students for Justice in Palestine (UMass SJP)

The Raytheon Antiwar Campaign


For a full list of individual signatories of this letter, click here.

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