Dozens of students frustrated with the cancellation of a highly anticipated Student Association Senate debate about a pro-Palestinian divestment resolution packed inside the SA’s Marvin Center office for a sit-in Monday night.
About 30 proponents of the resolution sat in front of the office and in its main lobby and said they will remain there until the Marvin Center closes at 2 a.m. in protest of the cancellation. SA leadership called off the senate meeting earlier Monday about 10 minutes before it was set to begin amid concerns for the safety of senators and attendees because the University Police Department declined to post officers inside the meeting room.
The resolution called for the University to divest from nine companies supporters said profited from Palestinian suffering.
Divest this Time at GW, a pro-Palestinian organization that advocates for divestment, live-streamed the occupation and announced four demands to SA leadership: a vote on the resolution at the senate’s next meeting April 23, a designated UPD presence at the meeting, a secret paper ballot for the vote and guaranteed seating for resolution supporters.
Tyler Katz, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, who was at the sit-in, said threats against Palestinian students have always existed, but security concerns heightened after members of pro-Palestinian groups found posters around campus Sunday calling supporters of the resolution “anti-Semitic” and branding members of a Jewish student organization in support of the resolution as “fake Jews.”
Katz said that after senators received threatening messages online ahead of the meeting, SA leadership “viewed that as more of a potential threat to student safety and decided to cancel the meeting because they could not secure security for the building.”
“To me, that is inherently very problematic to suggest that when there’s an attack on senators, online attack, that represents a more credible threat than the threat that is constantly against Palestinians on this campus,” they said.
After the meeting was canceled suddenly Monday, students on both sides of the issue said there needs to be further conversation about ensuring safety on campus and promoting dialogue about the conflict.
Keiko Tsuboi, a former SA senator who sponsored last year’s resolution, said while the meeting was called off because several senators received threats not to vote for the resolution, the safety concerns “are just a fraction of what Palestinians face everyday.”
“It’s really unfortunate and a lot of these students just wanted us to keep silent and didn’t want to ever have to think about this – they’re not going to get their wish,” she said.
Hillel Zand, the president of the Jewish Student Association, said that while the organization opposed the resolution, students still have a right to voice their opinion on an emotional topic that brings students from both sides together.
He added that until more detailed information is released by SA leadership, the meeting’s cancelation leaves many questions about security on campus unanswered.
“The fact that people weren’t able to safely express themselves because GWPD or University support weren’t able to provide the support needed – that I think is unacceptable,” Zand said. “Students should feel like they have the right to the resources available on campus to feel safe.”
Jared Gans, Lizzie Mintz, Meredith Roaten, Cayla Harris and Arianna Dunham contributed reporting.