2024International News

OPINION: College Campuses Protest War in Gaza

Alaa’a Ashkar

Staff Writer

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The recent explosion of protests at Columbia University kickstarted a new wave of similar protests at other Ivy League and prestigious universities around the country. At first, viral images of Columbia University students’ 1968 protests against the Vietnam War were compared to the protests now known as encampments. It was a creative tactic, carefully studied by the students in order to draw more attention to the dire situation in Gaza, says The Associated Press. Themes expressed by students about Israel’s genocidal actions, humanitarian crisis, and apartheid system were brought to the forefront once more. The encampment was a huge success, drawing smear campaigns in the media and heavy university crackdowns. Videos, photos, and testimonies of students’ First Amendment violations were shocking to watch on social media. Violations such as expelling and suspending students, calling the riot police, bringing in police and security to beat and arrest students and professors, removing tents, refusing to provide meals and water, and more.


This brutal crackdown raises the question: have things actually changed


The answer is, unsurprisingly, no. 


In 1968, Columbia students protested the construction of a segregated gym and the university’s association to a U.S. government research group involved in Vietnam.

The way they were treated then is eerily similar to how pro-Palestine protesters are treated now. Back then, the students were not treated with sympathy for their cause, reports The Washington Post. Now, the students are smeared as “violent, pro-Hamas, and antisemitic” protestors. Some are even calling for the National Guard to be deployed. We should not forget that not only is this a clear violation of the First Amendment, but is a repeat of history. In 1970, Kent State University called on the Ohio National Guard to quell anti-war protests, resulting in four students killed and nine injured. The ongoing police brutality on campuses displays how academic institutions and politicians have not learned anything and remain unapologetic from previous actions. It also demonstrates that when expressing a political opinion that goes against America’s status quo, it is silenced. Voicing politically unconventional ideas results in devastating social consequences, which are bleeding into the academic realm.

The claims of the First Amendment freedom of speech being held dear are no longer taken seriously. Things have not changed. Stifling dissent towards crimes against humanity has not worked, culminating in more persistent university protests. Witnessing Palestinians from Gaza respond with gratitude via social media towards the student protestors gives more motivation toward divestment demands.

Additionally, the negative portrayal of pro-Palestine protesters and the universities’ responses has made it clear. It is a campaign engineered to demonize the breaking point of students who were tired of seeing Israeli bombs flattening Gaza, tired of Gazans resorting to animal feed for food, tired of dead bodies pulled out of the rubble, tired of parents wailing for their children, tired of decimated hospitals, tired of hearing entire families wiped out, tired of hearing about journalists and doctors kidnapped and disappeared for days, and tired of the never-ending death toll.


They are tired, just like the rest of the world has been


The atmosphere at these encampment protests at these universities is passionate yet hostile. It is urgent now more than ever to show our support for these students. It can be as small as sharing an Instagram story, a TikTok, or reposting on X, formerly known as Twitter. It can be as small as discussing the situation with family and friends. It can be as big as showing up in front of such universities to show support. It can be as big as recording what is happening or buying food and distributing it to the students. It can be as big as calling state representatives, demanding the rights of the students to be protected, regardless of their political views. 

The university protesters have carried on the legacy Gazans are leaving right now: documenting digital footprints about their impending doom. The students are not crazy antisemites. They are frustrated human beings and are not alone. These protests are not isolated events. They are a culmination of months-long university protests and other protests from across the world. 

We have to voice our support and stand in solidarity with these students at such a crucial, historical moment in history.  

It is truly an honor to see these students protesting. They cannot stop. They should not stop. The encampments must go on until the divestment demands are met, much to the dismay of university administrations. We have to be there every step of the way for these students in whatever way possible.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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