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The University News

The Student News Site of Saint Louis University

The University News

The Student News Site of Saint Louis University

The University News

Hundreds Gather to Support Palestine and Demand University Action

Protesters call for a divestment from Boeing and support for ceasefire
(Shah Shamsipour / The University News)

Around 300 protestors gathered at the Saint Louis University Clock Tower in support of Palestine, demanding the university call for a ceasefire and cut ties with Boeing, a local manufacturer of weapons used by Israel against the Gaza Strip.

Speakers’ comments on Wednesday ranged from the condemnation of Israel’s military campaign to criticism of SLU’s “complacency.”

Ahead of the protest, seven student groups from SLU, WashU, SIUE and UMSL sent a joint letter to each university’s respective leader, urging them to publicly condemn Israel’s actions and calling on them to hold “students and employees accountable for Islamaphobic and racist actions.”

“As institutions of higher education, our universities must act as a pillar of truth for the communities they serve, providing nuanced and informed perspectives,” their letter read.

The protest was organized by Occupy SLU, a new student organization that reclaims the name and the legacy of the 2014 Occupy SLU movement, organizers said.

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“We’re gonna continue to protest, we’re gonna continue to fight this institution that claims to be pro-life,” said Mexican-American student Julian Garcia, one of the organization’s founders.

With hate crimes on the rise across the country, junior Nadia Abusoud said the SLU administration should prioritize the safety of Palestinian students. She pointed to the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Vermont this month, saying neutral university stances do little to combat tense political climates. 

“We want more universities in the St. Louis region to take responsibility and release messages regarding their Palestinian and their Muslim students,” Abusoud said.

Abusoud, who co-organized the protest, added that she welcomes a statement that condemns antisemitism while emphasizing that pro-Palestinian speech is not hateful. 

Two students who spoke with the University News said they have tried to directly reach SLU president Dr. Fred Pestello to urge him to take a “humanitarian stance.” 

Gabriel De Castilhos, a Brazilian graduate student, emailed Pestello about his “passive, problem-avoidant” stance. Castilhos did not receive a response.

“I urge SLU to take the humanitarian stance and avoid the easy way out of only ‘against Hamas.’ Take a true stance and stand WITH Palestine,” De Castilhos’ email read.

Ahlam Jaber, a Lebanese Ph.D. student in the English department, attempted to meet with the president but instead had a conversation with his representative, Kasi Williamson.

“I told the president’s office this, and I’ll say it again: while I understand the desire to be as politically and socially conscientious, and he’s in a certain position where he needs to think about various relationships that he has, that email, in particular, was essentially a nothing email,” Jaber said, referencing an email Pestello sent to the campus community on Oct. 13.

Williamson encouraged Jaber to use campus resources as safe spaces, but Jaber said the university’s neutral public stance prevents students from feeling safe and supported.

“How are students going to feel safe to even go to those spaces? Your Muslim students, your Jewish students or Arab students, how are they going to feel safe going into those spaces at the university that has not set the precedent of truth?”

— Ahlam Jaber

Jaber acknowledged how multiple buildings and pieces of land align with SLU’s historical tendency to be complacent and reside on the wrong side of history. She made references to the origin of Pius Library’s name and the enslaved people who built the campus.

“How many times do we want to take a stance that doesn’t do right by the people that are oppressed, how many times?” said Jaber.

Students marched on Laclede and West Pine, stopping briefly outside Pius Library for speeches that mentioned the University’s academic partnership with Boeing.

Emma Hukeljic, a junior at the Richard A. Chaifetz Business School, told the University News that if SLU does not cut ties with Boeing, the students should.

“It’s important for us to be educated on the topic and for those students to make a decision for themselves not to go for their internships, or work in the Boeing Institute in the school,” Hukeljic said. 

The joint student letter cited Boeing’s role in the rising death toll in Gaza.

“While Boeing manufactures instruments of genocide in our backyards, our universities hold Boeing recruitment events on our campuses, invest our endowments in Boeing, and encourage Boeing to take advantage of our students’ and faculty’s research,” the letter said.

Controversy arose when a student, self-describing as Indian, took the podium during an open-mic period of the protest and falsely mistranslated verses from the Quran. He was kicked off the mic by organizers and promptly ushered away by DPS.

Later, Palestinian students claimed he and others yelled “terrorist” at them, and was again guided away by DPS officers. While officers say counter-protests are lawful, agitation is not. Lieutenant Joshua Johnson said there is “likely no crime violation,” but the student will be reported to the Office of Student Responsibility and Community Standards.

About a dozen officers were present Wednesday night, blocking entrances to buildings like Pius Library. Melinda Heikkinen, Assistant Vice President of the Department of Public Safety, told protest organizers she supports their right of free speech, but requested that they not enter and disrupt any buildings. 

Heikkinen also told organizers that anyone wearing “military-style” clothing and “head coverings” would be asked to change or leave. She said this is to ensure other students don’t feel “fearful.”

Protest organizers like Abusoud said this is a “double standard.” “ROTC kids wear that, we’re not removing them. It’s so incredibly angering,” Abusoud said. 

Some passersby flipped off protesters as they marched down West Pine. DPS intervened immediately after the protesters returned it. 

Conversely, as protesters marched along Grand Ave., some cars honked in support.

Student organizers like Garcia, said they hope to meet with the President’s office in the coming weeks.

Students promised a week of action at college campuses in the St. Louis area starting Monday, Dec. 4. “We will keep fighting until every one of us is free,” students wrote in the letter.

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Lauren Hutchens, News Editor
As a news editor, Lauren finds pride in meeting people, developing stories and learning more about various topics on a personal level. Lauren has always enjoyed writing since she was young, which has brought her to where she is today. From St. Louis, she is familiar with the city's beauties and struggles. This year, Lauren is hoping to delve into deep topics that pertain to campus life and spread awareness of issues not often talked about.
Ulaa Kuziez, News Editor
Ulaa Kuziez is a junior studying Journalism and Media at Saint Louis University. She enjoys storytelling and believes in uplifting student perspectives. In her free time, you can find her walking in local parks or drinking coffee. Email her at [email protected] with any news tips!
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