Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

BREAKING: Students and faculty protest outside Board of Trustees’ dinner, demand divestment

In response to the Board of Trustees’ recent visit to Whitman’s campus, Whitman Students Justice for Palestine (WSJP) and Whitman’s Student Action Coalition (SAC) organized a protest to demonstrate support for Palestine and push for divestment. This action follows several other demonstrations organized by SAC and SJP, including recently participating in a state-wide walkout on Tuesday, April 23. 

On Thursday, May 2, students and faculty members gathered on Ankeny Field near the still-standing pro-Palestine installation at 4 p.m. The first hour was spent creating protest signs and reviewing the protest plan. The plan was to disrupt the groundbreaking ceremony for Whitman’s new Junior-Senior Residental village. Paper handouts given to those in attendance outlined a police safety disclaimer, a route map and established ground rules. 

In the ground rules, organizers wrote: “DO NOT interact directly with the trustees or anyone else at the ceremony. We want to be as imposing as possible while avoiding any behavior that could be classified as threatening or aggressive.” 

At approximately 5 p.m., protesters started their chants and marched toward Memorial Hall, where they stopped in front of the building and student organizers gave quick speeches, before continuing to lead the crowd circling Memorial Hall. 

Around 5:10 p.m., protestors learned that the planned protest route had changed. They received information that the groundbreaking ceremony was canceled and that the Board of Trustees was gathering at Cordiner Hall. In response, protesters marched to Cordiner Hall, where they remained until 8:32 p.m. 

Protesters chanted almost continuously throughout their entire time stationed in front of Cordiner Hall. Signs were taped to the windows of the hall, and pathways to the front door of the building remained clear but were lined with numerous protestors. Protestors became particularly vocal when individuals entered or exited the building. 

Senior Lillian Angus attended the protest. She spoke about the purpose of the demonstrations on campus. 

I don’t want the campus to be scared of us. We’re trying to protect people. We’re not going to hurt anyone. We’re literally trying to stop murder. Like, we’re fine. We’re not going to do anything. All we ask is simple things. So I don’t think that they should lock down Mem [Memorial Hall] or anything. I want the staff to know that they are safe and that we are not going to hurt them. We just want to be heard we want to be listened to,” Angus said.

As the evening progressed, drums, pots and pans were brought into the crowd which increased the volume of protestors’ presence. Individuals inside of Cordiner Hall were reportedly unable to hear speakers, due to demonstrations outside of the building. 

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Kazi Joshua watched the scene and escorted individuals in and out of Cordiner Hall. He spoke to student organizers, asking them to lower their volume. Warnings of potential conduct reports being filed were expressed to the crowd. Protestors continued their loud chants regardless.

In an email to The Wire, Joshua talked more about the conduct reports and potential citations for college violations. 

When students were asked to “lower the volume” so people inside could hear speakers, they didn’t. That IS a ‘Failure to comply with the instructions of an officer of the college.’ That IS a policy violation,” Joshua said. “I need to make clear, the protests were going for at least 45 minutes BEFORE we asked for lowering of the volume. So participation in a protest is not a violation. ‘failure to comply’ with specific order is. The above was made clear to spokesperson of the group.”

Professor of English Gaurav Majumdar was among the faculty that attended the protest. In an email to the Wire, he expressed his support for students and noted the absence of dialogue initiated by the trustees. 

Members of Whitman’s SJP and others in solidarity with them have inspired me with their integrity and passion. Despite professional and political pressures, our students work to ease the pain of Palestinians in Gaza and across the world with energy, intelligence, and skill, as was obvious at yesterday’s protest.  That the college’s trustees did not emerge from Cordiner Hall to invite, or even acknowledge the need for, conversation with student activists (at least, not while I was present at yesterday’s protest) was both telling and disappointing.  But my disappointment pales before the commitment to justice that I see in Whitman’s students,” Majumdar said.

Angus talked about her reaction to the Board of Trustees’ decision on divestment, and her observations of Trustee members as they exited Cordiner Hall. 

“It was disappointing. I’m disappointed in Whitman. I mean, I have been for a long time, but just seeing them come out. And like, I was crying. I’m really upset. Just to see them look, and just kind of smile. It’s like they were mocking the protest. It’s just really, it’s really tragic,” Angus said.

While there was no police presence in response to the protest on campus, rumors swirled around the possibility. Professor of Philosophy Julia Ireland discussed her positions on recent student activity on campus, in an email to The Wire. Ireland cited the German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt as someone reflective of her position. 

“My position is Arendt’s: I don’t think police should be called on students. And in general, I’m interested in clarity about political goals, their implications, and the transparent embrace of complications,” Ireland said. 

Associate Professor of Art History and Outgoing President of the Whitman College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (WCAAUP) Lisa Uddin, was present at the protest. She talked about how her attendance was related to her classes at Whitman. 

I’m here as an extension of the classroom. We were talking in class today about the connection between art and politics and the role of art in producing a better world. And this is a living example of it,” Uddin said. “And it’s a space for looking outwards beyond the campus and connecting to the genocide in Gaza, which is why I’m also here. So I’m here for the students and with the students. And I’m supporting their learning. And I’m learning too.”

WCAAUP is a signatory on an April 29 press release in defense of free speech and peaceful protest.

“The AAUP and its chapters defend the right to free speech and peaceful protest on university campuses, condemn the militarized response by institutional leaders to these activities, and vehemently oppose the politically motivated assault on higher education…The way forward is through education and dialogue, not through zip-ties and fear-mongering,” the release said

On May 3 at 7:30 a.m., students started an encampment on Reid Side Lawn. They intend to remain until the college divests.

The Asian Night Market, initially scheduled for the Reid Side Lawn, has been relocated to the Cordiner Side Lawn.

As of press time, students remain on the lawn. 

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    Debra TibbsMay 18, 2024 at 9:12 am

    Do these people they are supporting a terrorist group that has had control of Gaza for 17 years? There is no occupation of Gaza by Israel. Hamas, the elected government of Gaza committed an act of war against Israel, during a ceasefire, murdering, raping and kidnapping women, children and elderly. Perhaps these people should watch the independently verified security video of the attack and then call for Hamas to end the war by ceasing aggression against Israel and release the hostages they took on October 7.

  • A

    austin chilesMay 8, 2024 at 12:26 am

    really proud of the students and faculty that are risking everything to have their voice heard. it’s a shame that the administration is blind to the painful comparison that the colonization of Walla Walla and the colonization of Israel are both rooted in apartheid and settler colonialism. they are the same fight, and it is incredibly hypocritical to preach about our support for palestinian students and their families while financially supporting their oppressors.