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

An idiotic response by UMass administration

Arresting the protestors was a grave misstep
Lauren LeCours

On Tuesday, May 7, University of Massachusetts students set up another encampment on the Student Union South Lawn as part of a nationwide movement in protest against the Israel-Palestine conflict and many universities’ ties to weapons contractors supplying Israel. The previous encampment was dismantled by protestors themselves after being threatened with arrest by UMass administration. Seemingly tired of its students’ repeated protest, Administration swiftly called in the police when a second encampment was erected, and after issuing a few dispersal orders, began arresting protestors.

This is an ill-thought out move by the administration and deserves to be recognized as such. There is absolutely no need for this. This encampment, and the previous one, subject to intense scrutiny and coverage as they have been, have demonstrated absolutely no tendency towards violence. Protestors have been remarkably peaceful and well-organized, especially in a national moment where multiple protests on other university campuses have turned violent. UMass’ protestors even met with Chancellor Javier Reyes and administration officials to discuss their demands and inform them of their protest plans.

All of this was to no avail, because our administration seems myopically focused on impressing its power upon the student body, and decided to send in the UMass Police Department, rounding up protesting students and faculty, despite the protests not causing any harm.

On every level, the University is guilty of idiocy in its hasty and brutish dispersal of the protests. While it may be correct that encampments are on shaky First Amendment ground, this is still an entirely disproportionate response by the Administration. Yes, universities may apply what are known as time, place and manner restrictions on student protests, and preventing encampments on campus definitely falls into that category. But universities are not compelled to apply such restrictions; they must make a choice to, based on whether the relevant protest is truly disruptive and dangerous. This one isn’t.

A tiny bit of common sense applied, and the reality becomes obvious.

Peaceful students camped out on the South Lawn do not necessitate an armada of police officers. An administration with the slightest bit of foresight and critical thinking would have realized this. Unfortunately, this quality is uncommon, and instead our leaders are only in possession of the anxiety that power feels when challenged.

Even looking at it from the cynical and jaded perspective inhabiting officials’ minds, one can imagine that simply waiting the students out would be a better response; these are young idealistic students, not exactly a demographic blessed with iron willpower. Simply ignoring the protestors – who, at risk of belaboring the point, aren’t hurting anyone – would have ensured an eventual dying off of the encampment. Worse, even a cursory glance at the weather   for the next week reveals the obviously pointless nature of this brutality; it’s going to rain, another factor making the encampment even less likely to persist.

All of this reasoning and basic common sense apparently eluded our leaders, who decided that an aggressive crackdown involving four different police departments, including state troopers, was the only way to solve the situation at hand – a situation that they created because of their own nonsensical anxieties.

Even from the University’s perspective, they’ve royally messed up; protestors who earlier weren’t exactly in command of public opinion now have a sympathetic story to tell about the pointless brutality they’ve experienced at the hands of UMPD. The one thing the University would have hoped for – a cessation of the constant protests and pushback against their questionable ties with weapons contractors – is now infinitely less likely to occur.

The Administration has made its bed, now it must lie in it. In a moment where tensions need to be lowered and the situation defused, the University has done exactly the opposite. Each party now has exactly what they need to continually vilify their opponents: the protestors’ conception of their opposition as jack-booted authoritarians on a quest to squash dissent has been confirmed, and those in disagreement with the protestors can now comfortably view them all as vandalous malcontents hell-bent on illegal demonstrations. Congratulations, Reyes.

Last week, I wrote a story on the protests that garnered a lot of attention. I ended the piece with a call for empathy and constructive dialogue. Since then, I’ve had members of the Administration reach out and commend those sentiments, wishing to initiate further dialogue on how to build community.

Unfortunately, it seems this desire is entirely performative. No administration that can sanction what we witnessed yesterday is truly concerned with initiating a community dialogue.

Where we go from here is entirely up to Reyes and his administration. They’ve dug us into a hole, and it’s on them to get us out of it.

Manas Pandit can be reached at [email protected].

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  • D

    Dwayne BickfordMay 9, 2024 at 4:53 am

    Good job UMass!

  • M

    Mike MurphyMay 8, 2024 at 8:45 pm

    No matter where you stand in this debate – this is an excellent piece of writing.
    From a proud alum