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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Universities are violently repressing free speech—what’s new?

Students gather at Emerson College’s encampment for Palestine on Thursday, Photo submitted by Elijah Horwath / Mass Media Staff.
Students gather at Emerson College’s encampment for Palestine on Thursday, Photo submitted by Elijah Horwath / Mass Media Staff.

Across the country, college students have come together to form encampments on their campuses, in solidarity not only with the over 100 protestors arrested at a peaceful pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia University, but also with the thousands upon thousands of Palestinians in Gaza who have had their educations stripped from them by Israel.  

The United Nations has described the seemingly-purposeful and ongoing destruction of Palestinian schools and universities as a “scholasticide.” Over 14,000 students and teachers have been killed since Oct. 7, 2023 and more than 80 percent of schools in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed—including some sheltering civilians in designated safe-zones—leaving over 625,000 students unable to continue their education. 

The violent crackdown of student protests in the past few weeks has demonstrated a callous disregard on the part of each universities’ administration, reflecting the same disregard the world places on Palestinians’ education. Across the country, the police have been violently weaponized against students in a flagrant rejection of students’ right to free speech—just as the military and the Israel Defense Forces have massacred thousands of Palestinian students.  

The comparison isn’t perfect—American students are being brutalized, but not to the same extent as those in Gaza—but still shows how pivotal a role U.S. institutions play in the preservation of Israel. These universities fund Israel, its bombs, its propaganda and its genocide. The students who have formed these encampments are not aimlessly causing trouble just to cause trouble—they are principled organizers of direct action. 

Every encampment that has been constructed across the country is a beautiful display of community, solidarity and mutual support. The Emerson University encampment was one of the most awe-inspiring and courageous acts of protest that I’ve seen. There was a sense of joy and camaraderie; every student there supported one another and protected one another, and every student was fighting for a common cause. 

After the police finished tearing the camp apart and arresting all its members, they had to power wash the blood off the concrete.  

A protest breaking a city ordinance or university code of conduct does not warrant calling the riot police. These students were unarmed, and the only crime they committed was blocking the road with their tents.

Nearly every campus in Boston—UMass Boston included—has a rich history of student activism, protest, and yes, civil disobedience. And at every turn, universities have called on police and employed brutal tactics to enforce arbitrary city ordinances aimed at making the lives of homeless people and other disadvantaged groups as difficult as possible.  

In 30 or 40 years, these universities will celebrate the grit and determination of these brave student activists, just as they did with the crackdowns of anti-war protests in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s… sound familiar? And of course, it’ll be used as a marketing ploy to draw young, bright-eyed prospective students to their seemingly liberal campuses.  

This time, we must break the cycle and establish that these universities are for students, not administrators. It’s not enough for every protestor to be released and every encampment to be left untouched; it’s time for these schools to commit fully to students around the world and stop funding the scholasticide of Palestinian students. Over the past weeks, these encampments—these powerful displays of hope and community—have shown that a different, kinder, more equitable world is truly possible.  

About the Contributor
Elijah Horwath, Opinions Editor