On Wednesday, Oct. 25, along with student organizations across the country, Appleton Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Lawrence University chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) led a walkout in support of Palestinian rights and calling on Lawrence University to participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Active since 2005 and modeled after boycotts against the apartheid government of South Africa in the 20th century, the BDS movement calls on individuals and organizations to put economic pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
The walkout was part of a national action at universities across the country, in which students and staff called for their respective administrations to condemn the Israeli government and join the BDS movement. Over 100 Lawrence students and staff attended the walkout, according to junior Audari Tamayo, Head of Delegation of SDS, who assisted in the protest’s organization.
“It was important because we’re at a turning point for the people of Palestine waging this war of resistance against their occupiers of 75 years, and for their occupiers, who are now wrapping up their violence,” said Tamayo. “What we’re seeing now is a genocide… the murder of 10,000 people.”
Sophomore Bailey Nez feels a sense of solidarity between Palestinians and herself as an Indigenous American. To Nez, her solidarity is necessary because it is something that makes a difference in conflicts such as these.
“I have not had the privilege to be complacent, I have lived through traumas and struggle for sovereignty and I refuse to not stand beside Palestine as they continue their fight,” said Nez. “I believe in this movement and in the walkout that occurred on October 25th because if it were not for the resistance from my ancestors against colonial violence, I wouldn’t be here today to raise my voice and pursue my passions.”
LUNA Vice President, senior Emily Gajewski said that while they felt they were able to speak their truth, they do not feel that it was received by the Lawrence University administration.
“The walk out was important to be a part of as an Indigenous person,” said Gajewski. “Palestinians now are suffering the same thing our ancestors did here in the United States years ago.
“Me and several other Indigenous people know how it feels to have everything you know taken from you. To watch your way of life erased from the planet. It’s excruciatingly painful and I wouldn’t wish that kind of misery on anyone.”
In a mass email sent to all Lawrentians by Provost and Dean of the Faculty Peter Blitstein, Vice President for Student Life Chris Clarke and Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Support Services (IDEAS) Kenny Yarbrough, the administration stated that the protest was unsanctioned and that the university is a place of belonging for all and intolerance of any kind is not supported. The email stated that Lawrence condemns violence, terror, loss of life and incomprehensible suffering, and hopes for peace, and urged students to seek support from Lawrence resources when necessary.
Lawrence’s official statement on student concerns over the conflict is as follows: “The university remains an institution that supports our community’s right to explore civil discourse, express their views, and bring various forms of student advocacy to campus in a safe manner. We will continue to offer that opportunity to our students. For students who have been affected by the tragic developments, we offer resources from Wellness and Health Services, Spiritual & Religious Life, and other departments throughout the university to provide support.”
During the walkout, students painted the Palestinian flag and a demand for Lawrence administration to join the BDS movement on the Rock on Main Hall Green. However, according to junior and SDS member Patrick Sweeney, around midday on Monday, Oct. 30, the flag and the demand were painted over again to look like a jack-o’-lantern. Although the Rock was promptly repainted with the flag, Sweeney and some other students have raised concerns over the painting over of the flag, claiming it is an example of administration attempting to silence their beliefs.
“We painted the Rock the Palestinian flag to show our support and multiple times it was painted over by Campus Safety,” said Gajewski. “What kind of message do you think this sends to the Indigenous population not only on Lawrence campus, but to the Appleton and Fox Cities community? They say they support Indigenous students/peoples, yet actively undermine our attempts to decolonize campus. Those who sit and watch are arguably just as in the wrong as the oppressors.”
Having spent three years at Lawrence, Sweeney reported that he has never seen the Rock being painted for Halloween before — he said the Rock is primarily painted by student organizations, not administration — which led him to believe that it was censorship. Sweeney also believes this was not the first time administration attempted to censor the beliefs of SDS.
“This was not an act that occurred in a vacuum,” Sweeney claimed. “After our trans rights rallies at the end of last year, which led to the public [censuring] of the transphobic reactionary county supervisor TJ Hermes, we discovered our chalk drawings were gone, when there had been no rain.”
Junior Caroline Murray shared similar concerns with Sweeney.
“I think…painting over the Rock is not only a blatant example of political repression but also tellingly incongruent with the values this school claims to hold,” Murray claimed. “How can Lawrence University read so many land acknowledgments but refuse to comment on, condemn and divest from the blatant settler colonialist genocide happening in Gaza? Administration had no issue last year when the Rock was painted with the colors of the Ukrainian flag.”
While he was upset about the situation, Sweeney made it clear that he believes the facilities department should shoulder no blame for painting the Rock.
Lawrence’s neutrality is to some, including YDSA Co-Chair sophomore Cristian Torres, not in fact neutral but complicit. Torres and Sweeney argued that although Lawrence claims not to take sides, the repeated taking down and refusal of permission to hang a pro-Palestinian banner in Warch, along with the painting of the Rock on Main Hall Green is siding with Israel.
An official statement provided by the university expressed that “The Rock is a symbol of this community – a means of recognizing and celebrating university events, programs, and achievements. Its tradition and history are expressive but not polarizing. Our priority is and will remain to safeguard all Lawrentians.”
Sweeney and some other SDS members have attended a Tea with President’s Cabinet session to voice their concerns, but felt they were dismissed by administration officials.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, SDS rallied Lawrentians to attend President Laurie Carter’s office hours about Lawrence’s neutral stance on the conflict. According to the Instagram post about it on the Appleton SDS account, the goal was to convince Lawrence to sign onto the BDS movement and pledge their support for Palestine.
“They told us [at Tea with President’s Cabinet] it was not the right place or time to talk about Palestine,” the caption on the post reads. “So when is the right time? The right time is now!”
“I again raise the question,” said Gajewski, “how do you expect a bunch of genocide survivors to feel safe on a campus protecting genocide?”