Trinity Student Coalition for Justice in Palestine
In accordance with Trinity’s mission to “prepare students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives,” we, Trinity Students Coalition for Justice in Palestine, came together to do our part in transforming the current discourse regarding Palestine specifically, and orientalism, colonialism and oppression more broadly.
Students are assigned readings on genocides, decolonial movements and systems of oppression that are meant to invoke our consciousness and shape us into the leaders our world desperately needs. However, it is not often where we see the applicability of such education. Our movement hopes to use the very tenets of academia at Trinity to make this campus, and thus the world a more habitable and just place.
Trinity should be proud of the efforts that have come together in the past weeks to speak against the genocide in Palestine. This organizing is the biggest testament to our faculty’s success in nurturing our intellectual curiosity, creativity and moral consciousness. But instead, we have received nothing but neglect, ignorance and apathy. United by our moral imperative, we, a truly diverse group of students and faculty, from a range of different majors and expertise, came together to break the silence and complicity of this campus in funding the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and validating a colonial mindset that fosters hate, violence and dehumanization. Calling for justice in Palestine is only another step towards freeing our minds from fictitious universal rights and colonial oppression. Any attempt to preserve a collective consciousness collapses if we lacked the voices that have been actively calling for an end to the atrocities that fell upon the people of Gaza. Those who turn a blind eye on such crimes against humanity, lead to their own destruction. Frantz Fanon discussed the enslavement of the oppressor in a cycle of dehumanization that leads to the misconstruction of their identity in opposition to the oppressed. Edward Said points out the role of devised language and distorted narratives in the creation of this cycle. It is through these literatures and our lived realities that we find speaking out in the face of injustice and being safe as we do it, to be as imperative as our human needs of food, clothing and shelter.
Our righteous mobilization in the past few weeks is a fight against generating and reinforcing a cycle of dehumanization. Palestine Solidarity Week presents a realistic image of Palestinians: people with delicious cuisines, rich literature, tales of resistance and sumud. There is nothing more dehumanizing than having to prove the worth of your life. Yet, we expect Palestinians to tell why they have a right to life. We need to put an end to this. This is why we demand institutional changes that ensure safety, and a true, holistic recognition of solidarity that aligns with Trinity’s promise of inclusivity, diversity and equitability.
In this spirit, walk out with us tomorrow at 11:30 am towards Gates Quad to put forth our demands for Trinity administration. Bring your flags, posters, and keffiyeh! We also encourage alumni to email/call the President in support of our demands. It is our time to be heard!
Student Protests at Trinity College: Q & A
Campus protests have brought about social and political change, especially during times of considerable social upheaval. During the 1960s U.S. campuses were important organizing sites for the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and protests against the Vietnam War. The fields of Black Studies, feminist studies and ethnic studies were institutionalized in large part because of student protest, including the occupation of the president’s office at Cornell in 1967 and the five-month long student strike at San Francisco State College in 1968. During the 1980s and 1990s students played pivotal roles in the global fight against apartheid in South Africa. In the early 2000s, students organized massive demonstrations against globalization, the exploitation of sweatshop labor and the war on terror. More recently, in 2020, college students and campus activists have been critical to the success of the Black Lives Matter movement and struggles for LGBTQIA+ rights. Today students around the country are demanding that their campuses disinvest from fossil fuels, militarism, They are also joining a global chorus of voices to end the genocide in Palestine.
Protest has never been without risk, however. But knowing your rights can help make it possible to know what those risks are. Please note that just because a policy is written down does not mean it will be followed. Retaliation happens. But not always. And sometimes students win demands because of their actions. Also remember there is greater strength in numbers.
So, here are some questions, and answers.
Q: Is there a history of student protest at Trinity College?
A: YES. There is a long and proud history of student protest at Trinity. For example, in 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 150 Trinity students surrounded the Board of Trustees meeting in Downs Memorial Hall, trapping the board for many hours. They demand that the school create scholarships set aside for Black students. According to archival records of meeting minutes available at the Watkinson, the Trustees were planning on expelling the students who participated in the protest but soon realized they couldn’t suspend all 150 students and therefore ended up letting them off without punishment.
In 1970, 800-900 Trinity students went on strike to protest the expansion of the Vietnam War (Knapp 2000, p. 361). And during the 1980s, Trinity students built shantytowns on the Quad as part of an international protest against apartheid in South Africa.
More recently, in 2016, a group of students organized as the Action Coalition of Trinity (ACT), which issued a set of demands and engaged in direct action, including a silent protest at Mather, demanding “much-needed change and hold[ing] Trinity accountable for the perpetuation of racist, sexist, heteropatriarchal, and ableist notions that have permeated through every fabric of this institution’s design since 1823.”
In May 2019, students sat-in at the President’s office, protesting the administration’s decision to overrule the Student Government Associations (SGA)’s refusal to recognize the Churchill Club. And during the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020, Trinity’s Black student organizations formed the Umoja Coalition, issuing a number of detailed demands for racial justice—eventually winning commitments from the institution to hire more diverse faculty and implement a general education requirement focusing on “the systematic oppression of marginalized communities in the United States.” Just last fall students marched on campus to support two alumni who were bringing a Title IX lawsuit against the school.
Q: In general, do college students have the right to express their opinions on campus, including through protest?
A: Yes. Especially if they do not disrupt “regular and essential operations of the institution.” According to the American Association of University Professors “Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students” (1967), students have the right to express their opinions publicly, and without fear of retribution. The AAUP recognizes that:
Students and student organizations should be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately. They should always be free to support causes by orderly means that do not disrupt the regular and essential operations of the institution. At the same time, it should be made clear to the academic and larger community that in their public expressions or demonstrations students or student organizations speak only for themselves.
Q: Does this general rule of thumb apply at Trinity?
A: Yes. In fact, the section “Poster and Banner Regulations” in the Trinity College Student Handbook quotes verbatim the same passage from the 1967 AAUP statement above. And then goes on to note that:
Recognizing the importance of free exchange of ideas to the academic mission of the College, and consistent with the AAUP’s statement, these regulations are not an attempt to restrict content or ideas, but rather a mechanism by which we may facilitate their orderly exchange and promote dialogue and provision of equal access…Individuals and organizations are expected to use good judgment and civility when posting information.
Nowhere does the Student Handbook restrict protest as such, but does note that forms of expression–such as hanging flyers–should be done using “good judgment and civility.”
These caveats about avoiding disruption, and practicing “good judgment and civility,” exist in balance with other statements that imply that student protest is a protected form of campus speech.
One could argue that protest is also completely consistent with Trinity’s mission statement, which states that Trinity “prepares students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives.” And clarifies that to transform means to “support all members of our community in achieving their potential and in moving forward with the skills to navigate and transform a dynamic world.”
Likewise the “Student Integrity Contract” signed during matriculation recognizes that “Free inquiry and free expression are essential” to meeting the schools’ educational mission, and that this necessarily includes “freedom of association.”
Furthermore, Trinity College’s Non-Discrimination Policy recognizes that:
Although certain actions, speech, and forms of expression may run contrary to individual beliefs, many of them are protected by law and are permissible under the principles of academic freedom. The College provides space for provocative and unpopular speech and expression so long as those actions do not violate the law and/or are not found to be targeted and intentional actions that violate the College’s non-discrimination policy.
In other words, protest speech can be “provocative and unpopular” and still protected. It becomes potentially more problematic when an individual feels targeted and can make a claim of discrimination.
Q: What should I be worried about?
A: Risk is always born unequally, based on both intersectional forms of privilege (or lack thereof) as well as one’s personal willingness to engage in activity that may come with consequences. Ultimately it is up for each student to decide what activities they feel safe participating in. However, as with the example of the 1968 protest above, there is strength in numbers. Furthermore, for those willing and able to take risks, and with enough organizing and support, the threat of intimidation or retaliation can become an opportunity for further organizing.
It is important to avoid making potentially libelous or slanderous claims about individuals, especially given that some individuals on campus are known to be litigious. However, it should be noted that this has only happened under particular circumstances.
Q: Are there additional risks for international students?
A: Yes. Being a non-citizen can make one particularly vulnerable. This could be especially true around the issue of Palestine, which has a long history of police, courts, media and college administrators being particularly unsympathetic to protests. Yale’s Office of International Students & Scholars provides some useful tips for thinking about how to evaluate, and mitigate, risk as an international student. It should be noted that, in the case of Trinity, the Office of International Students and Scholars responded to Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 by proactively working with the Umoja Coalition to identify ways to improve the experience of international students on campus.
Q: I still don’t feel safe protesting. What should I do?
A: Remember: protest is just one way to work for change. If you are unable to participate in direct action or other visible protest activities yourself, remember there are many ways to be involved. You can engage in the absolutely critical work of building organizational capacity. You can organize in your community, offer mutual aid and other forms of support, or engage in writing, media, and other advocacy work. All these roles are essential to successful movements.
Further reading about campus protest:
For a history of campus protest, the Black freedom movement, and the right-wing backlash (and student loans) see:
Ferguson, Roderick A. We demand: The University and Student Protests. University of California Press,
For a history of how campus protest shaped the formation of ethnic studies departments see:
Okihiro, Gary Y. Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation. Duke University Press, 2016.
For a look at student protests during the twenty-first century, and the politics of radical study, see:
Meyerhoff, Eli. Beyond Education: Radical Studying for Another World. University of
Minnesota Press, 2019.