Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Students for A Free Palestine Hold Demonstrations During Board of Trustees Visit to Campus

Abe Frato
Students participated in a walkout Friday when the Board of Trustees visited campus.

Last Friday at noon, a large number of students participated in a walkout to draw attention to the treatment of civilians in Gaza and call for divestment from companies that support the Israeli war effort. Later that evening, students held a vigil in front of the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater where they read poetry, articles, and speeches related to the cause of Palestinian liberation. 

These protests occurred on the International Day of Action called by the Palestinian Youth Movement. They also took place during the Board of Trustees visit to campus for a meeting. Students for a Free Palestine Co-Chair and College second-year Juwayria Zahurullah said that the organization had planned to have demonstrations for both events and they happened to coincide. She also said all of the demonstrations were planned with the goal of visibility to members of the Board of Trustees. 

“I don’t think we expected the Board of Trustees to respond,” second-year College student Maya Miller said. “But I do think that it’s important ­— they are a body of people with a lot of power over this institution, and they have an obligation to act according to what community sentiment expresses.”

During the walkout, students gathered in front of the Cox Administration Building, marched across Tappan Square, and then made a loop around The Hotel at Oberlin before stopping in front. Zahurullah said that the path was chosen to be visible to administrators in Cox and Board of Trustees members meeting in the Hotel. 

SFP members had previously met with Board of Trustees Chair Chris Canavan, Investment Committee Chair Sean Gavin, and Vice President and General Counsel & Secretary Matt Lahey last Wednesday, March 6, to discuss SFP drafting a proposal for divestment. Organizers told those attending the walkout that the conversations had been productive.

For this day of action, SFP also erected an art installation on the corner of Main Street and College Street across the street from the Hotel. The art installation, which was on display for all of Friday, featured shoes and a tent to represent the Palestinian lives lost during the conflict and the conditions under which many displaced Palestinians currently live. Zahurullah said that the materials have been donated to Jewish Voices for Palestine Cleveland for a separate installation.

The vigil was located in front of the Irene and Wurtzel Theater, where a dinner was being held for the Board of Trustees and the Parent Council. 

SFP member and College fourth-year Jonas Nelson said that a purpose of the protests was to show solidarity among the student body regarding support for an end to the war in Gaza and Oberlin’s divestment from the Israeli military.

“In conversations with admin, they’ve communicated this idea to us that this is a very divisive topic on campus and that there are a lot of differing opinions, and we wanted to demonstrate that we see the student body as more or less unified behind an issue,” Nelson said. “So that was also the thought behind physical demonstration visibility.”

Zahurullah said that SFP’s main goals are campaigning for divestment, spreading awareness of the issue in the student body, and fundraising to support those stuck in Gaza.

“Oberlin prides itself on being such a liberal and forward-thinking institution, and many of their investments probably don’t reflect that,” Zahurullah said.

To demonstrate support for divestment, SFP also released a referendum on whether Oberlin should divest from Israel. Nelson said that the referendum received over 1,000 votes in the first 12 hours. 

“The point of [the referendum] … was to put an actual number on it when we’re discussing things with the admin, being able to actually show that at this point around half of the campus has voted yes on it, like around 1,500,” Nelson said. “They can say that it’s void or that it doesn’t fully count because it’s released by us, but it’s hard to ignore that much of your campus voting on something when you’re just saying that it’s not really relevant.’

SFP has also been engaged in multiple meetings with administration members. According to Zahurullah, their first meeting was Nov. 10, when SFP leaders met with President Carmen Twillie Ambar and Vice President and Dean of Student Karen Goff. Zahurullah said that during the meeting, SFP presented two demands to the administration: that the College acknowledge the conflict in Gaza using the word genocide, and that the College divest from Israel. So far the College has followed through on neither of these demands. 

In the past month, SFP has additionally held fundraisers to raise money for an Oberlin student whose family was stuck in Gaza. According to Zahurullah, the GoFundMe had been open since January. SFP also organized a bake sale fundraiser that raised around $2,000. However, the money started pouring in when double-degree fifth-year Indigo Stephens decided to go on a hunger strike until the goal was reached.

“I was simply afraid that the GoFundMe would not be filled in time before this family possibly got hurt,” Stephens said. “I decided to do a hunger strike to put some fire under the Oberlin community to say, ‘Hey, it’s time for us to stand up for this person and make sure they’re okay.’ I can’t imagine trying to do my homework and then make sure my family can stay in communication and make sure they have internet and see if they’re okay.”

Looking forward, Zahurullah said that SFP is planning to put more energy into education and outreach in the student body.

“A lot of people do stand behind the cause, but not necessarily in detail,” Zahurullah said. “So kind of giving detail to all the different aspects of which the issue of Palestine overlaps, like people that are environmentally conscious, people that care about women’s rights, LGBTQ rights — how it all ties into that.”

Students for a Free Palestine planned an art installation, walkout, and vigil to call for divestment from Israel and show support for civilians in Gaza. (Abe Frato)
An art installation was on display in Tappan Square Friday to draw attention to Gaza. (Abe Frato)

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