Students Need Support, Not Punishment


Ceasefire Now march Nov. 12 protested MIT's penalties against student protesters. Photo: Catherine Hoffman
Ceasefire Now march Nov. 12 protested MIT's penalties against student protesters. Photo: Catherine Hoffman

By Grace Sanford

Colleges and universities have been melting pots for youth activism since the 1960’s with the outburst of protests against the Vietnam War. This trend has continued with the October 7th attacks in Israel, escalating tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters on college campuses. However university administrators are dropping the ball when handling these student demonstrations and discussions on campus. 

Campus tensions have risen to the point where students on both sides fear for their safety when speaking out on this issue. Students who attended a pro-Palestine rally on Columbia University’s campus were sprayed with a substance called “skunk”–reportedly a chemical weapon the Israeli military uses against Palestinians–that resulted in multiple students needing to be treated in nearby hospitals. 

This issue hits close to home. Colleges in Massachusetts have been at the forefront of this problem since October, most notably Northeastern University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Northeastern University has taken disciplinary action against students who participated in a pro-Palestine sit-in on December 1st, sparking subsequent outrage from Northeastern alumni, students, and faculty. The Huntington News, an independent on-campus newspaper, reported, “Northeastern stated the sit-in was ‘unauthorized’ and the student leaders involved failed to comply with clear direction from Northeastern University Police Officers and Student Affairs staff”. However, we do not know the specifics of the directions given by police nor how students failed to comply with them. 

Harvard University has also resorted to taking disciplinary action against four undergraduate students who participated in pro-Palestine actions. The University reported that “Actions that hinder the ‘ability of members of the university to perform their normal activities constitutes unacceptable conduct and is subject to appropriate discipline.’”

MIT continued this trend when, in November, they suspended students who participated in a “die-in” on campus. MIT’s president, Sally Kornbluth, defended her actions saying, “‘Today’s protest – which became disruptive, loud and sustained through the morning hours – was organized and conducted in defiance of guidelines the university had issued to the students ahead of time.” 

Universities need to set a new precedent going forward: stop persecuting their students and offer resounding support for all. The war in Gaza is a contentious issue that has reverberated back to the United States, flaring up strong feelings of grief and anger. Punishing students on vague grounds does not resolve anything. It does not make students feel heard nor supported. 

University administrators need to be the leaders, creating a sense of safety and community on campuses to bring people together instead of adding more fuel to the fire. We need to hold university administrators accountable until they start acting as a resource to help students, not as an enemy of free speech.

Grace Sanford is a student at Northeastern University and a current Coop Student at Massachusetts Peace Action