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November 30, 2023

CT universities stage ‘silent protest’ against Israel-Hamas war

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR "Yale is complicit," read a banner on which students painted drops of blood. Approximately 50 people gathered for the silent protest on Yale's Cross Campus.

Students at several university campuses across Connecticut staged demonstrations Wednesday afternoon to call for an end to the Hamas-Israel war.

Dozens of students at Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University participated in silent sit-ins outside their universities’ main libraries. Protesters at Eastern Connecticut State University marched silently around campus holding signs that called for Palestinian liberation. And at Western Connecticut State University, students handed out pamphlets about death tolls and destruction in the Gaza Strip. 

The efforts at a handful of higher education institutions across the state were part of a collective protest organized by each campus’ Muslim Students Association, which not only called for ceasefire in the Hamas and Israel conflict but also mourned the loss of lives since war broke out in early October.

“As students, we have no choice but to compromise our education in order to show up for movements like these because they are the only way to gain the attention of our fellow classmates, colleagues, educators and administration,” said one Yale student organizer who asked for anonymity amid fears of doxxing or other forms of harassment.

“The Yale administration needs to hear us, and through silence, we will make them listen,” said another Yale student organizer. “We are not alone today. MSA’s across the state are in silence with us. Solidarity is what keeps us going. Solidarity is the reason why we are here today.”

A spokesman for Yale University said in a statement that its president, Peter Salovey, “has made clear that antisemitism, Islamophobia and hatred toward Palestinians and Israelis are emphatically against our values and principles at Yale. 

“Yale has put the physical safety and mental well-being of its campus community first,” the statement continued. “Security on and around campus was immediately increased, campus leaders reached out to those with ties to the region to provide them with support, and Yale was one of the first universities to issue a statement to its community pointing members toward resources, including its expectations, policies, and guidelines for events and activities on campus.”

Students at the University of New Haven and Fairfield University also reportedly participated in similar demonstrations on Wednesday.

The multi-campus action comes after weeks of “close communication” among the student groups at their respective universities, said Maheen Khan, secretary at Eastern Connecticut State University’s Muslim Students Association. 

“We were like ‘Let’s use MSA as a platform to start something because there’s clearly a lot happening, and we’re not going to sit down, stay silent,’” Khan said. 

The Connecticut Council on American-Islamic Relations also helped students organize their events by providing guidance on how to develop effective speeches and how to handle possible resistance from campus administrators.

Hassan Awwad, the operation director at CAIR, said the silent protests were intentional. The method was chosen to bring awareness about “the rise of hate crimes and discrimination,” the mental health impacts on students, and to pressure universities to improve discourse, Awwad said.

“We took into account the lack of awareness or sensitivity. [That] lack of awareness about the conflict … [creates] an exposure to a one-sided story,” Awwad said. “There is also the inadequacy of institutional response from universities. … We hope that the administrations of campuses would take vigils and these concerns seriously and communicate better with their Muslim students, protect them, and hear their story.”

Wednesday’s protest comes shortly after a man shot three college students in Vermont who were speaking Arabic, two of whom were wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian head garb. One of the victims is a current student at Trinity College in Hartford. 

For weeks, college protests have broken out across campuses throughout the country, recently at Columbia University, which has suspended two pro-Palestine groups. Other protests, arrests or suspensions took place at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

In Connecticut, students say protest efforts are arising because they haven’t felt supported by university leadership.

“There was no support,” said Sarah Majzoub, president of Southern Connecticut State University’s MSA. “Neither side felt any support, so that’s why all of these protests are kind of happening, because Jewish students who support Israel feel like they’re not being supported or other students who support Palestine feel like they’re not being supported either. … A lot of students have felt unsafe because of what’s happening.” 

Vice Chancellor of External Affairs Adam Joseph said the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system “has been committed to listening to all students since Oct. 7,” referring to the Hamas attack on Israel.

“As a Muslim — as someone who believes in human rights for all — I do not condone antisemitism or any hate,” added Shahzaid Raza, vice president of Southern’s MSA. “The Quran chapter five, verse 32, Allah tells us whoever kills one person, it is as if you killed all of mankind. I do not believe the loss of any innocent life, whether it is Israeli or Jewish, Arab or Muslim, is ever OK.”

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