The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


MSJ Voices: College Protests

1. When it comes to protests, what role do you think police should play in regulating them?

“I think that police have a responsibility to protect the First Amendment right to gather and protest. I feel like their job is to ensure that the situation remains safe and to keep people [that] will disagree and viewpoints separated from one another and prevent violence from happening between the groups. And to some extent, I believe that they do have a responsibility to protect public property.” – History Teacher Joseph Usrey

“I believe the police are doing their role to the best they can, because what they’re expected to do is to enforce the law. The problem is, I guess, the visuals and the videos of them already dressed up in battle gear. I think I saw one from the University of Texas, Austin, where they’re like pulling people that were just on the grass or something. So that doesn’t look good on the police. But I think essentially their duty is to enforce what [legislation] is in place.” — Civics Teacher Cyril Macasero

2. Some believe congressional pressure on college presidents and administrators to act against antisemitism has led to repression of free speech. Should Congress interfere with how a university is run, given that they are not known for education or dialogue across the aisle, but they do approve federal funding for these universities?

“Congress has two things that they need to accomplish. The first thing is making sure that the campuses of our country are safe and free of anti semitism. The second is to protect the First Amendment. That is a very careful balancing act that I believe the federal government shouldn’t be shying away from, but rather be involved in it. So it’s a balancing act. And the way that’s being treated right now, I think it’s reasonable.” — Freshman Cham Yu

“I do know that Congress recently passed a bill that provides…a wide definition of antisemitism and…makes that illegal…any sort of nation or discriminatory practices should be illegal. However, I also know that the definition is… problematic, being that it’s so broad and so a broad definition like that does definitely limit free speech” – History Teacher Joseph Usrey

3. Do you think the universities were justified in calling the police if certain students felt threatened by chants or encampments?

“From my experience taking part in the encampments at the University of Southern California, they were completely peaceful. And they were also very contained. At these encampments, they were reading books at free libraries and listening to music. They were screening films about repression and oppression in history. So it was a very peaceful and safe affair, and I find it hard to believe that other students felt threatened by just the presence of the students who were just sitting around on the lawn in front of the library. I think that the police presence that was on campus was much more threatening to students who were not citizens or students who are minorities and have been historically more at risk. I think that there were some incidents where there was hostile language, but it was never connected to the encampment, as we were told specifically to not engage with people who are trying to aggravate us. We were told to always be very civil because our goal was to simply call attention to the genocide happening in Palestine. To make sure that we did not delegitimize our own goal, we were as civil as we could be, while still maintaining a presence on the campus to make sure that our president Carol Folt heard us.” — USC Junior and MSJ Alumna Tvisha Singh

“I think it’s really discouraging to see colleges like actively trying to stop the voices of their students, especially seeing that most of these college protests started off and have always been peaceful protests. It’s just disheartening to see [them] cracking down when these students aren’t really doing anything or bringing harm to anyone aside from just bringing more attention to the causes they believe in.” — Sophomore Diya Sharma

“I don’t think a violent crackdown on protests is the right way to address anti semitism. I don’t think [antisemitism] is inherent to the people protesting on college, so colleges that they’re cracking down on these protests because of anti semitism is just kind of weak guise for just not wanting people to voice how they feel about certain issues. Obviously, discourse like this is like inherently uncomfortable. So it’s natural to be loud and draw attention in ways that make people uncomfortable and start talking about these issues.” — Sophomore Diya Sharma

“I think that there is a grand tradition of college campuses being the center of youth movements, particularly citizens and passive versus user protests. I think that the comfort of other students is important. But students also have a right to protest. However…they were asked to leave and…the University has a right to protect their property as well…I believe that…clearing out camps, it may actually benefit the protesters because it adds to the…momentum to the media coverage of their message and it gets their message out more so than if they just…sat in a building for a month. And by clearing them out and having those powerful images that everyone is seeing, it…spurs on national dialogue about what’s happening, which I feel like is a is a good thing for the protesters, [because] at least the dialogue is happening” – History Teacher Joseph Usrey

“The police is obviously only called when campus supervisors and the board of each college decide is the right time. But right now, the decision of the school’s presidents and board isn’t the only deciding factor, because for example, in Columbia, or NYU, of the cases that are happening, Congress and the government actually presses school to shut down these protests. And this is something that indirectly affects how these protests are being mitigated by the police, not under the orders of the presence of the government of the school, but actually the US federal government, which are pressuring schools to shut down these protests.” — Freshman Cham Yu

4. How do you feel about the reaction of the Biden administration regarding the protests on college campuses? 

“So I think that the United States has a tradition of protecting and supporting Israel, you know, since World War Two, sort of helped to facilitate the establishment of the Israeli state. And, you know, a lot of powerful political people on both sides of the political spectrum support Israel. And so I think that the reaction from Biden isn’t surprising” – History Teacher Joseph Usrey

5. Do you think the sustained protests have made a difference in public opinion or the policies of the Biden administration?

“I definitely think that these protests have brought like Palestinian issues and like the Israel Hamas war more into light because before the protests, it had less news headlines for a while as no one was really talking about it. But these protests have definitely gotten people more involved in the issue more like active and informed about what’s actually going on in the Israel- Palestinian conflict. And I do think that level of, uncomfortableness that these protests are holding and the amount of attention that they’re drawing on to these issues, is shaping the way the Biden administration is handling it, because obviously, as the government, you have like a vested interest in the public perception of how you’re doing.” — Sophomore Diya Sharma

“I feel like [the Biden administration’s] initial reaction [to the protests] was completely unjustified. I believe that [Biden] called the protesters antisemitic, which I think is absolutely not the case. I think that these protests have been aimed at criticizing the Israeli government. It’s not a religious matter. It is a political one. It is about the government’s actions to occupy Palestine and is not about anyone’s religious beliefs.” — USC Junior and MSJ Alumna Tvisha Singh

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