Participants at the protest ranged from all walks of life | Danna Miramontes | The Poly Post

CPP students join Pro-Palestinian protests across the nation

By Danna Miramontes, May 7, 2024

Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a protest on campus April 29 where they marched from the University Quad to the Students Services Building, eventually walking inside with signs and flags, calling on Cal Poly Pomona to enact a systemwide California Public Employees’ Retirement System divestment.

Other demands include disclosing all financial investments and partnerships and ending their silence on the Palestinian genocide. All of their demands have been shared on the Instagram account, @sjpcpp, as well as footage of the protest that occurred on campus.

One of the student organizers, a CPP business administration student, explains that as students at the university, they want to make sure that they are playing an active role in the community. And states that it is the administration’s job to listen to the students.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis, right; it’s a genocide happening,” said the student organizer. “So we want to do our part and our part through our community which is the university. And so we want to make sure that our university is acting in justice and fairness and not being complicit in the genocide and is protecting the students.”

CPP students are not the first university students to have participated in protests against their respective universities. There has been an ongoing movement of students protesting in support of Palestine and against their university’s financial ties to certain companies, prompting a response from not only their universities but local police forces and counter-protesters.

For example, University of California, Los Angeles students who set up an encampment April 30 were met with counter-protestors who, according to AP news, threw traffic cones and chairs, tore down the barriers set around the encampment and pepper-sprayed students. AP news reports that no arrests have been made.

Footage of the incident was shared across social media platforms.

Universities like Columbia have also called on its students to disperse their encampments or face possible expulsion, as they handed out notices to students in the encampments. In these notices, New York Times published a copy of them, University of Columbia has stated that these encampments are violating multiple university policies, such as “disruptive behavior” and “failure to comply.” In response, students posted images of these waivers with handwritten messages on top such as, “I ain’t reading all that. Free Palestine.”

In an email sent systemwide by the Office of the President, CPP President Soraya M. Coley May 2 it stated all manners of expressive activities “should not disrupt teaching, learning and critical university services.” Moreover, Coley cited CPP’s “Use of University Buildings, Facilities, and Grounds” webpage, which lists the regulations placed on free speech and expressive activities.

The email further stated these regulations are as such to prevent “disruptions to educational activities” and property damage, to protect “lawful access to university resources” and to ensure “safety for all.”

The email makes a general statement about the situation, as it acknowledges “the violence and loss of life across the Middle East” and the devasting impact it has on certain members of the community. There was an added note of what is occurring in different universities, as stated, “The clashes that we are witnessing at universities across the nation have brought further visibility to the human suffering of war and contributed to rising hostility on many campuses.”

The student organizer shares frustrations following the University’s previous responses.

“I do recognize the statements that were put out throughout the course of the year, but they were not addressing the point and not addressing the students demands,” said the student organizer. “They weren’t addressing the genocide; didn’t even mention the genocide.”

Mario Guerrero, chair and professor of political science, believes universities start at a place where they earnestly want to protect freedom of speech, but their intentions start to skew when students are punished for participating in protests.

“There’s an obligation from the university to protect students even while they’re protesting, so you do see push back when there are questions of like safety involved,” Guerrero said. “But everyone should be looking at campus administration critically across the country because when they kind of cross this line and decide to disband the protests or even start arresting students, that really brings up questions of whether or not those students were granted their right to free speech.”

These recent protests have sparked conversations about student’s right to free speech on campus, as students share images and videos of protests to their feeds.

Raneen Vace, a political science student, has been actively following these social media posts and participated in similar protests months before these recent events.

“I’ve helped with the November DC protest,” Vace said. “I was given a megaphone and a platform for me to be able to chant and speak and unify individuals. But I work currently for a nonprofit that is called the Arab American Civic Council. I’m a fellow there, and we’ve helped advocate for ceasefires in cities.”

To conduct on-campus protests, Vace shared there is an approval process. The approval process is done through the Student Engagement, Leadership and Success office who, as stated in their webpage, “assist clubs and organizations with indoor spaces, as well as serve the campus for outdoor scheduling.” These on-campus protests must also follow the time, place and manner regulations set by the University and is listed on the CPP website.

Regardless of these regulations, Vace feels these protests provide a sense of unity among students. And Vace, despite understanding the frustrations of the universities, believes it is minor considering the genocide that is occurring.

“If we don’t use our voices, who will,” Vace said. “And as far as I know, it’s mostly been the youth, as in young adults and high schoolers and, you know, college students. It’s always been students that have been leading the way for social justice movements and for peace and prosperity with any issue that’s happening in the world.”

Student protests have historically been a mark of change. During the civil rights movement, scores of Black student activists hosted sit-ins in areas that were declared “whites only.” These demonstrations held on for months. According to an article in The Atlantic, one of the largest civil rights actions of the 1960s was when 250,000 students staged a walkout in October 1963. About 20,000 of those students marched straight to the Chicago Board of Education demanding “equitable resources for black children.”

“People in general, like young people, don’t see the government acting on the conflict in the way they think is appropriate,” Guerreo said. “But it’s also about general frustrations of how young people don’t feel well represented. In some ways, especially since COVID, things are hopeless, things are stacked against young people. I think it’s sort of like this perfect storm that occurs, and you don’t see it happen very often, but when it does happen, I think it does lead to change.”

Regarding any future possibilities of encampments, Vace states organizers from SJP will focus on leading actions and demonstrations instead of encampments.

“We, as SJP, will not be leading any sort of encampment and we don’t believe it’s the most tactical or impactful,” said Vace. “However, we will still be leading actions and demonstrations. If any sort of encampment happens, it is not under SJP.”

Feature image courtesy of Danna Miramontes

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