At least 250 students staged a walkout and 10-hour sit-in at the Mayer Campus Center in support of Palestine on Thursday. The protest was organized by the newly formed Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.
“Hundreds of students walked out of their classes, many skipped their classes, their clubs [and] their obligations for the whole day to show Tufts that they stand against the ongoing genocide in Palestine and to demand that Tufts divest from Israeli apartheid,” a representative for Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine said. “It shows that there are more and more students joining the cause, we have momentum and we aren’t going to slow down anytime soon.”
The protest began at 2 p.m. when students rallied at the Campus Center’s lower patio, chanting “Free free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” After a collection of student speeches, protesters marched around Professors Row before entering the building.
“[The Campus Center] is a central hub for student life,” another representative for SJP said. “Since one of our goals was to specifically address the student body, we chose that space.”
During the sit-in, students filled the main level lobby, The Sink café and both stairwells, leaving pathways for movement throughout the building. Organizers said the protesters stayed from 2 p.m. until midnight, when the building closed, maintaining a crowd throughout the 10 hours.
“The university was monitoring the situation throughout to make sure that any exigent violations were addressed immediately,” Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, wrote in an email to the Daily. “Student life, senior staff, and campus security were on premises at all times.”
One student who attended the sit-in said they found out about the protest through social media.
“I was there for eight or nine hours,” the student protester, who asked to remain anonymous for their personal safety, told the Daily. “I didn’t plan to stay for very long, but I think that the way that it was organized, listening to the reasons why the people were gathered today … made me feel like I [wanted] to stay longer.”
The protest was the largest pro-Palestine demonstration since Oct. 25, when students rallied outside the Olin Center for Language and Cultural Studies before marching to the lobby of Ballou Hall, where they staged a sit-in.
“As more people are waking up to the reality of this moment, we have strength in numbers,” the first SJP representative said. “That’s why we are calling on students to keep showing up, because we keep each other safe.”
New pro-Palestine student coalition formed
The protest was coordinated by the newly founded Coalition for Palestinian Liberation, comprised of 11 student organizations: Alternative Jews at Tufts, African Student Organization, Eritrean and Ethiopian Student Association, Indigenous Student Organization at Tufts, Muslim Student Association, Pan-Afrikan Alliance, Tufts Revolutionary Marxist Students, South Asian Political Action Community, Students for Justice in Palestine, Tufts Asian Student Coalition and Tufts Labor Coalition.
“The walkout and sit-in [were] a very powerful demonstration of student solidarity and heart,” a representative for RMS said. “It was important for us to be there … to display our solidarity with the Palestinian people, but also to display our commitment to the coalition’s demands.”
Those four demands are an “immediate ceasefire and end [to] the siege on Gaza … that Tufts disclose its investments and divest from Israeli apartheid, that President Kumar condemn the genocide in Palestine … [and] that Tufts end all sponsored trips to occupied Palestine,” according to the representative for RMS.
In emails to the Daily, other organizations explained how their missions align with the coalition.
A representative for TASC wrote that “Asian American is a political identity rooted in anti-imperial and anti-colonial movements,” while a representative for SAPAC wrote that “South Asians have a responsibility to stand in solidarity for Palestinian liberation.”
“The fight for Palestinian liberation is the fight for worker liberation,” a representative from TLC wrote. “Those who support imperialism attempt to divide people struggling for freedom, but we will not be divided.”
Friends of Israel claims protest violated university policy
The day of the sit-in, Tufts Friends of Israel posted a statement to Instagram condemning the demonstration, claiming that protesters “violated numerous university policies.” Asked to specify which policies were violated, a representative of FOI referred to the “blocking of entrances and exits.”
“We have videos of our members trying to get into the building, and they weren’t allowed,” the representative said. “They were trying to record and trying to see what was happening.”
A video provided to the Daily by FOI appears to show a protest marshal holding a keffiyeh across one of the building’s entryways, blocking the entrant’s camera.
The second representative for SJP denied the claim that protesters broke university policy. “We at all times kept the walkways clear. There were no fire hazards [and] students could pass through if they wished,” the representative said.
The representative explained that the keffiyeh was used as a safety precaution to combat the threat of doxxing. In recent weeks, students who have spoken out against Israel have had their personal information posted online; recently, members of Harvard student organizations who signed an anti-Israel letter had their names and faces displayed on a billboard truck driven around their campus.
“We have marshals … who are trained to deescalate conflict that may arise between protesters and would-be doxxers or would-be counterprotesters,” the representative said. “If somebody’s trying to film us without our consent, marshals will approach them and ask them to stop. If they continue, marshals will block the recording device with their bodies or with the keffiyeh, and they’ll do so without touching them or using any type of physical force.”
Alongside claiming that demonstrators broke school policy, the representative from FOI said that protesters “crossed the line” with the language they used, referencing chants of “intifada revolution.”
“When I hear, ‘Free Palestine from the river to the sea’ and when I see posters that say ‘glory to our martyrs,’ it’s hard not to feel intimidated, to feel outright disrespected and to feel that there’s some sort of hatred being lobbied at my perspective, at a pro-Israel, Jewish perspective,” the FOI representative said.
Collins wrote that the university “received several complaints from students of instances of blocking, disruption or physical contact.”
“The university will be reviewing the incident and there will be disciplinary action for anyone who is identified as having violated university policies,” Collins wrote.