Student demonstration in solidarity of suspended peers disbanded by administrators

| Editor-In-Chief

Students gathered outside the office of student conduct. (Sam Powers | Student Life)

Around 30 students stood outside the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards to express support for senior RJ Lucas, who was suspended from Washington University following the pro-Palestine Bear Day protest. The students demonstrated while Lucas was meeting with the student conduct board around 2:45 p.m., April 17. 

Lucas was one of three WashU students suspended from campus following the pro-Palestine, anti-Boeing protest on April 13. In addition to expressing support for Lucas, multiple students condemned the email statement released by Chancellor Martin earlier that day. Thirty minutes after the students began demonstrating, administrators said they had to leave the area outside the Office of Student Conduct on the South 40 and go to Mudd Field in accordance with the University’s Demonstrations and Disruption Policy. 

Junior Max Franks said that silencing protesters is in direct contrast with University ideals. 

“This University claims to be raising the next generation of leaders and world changers,” Franks said. “There is the WashU attitude that these are the people who are going to do influential things. Yet, our free speech is being curtailed, and people are being suspended for peaceful demonstration.”

The students who received suspensions are barred from physically being on campus and attending classes. Franks highlighted what he views as irony in this decision. 

“It feels very ironic that for a school that prides itself on morals and intellectuals that you’re getting in the way of your students’ ability to exhibit both what they believe in and to actually do their schoolwork,” Franks said. 

Franks and other protestors had tape over their mouths and held up flyers for the duration of the event. Most flyers contained a quote from Chancellor Martin’s statement on “Free Speech and Responsibility” from November of this year.

“Expressions of concern, displays of support — and PROTEST — are all anticipated and should be WELCOMED and PROTECTED on university campuses here and elsewhere,” the flyers read.

Brett Gustafson, a WashU professor of Sociocultural Anthropology who attended the student conduct meeting with Lucas, said that the suspensions are “outrageous” and represent the University’s attitude toward student activists. 

“I saw the videos. I thought it was a pretty heroic statement by the students who are concerned about the ongoing genocide in Palestine,” Gustafson said. “I think [the University’s reaction] reveals that they are not really interested in defending students’ free speech rights.”

When asked, Gustafson declined to comment on what happened during the student conduct meeting. 

Senior Bee, who asked to only be referred to by their first name for safety reasons, felt that the administrators’ decisions to suspend students were harsh.

“Just the fact that a student is being punished for speaking out against WashU goes entirely against my morals, and I [feel it’s] important to be here for them,” they said. 

Additionally, they expressed anger over the email statement from Chancellor Martin which included a response to both the Bear Day protest and the “egging incident.” 

“The idea that Andrew Martin thinks that those two in any way seem to be connected to each other [or] have the same level of disrespect or hatred behind them disgusts me,” Bee said. 

Sophomore Eden Naureckas also spoke about the statement and said that she finds the University recommendations following the suspensions to be hypocritical. 

“Apparently they told the students they can’t continue their coursework, but then told the professors that if [they] can make arrangements [to finish] their coursework off campus, maybe that’s possible. But they’ve been intentionally elusive both to the students who are undergoing this and to the general student body.”

Despite having to move to Mudd Field per administrators’ request, sophomore Sonal Churiwal said that organizers took measures to make sure that the demonstration was not perceived as a protest by administrators or other students. 

“We were very intentional when organizing this — we [did] not want to do chants or occupy space in a way that is disruptive or obstructs the normal activity of the [South] 40,” Churiwal said. “This was performance art that was done in solidarity with Palestinians who are living under genocide and with students, especially Black and brown students, who have been facing the wrath of the overly punitive measures of WashU.”

As students were leaving the area, Dean of Students and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Rob Wild, came out and began reading directly from the University Demonstrations and Disruption Policy off of his cell phone. The current policy does not include a definition of what does or does not constitute a protest. 

Churiwal and a few other students followed up with Wild as he walked away to ask what constituted a protest in the eyes of the University. Wild did not provide them with additional comments. 

Churiwal expressed her confusion and frustration over the lack of a clear definition from Wild and his refusal to engage in conversation.

“There’s no clear University policy on what constitutes a protest or not,” Churiwal said. “We were fully in compliance with the demonstration and disruption policy, but he still refused to answer my line of questioning.”

In an email to Student Life after the event, Wild acknowledged the conversation and explained that an advertisement for the event he had seen classified it as a “demonstration.”

The advertisement he referred to was an Instagram story post from ResistWashU made hours before the event. 

“Emergency Silent demonstration at 2:30 next to the clock tower!!!!” the post read. “Come show solidarity for the students charged with conduct violation on Sat. We are protesting rampant censorship of Pro-Palestinian voices on campus!!”

Churiwal said that Wild’s actions are indicative of administrators’ attitudes towards student activists. 

“This is precisely the point of the protests — that WashU is actively silencing student activists, that WashU is actively pushing [the] Demonstrations and Disruption Policy in a way that silences pro-Palestine students.”

For Franks, protesting is what he believes will have the biggest impact on the University and get them to change. 

“I don’t have a lot of power [as a student], and at the moment, the only way that we have to make administration listen is to do something that they can’t ignore,” he said.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.