The Effects of Fear and Hatred on Peaceful Student Protests

Peace Advocate May 2024

Photo: Rowan Sporte Ehn, MAPA, April 30; Truck driving near Harvard Sq. appears to compare pro-Palestinian protesters to Nazis/fascists.

by Rowan Sporte Ehn and Grace Sanford

Student Encampments calling for a free and liberated Palestine across the nation are treading carefully with the press as they, firstly, want to keep the focus on the Palestinian people and, secondly, are wary of how the publicity would affect them. Protestors are not only fearful of being labeled as “terrorists” or antisemitic, but are nervous for their personal well-being and the threat of suspension, detainment, or other punishments taken against them by their universities. Protestors should not feel threatened when what they are fighting for is peace and an end to indiscriminate killings – however, this is the world that we live in. With this in mind, student organizers may feel they are walking a fine line between shedding light on the ongoing genocide in Palestine, demanding their own universities end their complicity, and ensuring their own safety. 


Keeping the Focus on the Liberation of Palestinians

On keeping the focus on the liberation of the Palestinian people, a Barnard student arrested at one of the first Columbia encampment raids stated “‘We’re not protesting so that people look at our encampment. We’re protesting so that people look at the genocide’” (Washington Post), highlighting that the point of these encampments is to urge campuses to divest from war-profiteering companies and to call for a ceasefire. When asked questions by the press, protesters will direct press to their Instagram pages which have their demands listed plain and simple. This way, the encampments are focused directly towards the universities and the genocide. This utilization of social media shows a turn from traditional means of how information is given to the press. Rather than releasing what would be considered a “normal” press statement, each encampment has an Instagram page dedicated to their demands and plans. This unconventional method can be beneficial because it lays out the unified demands of the students and helps to protect individuals’ identities.


Students’ Safety Violated

Another main reason for keeping press at an arm’s-length from the encampments is for the safety of the students. In this aspect, fear tactics have thus been used in an attempt to keep students from protesting and using their voice. Students have many anxieties about getting doxxed, harassed, threatened, or about having future possibilities stripped from them. A member of the student government at the Harvard Law School noted after the doxxing attacks, which took place at Harvard in early April, that students were “‘feeling not safe to speak out, not safe to voice their opinions’” (The Harvard Crimson). The photo above shows a truck that drove through Harvard Square displaying images that appear to be comparing the student protesters with fascists, such as Nazis, and KKK members. Equating peaceful protest against genocide with Nazism and white supremacy is absurd, as is having a digital billboard truck harrass them in real life. On top of this, persistent counter-protesters have harassed protesters in the peaceful encampments, occasionally throwing more than just threats and insults. Over several hours, counter-protesters at the UCLA encampment “hurled objects, including wood and a metal barrier, at the camp and those inside”; pro-Palestinan protesters protected themselves on the inside with pepper spray as counter-protesters also made efforts to infiltrate the encampment (LA Times). It should also be noted that the attack continued for three hours, “until dozens of officers from the California Highway Patrol, LAPD and other agencies arrived and restored order” (LA Times). Several colleges throughout the US have taken away or threatened to strip students of school-related opportunities such as, in the case of Northeastern University, being on E-Board of a club, co-op/internship privileges, and even graduation for seniors. 


Standing Strong for Peace

Despite constant and consistent threats, students are continuing to protest and create a united campaign across the U.S., demanding an end to the genocide in Gaza and an end to their universities’ ties with Israeli institutions and war profiteers. Student organizers are illustrating how they are the leaders of tomorrow, by not only using unconventional ways of interacting with the press, but continuing to put their bodies and futures on the line for peace and the people of Gaza. 

Rowan Sporte Ehn is a MAPA intern on co-op from Northeastern University. They are a member of the “Twin Threats”/CANDU and Gaza campaigns as well as the Racial Justice and Public Engagement & Movement Building Working Groups. Grace Sanford is a MAPA intern on co-op from Northeastern University. She is a member of the “Twin Threats”/CANDU and Gaza campaigns.