Over the past month, state violence directed at Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and increasingly in the West Bank at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces has escalated to horrific levels. The Trinity College campus has seen a lukewarm response from the administration in contrast to the work of student organizations and some faculty members responding to the genocide and destruction. The activity on campus also pales in comparison to other colleges across the nation, as well as the overall global response, such as the recent pro-Palestine march in Washington D.C. on Nov. 5.
Since Oct. 7, over 9,500 Palestinians have been killed at the time of writing this article. Nearly half of the killings have been children. A refugee camp, 55 mosques, three universities and three churches in Gaza have been destroyed by Israeli bombings. The region is currently in an internet blackout. Over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced. Greater calls across the world have been made to provide medical aid, food and water to Gaza, all of which Israeli forces have cut off. The United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee called for an immediate ceasefire on Nov. 5, and countries such as Jordan have pulled their ambassador to Israel in protest of the violence towards Palestine.
At Trinity, student organizations on campus have been the most active in providing resources for students to show their support for Palestine and providing opportunities for students to act. The International House has been fundraising to assist Palestine amidst the destruction of the Gaza Strip and the ongoing suffering of civilians. At the Diwali event on Sunday, Nov. 5, opportunities for donating were also provided.
Professor Ibrahim Shikaki hosted a discussion on the history of the occupation of Palestine on Thursday, Oct. 26. The event saw a massive turnout and went on for over two hours. Shikaki spoke on the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict that spans over 75 years, and then allowed participants, mainly students, the opportunity to openly express their thoughts, opinions and fears on the current events. Participants were allowed to speak for as long as needed. Two deans of the college were in attendance, but College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney was not, which prompted criticism from the student body.
The message from the College Administration centered on grieving and empathy. On Oct. 10, Berger-Sweeney sent a letter to the College titled “Conflict in the Middle East” grouping the retaliation of Israel as another war and tragedy happening in the region. The letter emphasized that members of the Trinity College student body who are impacted by these events most closely by having family or friends in Israel, Palestine and the Middle East have the College’s support. A letter from Vice President for Student Success and Enrollment Management Joe DiChristina thanked the work of some faculty and staff members who have provided support for students and provided contact information for Campus Safety, the Wellness Center and administrators for students that are struggling or feel unsafe. The letter requested that students and other members of the community inform them on what is needed.
On Wednesday, Oct. 11, the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life held a Candlelight Vigil at the Chapel referencing the violence in Gaza by Israeli forces, Hamas’s attack on Israel and earthquakes in Afghanistan that also occurred on Oct. 7. The College administration has neglected to specifically acknowledge the violence towards the Palestinian people as genocide in its statements. According to attendees of the vigil at the Chapel, Berger-Sweeney was in attendance, but has not attended the events hosted by the Muslim Student Association, the South Asian Student Association or the event hosted by Shikaki.
Other responses to the conflict were brought up in the event held by Shikaki, including the targeting of outwardly pro-Palestine students by Trinity alumni through social media or other forms of personal communication, and an online server that tracks individuals expressing pro-Palestine remarks. This is in-line with responses on other college campuses where students who voice support for Palestine have been harassed, fired and/or rejected from certain positions and job offers and even arrested, like the group of students at University of Massachusetts – Amherst who held a sit-in demanding that the university cut ties with companies like Raytheon which creates weapons for Israel’s attacks.
The wider media has made note of protests occurring on college campuses demanding a ceasefire and the end of brutality against Palestinians. No protests have yet occurred on Trinity’s campus. The largest protest for Palestine in U.S. history occurred in Washington D.C. on Nov. 4 and saw an estimated 300,000 participants. While the College has stated its overwhelming support for all affected by the events of Oct. 7, the opportunities for speaking up for Palestinian lives remains left to the work of student organizations.