CWRU students, faculty stage “die-in” in solidarity with Palestine, SJP during prospective students’ campus visit

CWRU students, faculty stage “die-in” in solidarity with Palestine, SJP during prospective students’ campus visit

Dozens of Case Western Reserve University students and faculty staged a “die-in” protest in Tinkham Veale University Center on April 19 during CWRU’s Open House/Admitted Students Day. A list of their demands was passed out to onlookers and also included in an open letter to President Eric Kaler. After bringing their protest to Adelbert Hall, where the outside doors were locked and they were unable to reach Kaler, they instead delivered the letter to Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Peter Whiting outside of the building.

This protest occurred hours after CWRU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) reported on their Instagram several proposed sanctions on individuals accused of promoting flyers across campus. However, many students at the “die-in” emphasized that their presence was independent of SJP—rather, this was a collective demonstration of a broader coalition of students’ support for the Palestinian cause. One of the participating students said, “SJP isn’t the only pro-Palestinian voice. The general student body supports a ceasefire and divestment and a free Palestine.”

At around 10:15 a.m., participants fell to the student center’s ground where tour groups were expected to assemble. Protesters wore posters taped to their fronts reading “We Are All SJP,” demonstrating support for the now-suspended CWRU chapter of SJP. As prospective students and their families stared at the scene, the “die-in” protestors disrupted the Open House tours and caused new lines to be redirected into the space behind the large stairs. A group of students also held a banner from the second floor of Tink that proclaimed in bold letters, “Free Palestine” and “Divest From Israel.” While the majority of the protestors were silently lying on the floor, surrounded by makeshift body bags, a few students distributed flyers to onlookers. These flyers included a fact sheet summarizing the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza as well as a list of the protestors’ demands from the university.

The list of demands pressed CWRU’s administration to “reinstate SJP,” “drop all current conduct charges against students advocating for Palestinian freedom,” “implement Resolution 31-15 and disclose CWRU’s investments.” Resolution 31-15 was passed by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) in fall 2022 to call for CWRU to divest its investments toward Israeli apartheid. The fact sheet also called for CWRU to “retract remarks made against Resolution 31-15 and accusations of antisemitism” and included a “call for a permanent ceasefire and an end of the occupation of Palestine.”

When asked about the purpose of the demonstration, one of the students distributing flyers said, “We wanted to cause a disruptive action that was still safe and peaceful so that the university would listen to the demands.”

At first, the “die-in” in Tink was met with confusion or was largely ignored by passersby. However, as more families arrived for their tours, the protestors remained. Some parents were seemingly upset and complained to the staff at the admitted students tables, who reiterated their lack of control over the situation.

Other onlookers were moved by the display. One student passing by the protest said, “I think it’s really brave and big considering how the university has responded to less extreme acts in the past. It shows the direness of the situation and also how little the university listens to its students.”

Those who participated also felt that the need for the “die-in” was in part due to the increase in campus visitors. One student said, “We’re out here today representing the students who have been so ignored by the university … even if that means warning prospective students who may not feel safe in this university that this is the culture administration has created.”

Another student added, “They flew in students from diverse backgrounds, so we thought it was relevant for us to not let the administration simply present this screen of inclusivity and ‘happy-go-lucky’ and ‘we all feel safe here.’ We thought that we would direct [our efforts] towards the people who [the administration] considers its clientele, which is the prospective students and their families.”

As foot traffic slowed in Tink, the protestors stood up and filed out of the building, heading toward Adelbert. The group was led by a protester with a megaphone who began chanting many popular call-and-response chants from pro-Palestine protests, such as “If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” “The people, united, will never be divided” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” They also participated in CWRU-specific chants such as “Kaler, Kaler, you can’t hide; we charge you with genocide.” The group was trailed by police officers and legal observers.

Upon approaching the administrative building, the protestors continued marching to the quad side of Adelbert where prospective students passed by during their tours. The group intended to deliver an open letter addressed to Kaler listing the same demands as the flyers. They vowed to “continue to proudly resist the University’s support of the grave injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people by Israel, and by extension the United States,” signed by “the CWRU Community.” The full letter, posted to the @cleveland.palestine Instagram page, also promises that the community has prepared for backlash from administration, “knowing that whatever consequences they may pose pale in comparison to the bloodshed and colonial brutality leveled at Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government.”

After the doors to Adelbert remained locked, three students instead delivered the letter to Whiting, who stood a few feet away watching the events unfold. During this time, the protestor leading the chants changed them to now say “Whiting, Whiting you can’t hide; we charge you with genocide.” Whiting previously spoke on behalf of the administration at an open USG Executive Meeting on March 5 to discuss SJP’s interim loss of recognition.

Students were not the only ones engaging in the “die-in” and march to Adelbert. Sociology Professor Timothy Black said that he joined in support of SJP and student activists on campus. He said, “These students [in SJP] are acting with extreme moral courage this semester … They’re the campus heroes, and instead the administration is trying to sanction them—they’ve suspended them. And I’m here supporting them for those reasons.”

To Black, the cause runs much deeper than SJP and their suspension. “Sometimes education happens in the classroom; sometimes it happens outside the classroom,” he said. “This university has provided a good laboratory for understanding how power operates.”

After The Observer reached out for comment about the “die-in,” a university spokesperson replied, “Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the university doesn’t comment on student conduct issues. For all student organizations, the university follows its student judicial policies and procedures and applies these uniformly and fairly across groups. We understand that the students have their viewpoint on the student conduct proceedings, based on the information they have.”

Additional reporting contributed by Copy Editor Darcy Chew, Photo Editor Clay Preusch and News Editor Zachary Treseler.

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