Pro-Palestine protest at admitted students event results in court summons for protesters

and | News Editor and Managing News Editor

Protestors hold up pro-Palestine signs and chant outside of Graham Chapel. (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

Protesters shut down an admitted students event as part of a pro-Palestine demonstration calling on Washington University officials to divest from Boeing. As a result, the Washington University Police Department issued 12 protesters court summons for trespassing, disturbing the peace, and refusing to disperse, April 13. 

Resist WashU posted to their Instagram in the morning asking followers to help “shut down admitted students day” at Graham Chapel, referencing the WashU Admissions event, Bear Day, which included a full day of programming around campus. Around 9:13 a.m., protesters inside rolled out banners with pro-Palestine slogans from the second-floor balcony and went up onto the stage, chanting “WashU, WashU, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide.” 

According to protest organizers, WUPD made an announcement informing them they needed to leave the building or they would start arresting students at 10:30 a.m. At the time of this announcement, roughly 12 students decided to stay inside the building, while around 40 protesters stood outside the chapel and chanted with banners. 

At around 9:15 a.m., WUPD directed all prospective students to leave the building and stopped allowing people into the chapel. They did not allow reentry for two hours, when all students who stayed on the stage were released with court summons, with a date of June 4. 

Senior RJ Lucas walks out of Graham Chapel, holding a court summons, where other protestors are waiting for him. (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

Sarah, a student protester who wished to only be referred to by her first name due to potential disciplinary repercussions, said that the event was necessary because the University was not listening to Student Union Senate’s recent demands to divest from Boeing. 

“Often, figures of authority will encourage people to use sanctioned channels to affect change, and that’s exactly what the student body did in passing the [Student Union] resolution to implore the University to divest from Boeing,” she said. “Students went through the proper channels and the University has completely declined to respond, there’s no formal accountability, so we thought it was necessary to make it clear that the demand still stands.” 

Daniel Cazares, Class of 2023, was one of the people issued a summons and said he hoped that the protest would deter students from attending WashU. 

“A few families stayed behind until the cops fully cleared the chapel,” Cazares said. “I doubt that their kids will come here, which to me is mission accomplished.”

Cazares also said that they hoped the protests made prospective students aware of how they thought WashU treats dissenting students.

“This is a place of violence,” Cazares said. “Don’t come here unless you want a cop’s hand on your neck.” 

After leaving Graham Chapel, families stood outside for approximately 20 minutes as chanting from the protesters continued. Admissions staff then directed them to go to the Danforth University Center and later to lecture halls on the East End of campus. 

Emily Small, a parent of a prospective student and a self-described activist, said that she understood the students’ reasoning but that she disagreed with their tactics.

“I’m sympathetic to the cause, but this is not the way that you bring people together,” Small said. “They’ve just pissed off this entire chapel full of people. That’s not good organizing.”

Small’s son, Phoenix Unzueta, said that he was disappointed with the timing of the protest but that it wouldn’t impact his decision to matriculate at WashU.

“I think it kind of ruins the experience of admitted students who are coming here wanting to experience campus and wanting to make a decision that’s going to impact the next four years of their life,” Unzueta said. “It won’t impact my decision, I just have a very limited time on campus today, and they’re wasting my time.”

Sophia Kalimian, a student accepted through Early Decision, said that she was scared by the protest. 

“I think a lot of us chose WashU for the [large] Jewish population, and this is so scary,” Kalimian said. “I’m just gonna try and find people that share my values.”

After most people had left for the DUC, one parent, who asked to remain anonymous, stayed behind to film the students and chanted quietly with them before leaving.

“I am very proud, especially that they’re standing for justice in Palestine,” he said. “I’ve never seen this diversity of different kinds of people standing for justice. I am very surprised.”

As the protesters outside waited for the roughly 12 students who were inside, they began to chant “IDF, KKK, WUPD are all the same,” referring to the Israeli Defense Forces.

Junior Maclean Kelley, one of the protesters who was served a court summons, said that the chant pointed out the similarities between the organizations. 

“What [the chant] means is that all of these organizations are armed, are white supremacists, and [are] colonizing forces, and that’s why they’re all the same.”

Inside the chapel, at around the same time, a video on the Resist WashU Instagram account story showed protesters continuing to chant. 

“There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” they shouted.

Additionally, as University administrators and WUPD officers walked inside and around Graham Chapel, protesters yelled “shame” at them.  

Kelley, as well as many of the other protesters, also called out individual University administrators, including Chancellor Martin and Dean of Students Rob Wild, at some points chanting directly at them as they walked around Graham.

“I think Dr. G[onzalez] should be really embarrassed by how they treat students who are talking back to the University,” Kelley said. “Students are gonna keep shutting sh*t down as long as the University doesn’t listen to our demands.”

On the evening of the protest, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Dr. Anna Gonzalez sent out a University-wide email alongside Provost Beverly Wendland explaining that the students involved in the protest would be “subject to further disciplinary action” in addition to the court summons, and that non-students involved would be banned from campus.

Gonzalez also criticized the protesters for staging the protest during Bear Day as well as language used in their chants.

“Today’s disruption of the event in Graham Chapel was unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Gonzalez wrote. “We also feel compelled to mention that some of the language that was used at the protest was offensive and hurtful to many attendees and other members of our community.”

WUPD Chief of Police Angela Coonce and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Rob Wild said that comment from Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications Julie Flory would serve as their own comment. Flory told Student Life in a later email that Gonzalez’s comment would serve as her own.

As protesters from inside began to walk out, each holding a court summons, students outside cheered for them. Some students with court summons held them up and began to lead chants calling for a free Palestine as they walked toward the crowd. 

Senior RJ Lucas gave a short speech into a megaphone after he exited Graham Chapel. 

“This [admitted students] event really has been shut down by a coalition of community members who oppose WashU’s investments in genocide,” he said. “After continuous demands by students for WashU to divest from [the] arms manufacturing company Boeing, including a recent resolution passed through student government, we still hear no response.”

Lucas said that he refused to remain complicit or remain silent. 

“Parents — you must be informed that this University has incessantly and will continue to infringe on students’ rights to protest and free speech,” he said. “We put up posters last semester that were taken down within an hour. That’s the University’s idea of free speech.”

Sarah was one of the protesters who received a court summons. She said that the group stayed in the building to make it clear to prospective students what the atmosphere was on campus regarding student activism.

“[WUPD] wasn’t so organized; we were standing around for a bit after they took down our information and photographed us because they didn’t have a court date or a citation number prepared,” she said. 

Raf Garcia, who is not WashU-affiliated, said that when students were informed that they would be arrested if they remained in the building, they all agreed to stay. 

“They asked us to disperse numerous times, and we were linking arms and sitting down on the stage area and we just kept sitting down, kept chanting, kept sticking to the message,” he said.

Raf Garcia said that the court summons he received had a list of charges including trespassing, disruption, and a noise complaint. As he walked out to fellow protesters cheering, he said he appreciated the solidarity. 

“To have all that support, it felt good to see that so many people showed up and came out especially on a day like this, I feel like it’s really important,” he said. 

Julien Garcia, another student who received a court summons, is a sophomore at Saint Louis University (SLU) and one of the founders of the Occupy SLU Coalition. 

“We’ve had countless WashU people come by and show solidarity to our causes at SLU and this is a united effort, this is the fight for collective liberation,” he said.

Julien Garcia said when the students were inside, they were initially told that they could either receive a written violation or that they would be physically arrested and taken to the St. Louis County Police Department. 

“They didn’t actually give us the option,” he said. “We said, ‘We are not taking this violation, you’re going to have to book us and take us to County.’”

Julien Garcia said that, although students said they wanted to be formally arrested, WUPD chose to fill out court summons for each of them. 

“They didn’t actually give us that option, because they didn’t want to show people what they’re capable of,” he said. “They don’t want to show people that they will arrest students.” 

He said that it’s important to disrupt these events so that potential students hear their message. ​​

“Prospective students need to know that on this campus they have no voice, that on this campus, regardless of the fact that student government passed a divestment resolution, WashU administration has had no significant response,” Julien Garcia said. “People need to know the reality of what’s happening.”

Cazares added that they intend to continue protesting.

“We’re letting WashU know that this is just the beginning,” Cazares said. “It will only be bigger the next time.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated on April 14 to reflect that 12 protestors received court summons, rather than 10. 

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