Lora Wondolowski: Condemning the UMass response to student protests

Police arrested more than 130 people attending a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Massachusetts campus the night of May 7. The protesters set up an encampment on the South Lawn and refused to dismantle the camp and disperse.

Police arrested more than 130 people attending a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Massachusetts campus the night of May 7. The protesters set up an encampment on the South Lawn and refused to dismantle the camp and disperse. PHOTO BY LAUREN LECOURS

Published: 05-17-2024 2:11 PM

The Peace Development was founded in Amherst in 1981 by anti-war activists as a means for supporting the peace movement. As an organization rooted in support of grassroots organizing we are deeply troubled by the mass arrest of peaceful protesters at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The violent arrests using a massive police force against students peacefully protesting the ongoing genocide in Gaza is a blatant violation of their First Amendment rights and a betrayal of the university’s commitment to open discourse.

Chancellor Javier Reyes’ justification for the arrests, citing disruption of Founder’s Day festivities, is a strawman that dodges responsibility. The university should be fostering dialogue about human rights issues and ways to take responsibility for connections to the war, not silencing dissent with force. The selective enforcement of policies, as seen in the contrast between this response and that of past protests, raises serious concerns about the administration’s motivations. We urge Chancellor Reyes and the UMass administration to:

■Immediately drop all charges against the arrested protestors.

■Open a transparent dialogue with student groups about their concerns regarding the situation in Gaza.

■Re-evaluate policies surrounding peaceful protest on campus to ensure the uniform protection of free speech.

The university has a responsibility to stand with its students in their pursuit of justice and protect their safety. We ask the UMass administration to live up to its ideals and promote peace, not silence, in the face of opposition.

Lora Wondolowski, interim executive director of Peace Development Fund

Amherst

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