On Monday, Oct. 30, students gathered around “Prof Pride,” the statue of the Rowan owl on Meditation Walk, to protest the ongoing conflict happening in Israel and Gaza.
The protest, held by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) was in response to Rowan’s handling of the crisis, which they view as “one-sided.”
“The university prides itself on diversity but only demonstrates solidarity and concern for Israel and the Jewish community with no acknowledgment of the Muslim, Arab, and all other individuals who advocate for justice, peace, and human rights for the Palestinian people,” said an MSA representative.
All members who attended the protest or helped organize it wished to stay anonymous because of safety concerns.
The MSA has already met with the administration issuing concerns, grievances, and a demand for an updated statement from President Houshmand recognizing other communities on campus being affected by the crisis.
Students and attendees at the protest held up posters and Palestine flags, shouting “Free Palestine” and “Justice is our demand.”
Among those who spoke at the event were members of the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition, Jewish Voices for Peace Philadelphia, and members of the Rowan Progressives.
“I am one of [the] thousands of American Jews who refuse to be complicit in the genocide of Palestinians…we will not have our grief and historical trauma weaponized against the people of Gaza,” said a member of Jewish Voices for Peace Philadelphia.
A member of the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition went on to remind students of their ability to advocate on behalf of Palestinians.
“As students of this institution, it is your responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless Palestinians and to hold Rowan University accountable for the dangerous one-sided narrative they have perpetuated. It is your responsibility to demand the recognition of Palestinians, their oppressions, and their resistance against that oppression. Gazans have explicitly asked you all to do so. The freedom of Palestine rests in your hands and I have faith in your success,” said a member of the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition.
As students circled together, demanding justice for Palestinian people, Rowan officials and police officers supervised from afar.
Rowan knew that the protest was going to happen since the university requires protests to be registered in advance for the safety of the participants.
Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Kevin Koett was just one of the Rowan officials who watched the protest unpack.
“Rowan University is committed to the free expression of thoughts and ideas as an essential part of the educational process and as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said Koett.
The protestors were peaceful but there was tension.
“At one point during the rally, we noticed a group of students pulling out an Israeli flag and had begun to display it in the center of the gathering. We immediately felt discomfort and a lack of respect from our peers… In response, our protesters began closing in the gaps and unified in chanting, and we proceeded with our scheduled speakers. As a member of the Jewish Voices for Peace gave her speech, the students began to make offensive comments and mock our stance… the students called the speaker a coward, and they replied to the chant ‘Free Palestine’ with ‘Free Palestine from what’ as they continued to laugh…that moment encapsulated why we were all there and why we held this rally. While this may be a laughing matter for them, innocent Palestinians are dying, and those who are alive are left without food, water, electricity, or medical supplies,” said another MSA member who attended the rally. “Many people have fallen victim to misinformation and the Islamophobic and anti-Arab narratives perpetuated in the media but similarly fed into by President Houshmand’s statement. This moment validated the weight of the statement words and showed how isolated our communities have become from the remainder of the student body.”
The Israeli flag group made attempts to get a chant of their own going but were drowned out by the MSA’s message broadcast through a bullhorn. For about 20 minutes they kept moving into the protest at hand trying to display their flag but were unsuccessful as the students supporting Palestinians were able to surround them with flags of their own. After a small escalation between the Israeli flag group and one of the speakers at the protest, they left to the sound of the protest group cheering.
The Whit cannot independently verify if their departure was of their own volition or if they were asked to leave.
According to Rowan’s website, the school “anticipate[s] that there will be protests or demonstrations on campus…” There are specific guidelines that protesters and activists have to follow. As outlined on their website, “…Rowan University is obligated as a public institution to allow freedom of expression, but we do not condone or endorse any speech that is discriminatory, harassing, or otherwise interferes with the rights of others.”
In an official statement provided to the Whit on the efficacy of the rally, the MSA had this to say, “Our goal in holding the Rally for Palestine was to use our voice to stand in solidarity with Palestine…. We wanted to showcase that we are here, we exist, we are grieving, and that Palestinian lives matter.”
The MSA has a planned walkout for Thursday, Nov. 9 from the Owl Statue to Bole Hall in support of the Palestinian cause.
An official statement by the MSA read, “Through public expression on Rowan University’s campus, we hope to give Rowan administration, staff, and students an understanding of the Palestinian struggle and occupation-bringing awareness to the side that has been widely misrepresented in the media. We want to educate others about the rich and devastating history of Palestine, to learn what it means to stand in solidarity with Palestine, and to demand a free Palestine.”
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