Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

BREAKING: Students strike for Palestine, intend to occupy Memorial until demands are met

At 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9, Whitman students gathered in front of Penrose Library as part of a global walkout supporting Palestine. The Whitman Student Action Committee (SAC) organized the strike, with support from Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine (WSJP). At 10:17 a.m., students marched to Memorial Hall, where they filled the entryway, staircases and hallways with protesters. 

Students quickly settled in as they continued to occupy the space, even bringing out activities to share with fellow protesters. 

Students participating in the strike listed their demands for Sarah Bolton, the president of Whitman College. 

The primary goal of the strike is to create pressure for Bolton to call an emergency meeting with the Board of Trustees meeting to meet WSJP’s list of demands to divest Whitman’s funds; specifics about which investments were not known at the time of publication. 

The next meeting of the Board of Trustees is currently slated to take place in late February

At around 2:00 p.m., it was noticeably cold in the main entryway and throughout the entire first floor of the Memorial Building. The thermostats in the entryway and main hallways were all off, and no air was coming through the vents. Upstairs in the conference rooms directly adjacent to Dean of Students Kazi Joshua’s office, the thermostats were still running and rooms felt distinctly warmer. 

Gina Zandy Ohnstad, the Vice President for Communications at the College said that heat was not turned off in the building.

The heating in Memorial has not been turned off. All building systems are operating normally,” said Ohnstad in an email to The Wire.

Nicole Simek is a Cushing Eells Professor of Philosophy and Literature, Professor of Indigeneity, Race, and Ethnicity Studies and Gender Studies. Simek was present during the strike this morning in support of students and their demand for administration. 

“I’m here to support the students who are asking to raise consciousness first, for what the genocide that’s unfolding in Palestine. And second, who are asking for some concrete measures that we can take where we’re situated at Whitman, to investigate our investments potentially divest from companies that are supporting arms sales and, and violence in Israel against Palestinians,” Simek said, “So I’m really impressed with the energy and the focus that the students are bringing to this issue.”

Aaron Aguilar-Ramirez is an Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies, he also joined the strike, after his students asked him to participate and cancel his class. 

“I’m here in support of my students. Students asked me explicitly to participate and to cancel classes in support of their actions, in recognition of the importance of their activism and just the importance of the moment. I agreed to do that, and I showed up in support of their actions and in support of the ideas that guide their sense of justice,” Aguilar-Ramirez said. 

Aguilar-Ramirez emphasized his stance on the student strike as a faculty member. 

“My support as a member of the faculty is for my students, and I support adamantly their right to manifest in peaceful yet vociferous ways and so I adamantly in support of, again, their sense of justice and the actions that they believe to be just,” Aguilar-Ramirez said. 

Simek did not cancel her class today and is leaving the decision up to her students on how they want to proceed with the day. 

“I have a class this afternoon, I’m going to be asking the students what they would like to do. We’re studying genocide in that class. So I’ll be asking the students if they want to use our space to talk as a group or if they would like to come down here [to the Memorial Building],” Simek said.

Reagan Bain is a WSJP member, SAC member and Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) Oversight chair. She explained how she got involved with the cause on campus. 

“In my freshman year, I attended a couple of SJP meetings. And so it’s always kind of been on my radar. But then this year, in October, obviously, when everything blew up in Gaza and Israel decided to seize the entire Gaza Strip, I was just looking for a place to kind of funnel my interest. And I got more involved with SJP,” Bain said.

Bain talked about her purpose for attending the strike. She expressed her discomfort with where Whitman’s investments and money are going. 

“I’m here today in particular because I don’t believe that my tuition money should be going to Gaza to fund Israel murder. And it’s just like, it’s kind of ridiculous that the school thinks that they can just drag their feet on stuff like this when it’s clear that over 100 students are here today fighting for what they believe that their money should be going towards and this institution to stand for,” Bain said.

Ohnstad says the College has been in communication with WSJP and SAC.

“We have heard the request for divestment from certain student groups over the past few weeks. Students have met with administrators several times on this issue so that we can come to a common understanding of the college’s divestment policies as well as an understanding of the divestment goals of the group. President Bolton has been responsive and in communication with students and has brought the board of trustees in the loop to their request prior to today’s action,” Ohnstad said in an email to The Wire.

Shampa Biswas, Judge and Mrs. Timothy A. Paul Chair of Political Science and Professor of Politics, expressed that she attended the protest to show her support for student organizing. 

“It’s hard to see what’s going on in Gaza. Every single day. And just going about our ways as though, as though the world is not burning. So I wanted to be here, and I’m really, really inspired by the students and all the work they’re doing to bring attention to what’s going on. And that their focus has been so much exactly about on what has been going on, not on themselves. So I’m inspired by that. I’m here to support them, to support the students. I think it’s really important that their voice is heard, and I think it’s wonderful that they’re connecting to these things that are happening in other parts of the world,” Biswas said.

On missing classes to attend the walk-out, Bain expressed the varied response from her professors. 

“All of my classes are on Thursdays. So I’m missing every single one of them. I was able to convince some of my professors to make attendance optional. I had to fight one of my professors and in the end he said he would count me as missing from class today. And I’m really okay with that. I think it shows where our professors stand. If they’re going to let their students miss class or if they’re going to stand for Palestine as well and cancel class in solidarity,” Bain said.

Junior Jazz Cintron attended the protest. Cintron talked about the power of having a voice and spreading knowledge about Whitman as an institution. 

“Voices are just more powerful than we recognize, you know, we will have an impact and that is why I’m here because I truly believe that what we are saying, what we are doing is for the better, the greater good. You know, we are trying to not only expand our knowledge and where the institution’s [Whitman’s] money is going, but also the institution’s knowledge on where their money is going. It’s informational for both,” Cintron said. 

Cintron joined a group of students who walked over to Maxey Hall to inform students in class about the student strike and occupation of the Memorial Building. Professors in Maxey Hall closed the doors to their classrooms on student protestors. 

“What had happened was we walked into Maxey, and we’re screaming up and down the hallways with a big microphone screaming, ‘Free Palestine, we are on strike, please come to the Memorial [Building] to come on and support.’ The professors close their doors students sat there looking at us, gagged as if this was a huge surprise as if we are not in a fucking genocide,” Cintron said. 

Cintron said that the number of doors closed varied by the floor of the building in Maxey Hall. 

“Professors looked at us straight in the eyes and closed that door. The second floor of Maxey was definitely the floor where they closed all the doors. First floor [of Maxey] we also got a door closed. But, you know, the second floor was just where we had more classes and more professors felt like it was necessary to teach on their subjects and less on this genocide that’s happening,” Cintron said. 

The occupation of the building comes on the heels of a similar demonstration on Oct. 26. It also comes amid concerns about freedom of speech on campus, such as the removal of a Palestinian flag from the tennis courts.

The flag was allegedly removed from the tennis courts by the College last week, although it was ultimately returned. It was then cut down, leaving a crocheted outline on the fence. 

Bain stated that the flag was found in a trash can by Tamarac House, a Whitman-owned apartment building. No additional details on the flag’s recovery have been shared, including who removed it from the fence.

Students plan to remain in Memorial Hall until an emergency board meeting is called, sleeping in the building if necessary. As of 6:00 p.m., tents are set up outside of Memorial and students plan to remain as long as is necessary for their demands to be met.

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