Walkout for Palestine: MSA protest challenges university’s neutrality on Israel-Hamas War

Students march down Discovery Walk while chanting "Free, free Palestine" while holding signs. Arts & Entertainment Editor / Al Harmon

On the chilly afternoon of Nov. 9, Rowan University witnessed a significant protest and walkout organized by the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Named the “Walkout For Palestine,” the event aimed to rally the student body in demanding a ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and expressing solidarity with those advocating for the liberation of Palestine.

The protest’s catalyst can be traced back to President Ali A. Houshmand’s statement titled Promoting a Sense of Global Citizenship and Responsibility,” released through Rowan Announcer a few days after the Re’im music festival massacre and the Netiv HaAsara massacre in Israel on Oct 7. This statement drew criticism from the MSA Executive Board, who labeled it as “one-sided” and accused it of invalidating the voices and pain of Palestinians in a statement posted on their Instagram page on Oct 17.

“We ask Rowan University to stick to its publicized goal of global citizenship by recognizing more than one subset of human beings. We ask for you to acknowledge our unequivocal pain and give us the social equity to which we are entitled—as students of this prestigious institute,” read the MSA Instagram post.

The event commenced around 4 p.m. at the Prof Pride sculpture on Meditation Walk, with a modest dozen attendees, including members of the MSA Executive Board who served as the protest’s organizers. Glassboro and campus police, along with Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Kevin Keott, oversaw the event. Armed with megaphones, the organizers led the protest with chants demanding a ceasefire, an end to the Israeli occupation, and expressing dissatisfaction with President Houshmand’s statement. Some chants went further, labeling Israel a “terrorist state” and calling for another Intifada.

“Yeah, I don’t think it was sided at all. I think that’s the problem, right? It was completely neutral. Like, an innocent bystander when you see a bully and you just stand by,” said Owen O’Connell, an attendee at the event. “There’s a genocide. People need to take a stand against this, especially people with a large audience like a student population. This needs to be made clear that this is horrible.”

As the protest gained momentum, more students joined the cause, holding signs that bore messages of solidarity. Phrases like “Free, free Palestine,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “You have innocent blood on your hands” decorated the signs, reflecting the diverse perspectives within the crowd. The march progressed down Discovery Walk, pausing at Savitz Hall with additional chants before moving on to Memorial Circle.

At the Sept. 11 Memorial, the crowd paused before marching down Greenhouse Lane, passing Sangree Greenhouse, and reaching the front of Bole Hall Annex, where President Houshmand’s office is located. This symbolic destination marked a crucial point in the protest, where attendees, including members of Rowan Progressives, took the opportunity to voice their opinions.

Multiple speakers addressed the crowd, providing context to their concerns and reiterating the demand for a revised university statement that acknowledged the diverse perspectives on the Israel-Hamas war. The organizers emphasized their belief that the university’s original statement had marginalized their voices, both on campus and in their advocacy for the people of Palestine. The call for a more inclusive and nuanced response reverberated through the gathered crowd.

“For one he made sure to say the word Israel and made sure to mention Israeli civilians, which was fine and everything like that, but it’s just complete disregard of the Palestinian people,” said one of the protesters who asked to remain anonymous. 

“Okay, you released a statement, but did you acknowledge the people that have been oppressed for 75 years in that same land that you implicitly held them responsible for the attacks on Oct. 7, which they weren’t even a part of… The statement itself, mainly addressed the Jewish community on campus, which is fine, they’re hurting as well, but it would have been nice if the Muslim students and the Arab students were acknowledged because those are our people dying as well. They’ve been dying for 75 years and all of a sudden everyone cares, but they only care for the wrong reasons. They only care to point fingers at us,” the anonymous protestor continued. 

The protest concluded around 5:30 pm, with the crowd dispersing, leaving only some Muslim students behind to pray before departing themselves. Currently, President Houshmand has yet to comment on the protest, retract his initial statement, or issue another.

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