The Students Will Not Be Silenced


Photo: Rowan Sporte Ehn, MAPA

by Rowan Sporte Ehn

The first encounter I had with the student encampments was not actually in-person. I had been scrolling through TikTok when a live stream of the Columbia University encampment appeared on my feed. I stayed and watched for a while as the encampment was surrounded by police in riot gear. I remember thinking about how angry I was and how scared I was for those students. Soon enough, more encampments started popping up in many college campuses, especially here in Massachusetts. With some of my other MAPA colleagues, we went to the MIT encampment and had a chance to speak to the organizers there. The encampment had a wonderful environment with food, friends, and laughter. Everyone we spoke to was kind and welcoming to us, even allowing us to film them talking about the importance of why they are there. 

I waited patiently, knowing soon my own campus would follow suit. On Thursday, April 25th around 7:30 AM, Northeastern University students set up an encampment of their own on Centennial Commons. Around 2 PM that day, police showed up in riot gear to surround the encampment and attempt to shut it down. However, dozens–perhaps upwards of a couple hundred–of students came to shield and protect the encampment so that the police couldn’t take it down. By mid to late afternoon, the police presence had thinned significantly, which allowed us and others to get supplies (including coolers, food, water, ice, and portable chargers) to those inside. In the early evening, we were even joined by students from Berkeley who wanted to support our cause. I stayed at the encampment as long as I could on Thursday, which ended up being until around 8 PM whereupon the sun set and I didn’t have the proper equipment to stay longer with the cold weather. 

The next day I got up at 3 AM to be ready for a 4 AM police watch shift. The bitter cold still got to me despite my several layers of jackets, though I ignored it as much as possible to stay vigilant for those sleeping. As my shift was ending, another student was hosting a sunrise yoga class that I decided to partake in; it was a very relaxing experience that allowed me to get closer to the people there and make some new friends. This was one of many peaceful experiences put on at the encampment, the others including art classes and poetry readings. 

Throughout the day, I had waves of anxiety that would come and go based on what was surrounding us. In the early morning, shortly after sunrise several students had to leave to go take finals or deal with other personal matters, leaving the encampment slightly more bare than before. This, paired with the mass amount of police officers that arrived around the same time, gave me my first wave of fear that they would do something while we were unprepared. However, more students rejoined our group to increase our numbers as the day went on which helped to ease my stress. An increase of students, though, led to even more of an increase in police officers. Eventually, we had a trifecta of police forces as NUPD, BPD, and state troopers all came to the commons. In the afternoon, the police closed down the surrounding buildings and had everyone leave while seniors were giving capstone presentations–which is objectively more disruptive of student learning than art or poetry readings on the quad. The evacuations from the buildings were the first indications that the school was planning something. There was a tweet that emerged that afternoon from a New York Times reporter who had heard that the administration “had a plan of action” for the encampment. This was another indication that the school and police forces would be moving in on us soon. 

I had further anxiety throughout the day as counter-protesters inched closer to yell at us or try to provoke violence. None in the encampment fell for their attempts to incite us. These acts of provocation only continued into the evening such as when we practiced linking together in arms and the counter-protesters waved Israeli flags and screamed at our faces in vain to get a reaction. This subsided until later that night when they infiltrated our camp and, while holding the Israeli flag, shouted the phrase “Kill all Jews” and proceeded to say “Anyone on board?” while laughing. People in the encampment immediately made a path for them to leave peacefully and refused to interact with their hate speech. However, the school administration used this anti-semitic speech as a justification for raiding the encampment. Early Saturday morning the police set up the barricades around the quad and pushed out anyone who wasn’t directly in the encampment. 

The police forces then moved forward with their plan by detaining/arresting over 100 people and mercilessly tearing down the camp, aided by the help of Northeastern staff and movers from Olympia Moving and Storage. Later, in an Instagram story, Northeastern admin commended this brutality against the peaceful protesters by saying it was a “flawless execution” of their plan. 

While the encampment may have violated student code of conduct, there was no hate or anti-semetic speech made by the protesters. There was only ever peaceful demonstrations and speeches made by those participating. These slanderous accusations made by the school administration which were also used as the final justification for raiding the encampment are nothing more than cowardly and belligerent acts to shut down student voices. We refuse to be silenced by those who continue to actively fund–and therefore support–a genocide of peoples. Though they may try to continue to stop us, we will continue to stand up for those who are occupied and oppressed. More students are speaking up every day and the people united will not be defeated.

Rowan Sporte Ehn is a student at Northeastern University and a current Coop Student at Massachusetts Peace Action