Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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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, faculty and community members hold a rally for Rafah

Speakers recount violent experiences from May 7 encampment and arrests
Kalina Kornacki
Protesters stand in the rain for the Rally for Rafah at Student Union on 05/08/2024.

On Wednesday, May 8 at 3 p.m., over 200 people including students, faculty and local community members attended a rally in support of Rafah in front of the Student Union at the University of Massachusetts.

Throughout the rally, speakers recounted experiences during the previous day’s encampment, including interactions with the police and with Chancellor Javier Reyes. Later in the day, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP), UMass Dissenters and the Young Communist League (YCL) held a press conference.

On May 7, over 130 protesters were arrested at a Gaza solidarity protest where an unauthorized encampment was created. Videos of the arrests flooded social media, showing several physical interactions between state troopers, Amherst Police, UMass Police Depatment and protestors.

In an email released by Reyes Wednesday evening, he indicated that UMPD and Massachusetts State Police detained 132 people, “Approximately 70 are UMass Amherst students and 6 are UMass Amherst faculty.”

SJP President Ruya Hazeyen, a senior political science and Middle Eastern studies major, was at the encampment. She said the protest was “incredible until it wasn’t.”

“This is a college campus where we are supposed to be able to practice free speech and our right to protest without having to worry about students getting pepper sprayed and shoved to the floor,” said Hazeyen.

One of the speakers at the rally was Sarah Prager, a western Massachusetts resident and a co-founder of Valley Families for Palestine (VFP). She was also present at the encampment and watched three other leaders and parents of VFP’s get arrested.

“I’m concerned about the escalation of police presence and violence in my community,” Prager said. “All the towns around here are college towns, the colleges are a part of our communities. We live together with students, and we came to show support for the students because we believe in that cause, so to see them brutalized by police was enraging.”

“We created a space where students, faculty, staff, families and community members came together to protest the genocide of Palestine. In response, the administration readied state troopers and local police officers in riot gear,” Anya Epstein, a sophomore public health and psychology student.

Throughout the rally, the demonstrators chanted, “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe!”

Many speakers voiced mistreatment and improper use of force by police officers while being arrested. The Collegian is looking to verify these claims.

Kevin Young, a tenured associate professor of history, was arrested at the encampment. He also spoke at the rally, saying: “I was honored to be a part of or at least a witness to the student negotiating team that met with the administration in Draper Hall yesterday evening.”

Young described the negotiating team on behalf of divestment as “informed, they were reasonable, and they were ready to negotiate in good faith.”

Hazeyen was also in the room and said, “He started the meeting with a closing statement. He started up being like, ‘We cannot give you what you want. We cannot divest. We cannot disclose. I can’t do anything,’ and that’s how he started it.”

“It was two hours of just nothing. Just going around in circles, not answering any of our questions, begging us to take the encampment down, and giving us nothing in turn. It was awful,” Hazeyen added.

“We learned midway through the meeting that Chancellor Reyes had ordered the deployment of the police while we were in the meeting. So that was another gesture of bad faith,” Young said.

“I told Chancellor Reyes I hope you have a good PR team to try to explain what you’re about to do to the students,” Hazeyen said. “I told him that if he unleashes cops onto this campus, there will be a lot more hurt and there will be a lot more violence.”

Reyes released an email to the UMass community later that evening that addressed the meeting. “I impressed upon the student protest leaders that their encampment must be removed and offered to continue ongoing discussions in the weeks and months ahead to bridge our differences,” the statement read.

“While we may not agree to all the demands presented to us today, including those which would violate the university’s founding values of the free and open exchange of ideas, today’s meeting could have been a significant step forward in in establishing a meaningful dialogue,” the statement read. “While we have told demonstrators that failure to remove the tents and barriers may result in arrests, this is not the outcome we had hoped for.”

When asked if Young was afraid of facing consequences from administration, he said, “Any risk I am incurring as a faculty member pales in comparison to what other people are suffering through right now, in Gaza most of all. So it seems like a very small risk to incur on behalf of peace.”

The rally concluded at around 4:30 p.m. with the organizers urging those present at the protest, specifically those arrested, to meet in small groups to process and discuss the possibly traumatic experience with police at the encampment.

At 6 p.m. SJP, FJP, UMass Dissenters and YCL held a press conference outside the Student Union. The panel was made up of Hazeyen, Sheher Bano and Tatiana Rodriguez, who are both doctorate students and Graduate Employee Organization Palestine Solidarity Caucus members,  and Hoang Phan, an English professor and FJP member.

All panelists called for Reyes to resign immediately.

“Chancellor Reyes resign right now. We have no confidence in your leadership,” Phan said. “He brought the violence to the broader public. The community. This is a public university. This belongs to the public, the students, the staff, the faculty that run this university … his legacy will be that he is on the wrong side of history.”

“[UMass FJP] formed specifically after our students here at this university staged their peaceful, nonviolent sit-in at the Whitmore Administration Building last fall, we formed to support our students, defend our students, amplify their message, their message of divestment from this war machine,” Phan explained.

Yesterday, when Reyes met with student protest organizers to discuss their demands amidst the demonstration, Hazeyen, who was at the negotiating table said, “[The chancellor] explicitly said that the cops would only be employed to protect the students and let it be known that all the cops did was cause the violence on all the students.”

Reyes said in his emailed statement that day that “involving law enforcement is the absolute last resort.”

“What happened in the meeting was I was called ‘sweetheart’ in the most condescending manner. I was interrupted every time I would talk as the only Palestinian woman in the room….we were not listened to every time we tried to say something, we were met with ‘I can’t, I can’t’… until finally one thing that we got out of him was ‘I won’t,’” she added.

According to Hazeyen, Reyes claimed he didn’t have any decision-making power to meet their demands but refused when they suggested he encourage members of the UMass Board of Trustees to review the protestors’ demands and release a statement in support of their movement.

In Reyes’ email, he indicated that the Board of Trustees agreed to consider the UMass Amherst student trustee’s petition calling for divestment from defense-related firms in June but that the offer was rejected by the representatives of the encampment.

“We have provided many paths forward for a resolution, including in our discussions today with protest representatives. Our message to this effect was delivered to the demonstrators in the encampment by the Demonstration Response and Safety Team,” continued the statement.

The message provided by DRST and presented to demonstrators indicated that the item to address divestment would be put on the Board of Trustee meeting agenda and that an endowment divestment proposal would be reviewed by the UMass Foundation.

The letter then instructed demonstrators to remove their tents and structures and informed they were trespassing. “You have the right to express your views but you do not have a right to place structures outside the limits of the land use policy.”

“I mean, [the police presence had] a level of violence I have never seen in my life, and it was because of the Chancellor,” Hazeyen said. “He will not get another day of peace on this campus until he resigns.”

Alexandra Hill can be reached at [email protected], Kavya Sarathy can be reached at [email protected] and Grace Lee can be reached at [email protected].

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    Henry RoseMay 9, 2024 at 8:32 am

    I am the parent of two UMass Amherst alumni and I am outraged by the violence perpetrated by the administration against its own students for the crime of peaceful protest. The students are on the right side of history, they should be commended and not prosecuted, and Chancellor Reyes and his accomplices should be out of work.