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: Condemning UMass administration’s response to May 7 encampment

WGSS unanimously opposes the use of police force on protestors
Daily Collegian (2024)
Lauren LeCours

We are writing to express our profound dismay at the University of Massachusetts administration resorting to calling the police and its use of force as a first response to the second encampment for Gaza at UMass on the night of May 7. An administration should never call the police on its own students, especially those engaged in peaceful protest. In this Op-Ed we report facts that may be absent from the wider discussion being had on campus about what actually took place. We believe these facts elicit the strong possibility of a vote of no confidence against Chancellor Reyes. This is a logical outcome due of the administration’s failure to negotiate with members of faculty and student communities in good faith regarding the demand to divest from weapons manufacturers, its reliance on state police — rather than further discussion — as a means of dispersing protest, and its lack of a principled commitment to free speech.

The reason for the encampments at UMass has been to ask the University to end its investments in and relationships with companies like Raytheon Technologies, DCS Corporation and General Dynamics, all of which produce and supply weapons to the state of Israel, which is using in its genocidal campaign against Palestinians in Gaza. While this is the instigating moment and central aim of the encampments, the wider issue is the need for the University to divest from war profiteering writ large. This is part of a wider campaign that is taking place in universities all over the world.

Over 130 individuals were arrested while protesting peacefully. We are particularly shocked to see videos of police physically charging at, body slamming and verbally assaulting people who were in the encampment, as well as those on the sidelines who were chanting and supporting those who had chosen to risk arrest in order to move negotiations with the administration forward. The administration called in 117 police vehicles. Hundreds of officers were on campus in riot gear. People were in zip ties for 12 hours. Police had started to assemble behind Whitmore, UMass’s main administration building, while Chancellor Reyes was ostensibly negotiating with faculty and student liaisons about the campaign for divestment. The lack of transparency about calling police leads us to conclude that these negotiations were not being conducted in good faith.

Regardless of whether you agree with the message of the protestors, there is a long history of student activism on campus. UMass itself has a history of both tolerating and encouraging protest encampments, e.g. in 2012 during Occupy Wallstreet. A statement released by the American Historical Association notes that:

“Historical thinking reminds us that the use of force to suppress peaceful public protest at institutions of higher education endangers students, faculty, and staff. This month marks the 54th anniversary of the killing of students by National Guard troops at Kent State University, and by local and state police at Jackson State College. Those terrible events, along with the infamous ‘Orangeburg Massacre’ of 1968, teach us that the introduction of outside armed law enforcement, and even worse, military units, escalates tensions rather than leads to constructive resolution of disputes.”

There are now threats to suspend students for a semester who were arrested both in late October during a sit-in in Whitmore and in May. We call on the administration to dismiss all charges against the ‘UMass 57’ as well as dismissing any charges against students who were arrested in the course of setting up and supporting the second encampment. Past practice was to tolerate and even support encampments, because universities are labs for democracy and the freedom of speech. Instead, there is video of students being grabbed and thrown to the ground by police, while the University is under investigation by the Department of Education for anti-Palestinian bias. It is not too late to change course. We ask the campus community to understand the disturbing nature of what is taking place and to work together to restore democratic governance to our campus.


The faculty of the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Kiran Asher

Laura J Briggs

Laura Ciolkowski

Cameron Awkward-Rich

Miliann Kang

Kirsten Leng

Svati Shah

Angie Willey

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