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

Students for Justice in Palestine stages campus-wide walkout in support for Palestine

The student group seeks to stop UMass’ partnership with Raytheon, end all U.S. aid to Israel and to protect Palestinian activists and students on campus
Story Young

On Thursday, March 14, a few hundred students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in front of the Student Union in a campus-wide walkout organized by the University of Massachusetts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

The protest demanded the end of UMass’ partnership with Raytheon and other “war profiteering” organizations, the protection of students and pro-Palestinian activism and the end of all U.S. aid to Israel. The group also demanded reducing disciplinary actions against the 57 students and staff that were arrested in October and a petition was circulated.

Demonstrators loudly marched and chanted across campus to Marcus Hall and the Whitmore administration building with loudspeakers, drums, posters and keffiyehs.

Protesters carried posters with messages such as “UMass is complicit in Genocide,” “Cut ties with Raytheon” and “Free Palestine.” The group’s chants, echoing across the campus for more than two hours, included, “Free Free Palestine” and “From Palestine to Philippines, stop the US war machine!” Some chants were directly aimed at the Chancellor, where they shouted “Javier Reyes, divest or resign!”

The demonstration ended more than four hours later in Whitmore, where SJP organizers and other protesters lined the halls outside Chancellor Javier Reyes’ office, writing out by hand the names of the more than 31,000 killed by Israeli forces in what the International Court of Justice has deemed as plausible acts of genocide since Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7. 

The walkout was supported by a coalition of at least 13 organizations, many of whom spoke during the event, including Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP), UMass Dissenters, Western Mass Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and the Graduate Employee Organization’s Palestine Solidarity Caucus (GEO PSC).

There was a significant amount of faculty and staff present at the rally. FJP member Cedric De Leon, professor of sociology and labor studies, said, “One of the things that we’re meant to teach our students in a university setting is that this kind of action, this kind of peaceful, nonviolent action, is part of what it means to be a part of a democratic society . . . we ought to support our students as they exercise their democratic rights.”

Anna Marie LaChance, a professor of chemical engineering, also believes it’s important for faculty members to show up for their students. She said many in engineering lament the field’s heavy lean toward militarization work and that most of her students don’t want their work to kill people.

Ruya Hazeyen, a senior political science and middle eastern studies major and one of the spokespeople for SJP, said that their strong coalition reveals shared goals across a myriad of causes and that their power lies in numbers. “Everyone’s coming at it from different angles and showing how every person and every group is intrinsically intertwined and all have purpose in this cause.”

Jewish-American attorney Rachel Weber, representing Western Mass JVP, said that “there is no way to talk about the war without talking about land theft.”

“[This is] not about building a homeland but building a graveyard. I do not want to live in a graveyard,” Weber said.

“The history of youth activism is marred by a history of student repression,” said anthropology major Andrew Skeete, a member of UMass Dissenters. Condemning the arrests of the UMass 57 in October for protesting the UMass-Raytheon partnership, he said, “the willingness of schools all around the country to crack down on student demonstrations … shows that their attention and loyalties lie in the pockets of their biggest partners.”

Counter-protesters were also present during the walkout wearing “Israel Defense Forces” shirts and Israeli flags. One counter-protester, Olive Yale, a junior linguistics major, said that while “these protests are well intentioned,” she claims that the rhetoric used during these protests is inflammatory and “contributes to a lot of division on campus and intimidates Jewish [and Israeli] students.”

Outside Whitmore, organizers honored Aaron Bushnell with a call and response of his last words. Bushnell self-immolated on Feb. 25 in front of the Embassy of Israel in Washington D.C. for the Palestinian cause. He died from his burns.

After the speeches ended, the demonstrators marched into Whitmore and occupied the second floor outside the Chancellor’s office for at least two hours. They plastered the walls, doors and windows with sticky notes full of “messages to martyrs,” a repertoire from other SJP groups around the US.

Story Young

Hazeyen said, “We’re just trying to honor them in every way possible . . .We are trying our best to write all of their names and remember that they were all their own people with dreams and hopes and futures.” She said, “It’s really putting everything into perspective. We’ve been here for over an hour and we still haven’t finished age 0 [of those killed in Gaza].”

She added, “I am Palestinian . . . I’ve never had to find out about it or learn about it, I was born and I knew about it. I’ve never been to Palestine because my grandparents got expelled and they’ve never been back.”

“People are dying. . . it’s funded by our tax dollars. There’s no neutrality, there’s no keeping our hands clean, we are all involved in this. We all have blood on our hands whether we like it or not, so the least we could do is stand up against it,” said Hazeyen.

Andre Ayuyao can be reached at [email protected]. Story Young can be reached at [email protected].

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