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Activism and Advocacy: Student Voices on the War in Gaza

Updated: May 10

By: Thomas Dachik

Student-led organization, Raise the Consciousness (RTC), held a protest each day last week, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, following a two-week period of students independently vandalizing the campus with pro-Palestine sentiments.

Numerous students attended the four-day-long protests held by RTC. (Photo by: Natalie Tulloch)

Students walking to class or strolling through campus in the last two weeks have noticed chalk-written or spraypainted messages on buildings, walkways, or even dorm windows regarding their feelings on the war in Gaza. Graffiti messages include: “Free Palestine,” “Save Rafah,” “Ceasefire Now.”

Members of RTC sit in silence as the names of deceased individuals are read one by one (Photo by: Thomas Dachik)

Campus Chief of Police Dayton Tucker released a statement to the student body on the first day of protests, Feb. 26, as a warning of the consequences of unpeaceful protest, while also expressing sympathy for the employees working to remove the chalked and painted messages.

Purchase Maintenance crew attempts to remove a spray-painted message stating “Free Palestine” outside the college library (Photo by: Jennifer Ward)

“The removal of graffiti and other unauthorized materials defers campus personnel and resources from other maintenance projects,” Tucker wrote in an email. “Graffiti is also a misdemeanor in New York State and violation of the student code of conduct.”

Maintenance employees erasing graffiti (Photo by: Thomas Dachik)

Though as the number of reported graffiti incidents dropped, students began to express their voices in other ways, specifically protests. Last week, from Monday, March 4, until Thursday, March 7, the Purchase College activist group, RTC, hosted four individual protests during class hours in the humanities, social sciences, and a couple other buildings on campus.

The left-winged organization led these protests as, they say, their demand for the administration to call a ceasefire in solidarity with Palestinian citizens has gone ignored.

A student-made sign reads “End the occupation of Palestine” on the first day of protests, March 4 (Photo by: Thomas Dachik)

One student, Sabrina Thompson, was vocal about the group's intentions regarding these protests, stating it is of group’s intent to express their opinions as peacefully as possible.

“Sit-ins have historically been a popular non-violent form of protest,” Thompson said. “It is great to get people involved, raise awareness, and get our message out as peacefully as possible.”

Having attended each of the “die-ins," Thompson feels they were quite successful in reards to turnout and getting their message across, but specifically in advocating for the people they killed.

“We truly believe there is a genocide going on,” Thompson said. “30,000 people murdered, I believe, should be in our public conversation.”

Signs that were held during the die-in. (Photo by: Natalie Tulloch)

Thompson also affirmed that although RTC has no association with the people that have been using graffiti on campus, though she, along with the rest of the RTC group, wholeheartedly supports them.

The protests were attended by RTC members and supporters. However, on Monday in the Humanities building, one student with an Israeli flag raised in his hands, Noah Lewis, was in attendance as well.

For approximately two and a half hours, Lewis stood alone with his flag while a member of RTC read off names of children killed in Gaza.

He arrived at the protest at noon, playing Israel's national anthem. He said that UPD asked him to turn down the music, as "classes were going on." By the time the event had concluded, Lewis said he was emotional.

Purchase senior Noah Lewis stands alone with an Israeli Flag on the first day of protests. (Photo by: Thomas Dachik)

The senior photography student described pro-Israel students as being fear-stricken at expressing their beliefs and was “disappointed” that he stood alone during his counter-protest.

“Pro-Israel students have been living in fear and I’m done being afraid,” Lewis said.

And although initially being timid to do so, he said, he took a stand on his own--standing alone as pro-Israel supporters walked by and expressed their support quietly.

“I felt disappointed in my fellow students,” Lewis said. “A few students whispered, ‘thank you’ to me, as they were too afraid of being overheard by [RTC].”

Lewis claims he faced backlash from the community on social media and in person, as a student approached him at the end of the protest, requesting his name. After refusing to reveal his name for “doxing” purposes, the individual called Lewis a “dick.”

"We at RTC do not encourage interactions with counter-protesters,” a representative for RTC wrote in an Instagram message to The Phoenix. “We at RTC are committed to dispelling [the] myth [that Judaism is synonymous with Zionism] to make our campus a safe space for all Jewish students and their political activism,” the representative continued.

A poster at one of the Die-Ins held by RTC (Photo by: Natalie Tulloch)

Tucker released another statement on the day of this protest, listing a few rules for students to abide by during protests and public gatherings such as this one.

“The campus supports the rights of the community members to express their views in public and hold public gatherings to express views,” Tucker said.

© The Purchase Phoenix, 2024



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