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Should Protests Be A Part Of College Culture?

With an increase of Pro-Palestine protests happening on campuses everywhere, the role of protesting in higher education is up for debate.

Credit: Yiling Tsai

The role of protest in higher education is facing challenges following an increase of Pro-Palestinian protests on campuses all over the world.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is no new battle, leaving devastation in its wake for roughly a century. However, 2024 is seeing an increase in both the aggression domestically on the land and the international response.

Students all over are protesting their institution’s reactions to the conflict. In return, these students have to face peer disapproval, occasional force, and even suspension.

Protests have been ingrained in the higher education sphere for decades. National student movements began in 1920, climaxing during the Great Depression as students fought for liberal education, democracy, and labor rights. We’ve seen them in recent years with student-led movements for gun laws following harrowing school shootings.

Protesters showing up for March for Our Lives event in Pheonix, Arizona March 24, 2018
Protesters showing up for March for Our Lives event in Pheonix, Arizona on March 24, 2018. Credit: Shutterstock/Eric O. Ledermann

If protesting is a common practice, why is such a strong oppositional reaction shown toward Pro-Palestinian protesters? Before we can investigate the debate of politics and education, we must first understand what is currently happening on campuses across the globe.

Protests and encampments in 2024

There has been a plethora of protests and encampments throughout the U.S. and other countries such as Germany and Japan. The college that started the current motion towards encampments in the name of divestment is Columbia University.

Columbia University

According to CNN, the situation escalated “when the university’s president, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, testified before a House committee about the school’s response to charges of campus antisemitism. A pro-Palestinian protest kicked off on campus at the same time.”

Once the encampment began, Shafik called in police forces to remove people going against university rules and regulations. More than 100 arrests were made and the encampment persisted. These students are protesting the university’s continuous financial investment in corporations that profit from Israeli occupation.

Videos have surfaced on TikTok showing the brutal reality of these forceful raids on the student encampments despite stats showing that 97% of campus demonstrations over the war in Gaza in the U.S. since mid-April have been peaceful.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT students are hitting the streets as of May 10th in a march protest following the clearing of campus encampments. According to Wbur, “They marched through Cambridge chanting and carrying signs that read, “Hands off Rafah” and “MIT unjustly suspends, evicts and arrests their own students and workers. Shame!” One frequent chant: “40,000 people dead, and you’re arresting us instead.”

MIT homepage on laptop.
MIT homepage on a laptop. Credit: Shutterstock/chrisdorney

Similarly to other universities following suit after Columbia’s demonstrations, many students have been arrested. Students such as Austin Cole, mentioned in Wbur’s article, insist that “all these things were peaceful protests.”

University of California Los Angeles

UCLA has witnessed mass protests on its campus concerning Israel’s occupation. Following recent events of police force and student arrests, more than 600 faculty are calling for the resignation of Chancellor Gene Block.

There was a standoff between the students in UCLA’s camp and the police. As protesters chanted police were coming in. Barricades were made by protesters, some out of wooden pallets and homemade sheilds. However, the police continued to drive into the encampment.

@clara_harter

UCLA Update 10pm: Police and protesters in stand off, UCLA declares unlawful assembly #fyp #ucla #palestine #protest #news #breakingnews #journalism

♬ Killing In the Name – Rage Against The Machine

The New York Times had live coverage of the scene taking place. It was noted that police officers were uprooting tents, tossing aside Palestinian flags, and firing devices at demonstrators. While most collegiate protests have been seeing remarkable amounts of police presence, UCLA seemed to be one of the more dangerous collisions between protestors and officers.

International campuses

2024.03.09 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Pro-Palestinian protests.
2024.03.09 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Pro-Palestinian protests. Credit: Shutterstock/stu.dio

This increase in activism is not seen solely in the U.S. Plenty of colleges around the world are joining in on this fight, whether in support or against the Free Palestine movement.

The University of Amsterdam is one example of the many. Students again took to the streets chanting in favor of the well-being of Palestinian civilians and a ceasefire in Gaza. They were met with police force and it is unclear if and how many people were injured.

Roughly 30 miles from the university, similar protests took place at Utrecht University, according to MSN. These student protests have been gaining momentum all across Europe, but also all across the world. There are protests in Japan and many more countries taking place and gaining traction.

@nsk9949

Pro-Palestine protesters hold a sit-in in front of Google offices in #Tokyo to protest against the tech giant’s “Nimbus Project”, which is a $1.2bn contract to provide cloud services for the Israeli military and government. #Tokyoto #palestinewillbefree🇵🇸❤️🤲 #gazastrip🇵🇸 #japantiktok #Tokyo #Tokyo #fypシ゚viral #Tokyoto #fy #fypages #fy #japani #palestineفلسطين #freefreepalestine🇵🇸🇵🇸✊🏿✊🏿

♬ original sound – 🇵🇸FREE PALESTINE🇵🇸

History of college protests

Coverage of these college protests has increased in recent months; however, protests have always been a part of college culture throughout history.

It is easier to remember the more modern examples of college protests. That being the Black Lives Matter movement, advocates for stricter gun laws, work condition strikes, and collective lawsuits against universities during the COVID pandemic. But these are not novelty experiences. These are a proven method of activism that started decades ago.

It is ironic that Columbia University is yet again on the front lines of the fight because it was at this university that the 1968 protests against the Vietnam War took place.

@msnbc

In an archival clip from 1968, a #ColumbiaUniversity student protesting the Vietnam War tells NBC News why she doesn’t think the university will change. #politicaltiktok #politicstiktok #politics #newstiktok #news #protests

♬ original sound – MSNBC

Frank Guridy teaches a class about the 1968 protests in one of the halls that were occupied by the students, Fayweather Hall. Guridy spoke with NPR stating “As in 1968, the Columbia students of 2024 are absolutely galvanized by what’s transpiring in Gaza, in the Middle East.” He goes on to explain the resemblance of the protest, with students in 2024 taking direct inspiration from their alumni.

Politics in education has been a constant battle in the U.S. Critical race theory has been up for debate on a congressional level for years now with the public divided on its appropriateness for the classroom. However, politics are integral to education. U.S. history, world history, and even state history are taught in classrooms all over the country. So it is inevitable that at a collegiate level students would want to partake in such history themselves.

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Written By

Hello all! I am a writer from Baltimore, Maryland currently pursuing an English degree at Ohio University. I write in a variety of mediums including poetry, shorts, novels, articles, and screenplays.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Lana

    May 13, 2024 at 4:23 pm

    Very well written and informative!

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