An open Tufts Community Union meeting with University President Sunil Kumar was quickly cut short on Sunday by student protesters calling for the university to divest from Israeli companies.
Immediately after Kumar delivered opening remarks at the 8 p.m. meeting, protesters began chanting and posted signs with an image of Kumar underneath the words “genocide enabler.” Video obtained by the Daily showed protesters engaged in a die-in, lying on the ground around Kumar and obstructing his ability to leave the room.
Kumar was later able to exit the room with assistance from TUPD officers and was escorted out of the building as protesters followed, according to Sophie Rice, a TCU senator who was present at the meeting.
Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, told the Daily in an email that the university would review the incident for any violations of university policies.
“We expect students to want to be heard on important issues of the day,” he wrote. “But disrupting a student-led event and making it impossible for fellow students to engage in dialogue with the president, confronting people physically, blocking exits, and engaging in other similarly obstructive behavior is absolutely unacceptable.”
Stewart, a student who withheld his last name, told the Daily he attended the protest after hearing about it from a friend. He said it was not the protesters’ intention to block Kumar from leaving the room.
“There were a lot of people in the area where [Kumar] was specifically trying to leave. … A lot of people were in that area when the die-in started,” he said. “I don’t believe it was the plan to block him from leaving.”
Rice said she was physically pushed by protesters during the event as they attempted to reach the center of the room.
“They pushed my table forward into the center of the square of tables,” she said. “About the same time that they did that, one of them pushes me [to the side]. … It was more than just an accidental bump; it was clearly pushing me out of their path.”
Rice did not believe the protesters intended any harm, but described the moment as the “least safe [she had] ever felt on Tufts campus,” noting her background as a Jewish student.
Stewart acknowledged that the scene could have appeared chaotic to an unprepared observer.
“I did see tables [being] pushed in from both sides,” he said. “That was how people got into the middle of the senate meeting. … I did see that there was a little bit of a tussle between some protesters trying to enter the middle of the [room] and someone who was trying to hold the table back so that they couldn’t enter.”
In a statement to the Daily, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine wrote that the group was not involved in the planning of the protest and that “the default to associate all pro-Palestinian activism on this campus with SJP” demonstrates a “refusal to acknowledge that a great number of students and the global majority are showing solidarity with Palestine.”
“Members of the club may have been in attendance as individuals, but we understand this action to have been a result of grassroots word of mouth organizing,” the group wrote. “We are proud to see so many students … taking action and showing solidarity with one another on their own accord in recent weeks despite blatant intimidation tactics on the part of the university.”
The TCU Senate intended to hold an hour-long conversation with Kumar at the Joyce Cummings Center, which would have included a 30-minute question and answer session.
Stewart responded to criticism that the protest disrupted a potential dialogue with Kumar on Israel and Gaza. He expressed doubt that the meeting would have ever engaged with the topic had it been allowed to continue.
“The point of the protest is to start a conversation,” Stewart said. “I’m sure that questions were screened beforehand and Kumar had prepared his remarks already. … I think the point of the [protest] was to demonstrate how seriously people take [the] cause and how they feel Kumar’s remarks … [have] not taken on the issue and the concerns of students regarding Tufts’ investments in institutions affiliated with Israel and affiliated with IDF activities.”