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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Op-ed: On protesting the crisis in the Mideast

We write in a moment of urgency for the university and the world. Since the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 that took approximately 1,200 Israeli lives, an Israeli military campaign and unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding for Palestinians in Gaza. The scope of the documented displacement, destruction, death and injury is already horrific. The death toll currently stands over 17,000 Palestinians, among them children, teachers, professors, poets and journalists. Humanitarian organizations are calling urgently for intervention to forestall the likely spread of disease, the breakdown of social order and even famine. People of conscience everywhere are moved to act with urgency for Palestinian and Israeli lives today and tomorrow.

As a result, people have mobilized around the country. A demonstration in support of Palestinian lives and rights drew tens of thousands to Washington, D.C. Activists have organized sit-ins in the rotunda of a key capitol building and at the Statue of Liberty. Closer to our academic spaces, at academic conferences, scholars have rejected the idea of business as usual and organized walkouts, as at the Middle East Studies Association and American Studies Association annual meetings, and die-ins, as at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting. Scholars have also organized teach-in series.

Here at Tufts, last week over 75 faculty and staff co-signed an open letter asserting (1) a belief that Palestinian students, faculty and staff deserve to be recognized as valuable parts of our community especially in any relevant future university communication, (2) support for space and resources to support SWANA students, (3) that there should be scholarly involvement in plans to define and combat antisemitism, anti-Muslim racism, anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Arab racism, (4) that the university must protect those targeted for their identities or their activism, and (5) that the university should redouble its commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expresison, including through student activism. You can read that full letter here.

Students at Tufts have led the way in organizing a wide variety of protests, teach-ins and other actions. It is important for Tufts to remain committed to standing for the right of students to protest on campus in long traditions of transformative student activism. We stand for the right of students to learn both inside and outside the classroom, from each other and from us, as we know that we can learn from our students as well. We believe in students’ abilities to act from their consciences. We also believe that the university has a responsibility to protect students from being targeted and threatened in ways that impact their current wellbeing and education and their future success beyond Tufts. We believe that this is a time for renewed commitment to free expression and to protect the rights to protest that allow us to speak and act with commitment to our consciences.

We urge all to consider the gravity of the moment and to recognize the sincere sense of a need to respond to the crisis in Palestine/Israel among many in our community and beyond. We recognize and celebrate the fact that different members of our community will find different ways to act, and we feel it is important to view this activism in its various forms as reflecting the best qualities of the mission of the university. In a moment when free expression is under unprecedented threat, and when universities in particular are targeted by outside forces driven by illiberal political aims, it is even more important to stand firm in protecting the right to protest and dissent.