Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘Popular University Encampment’ in 2B alleyway enters second day, students host several events

Students+occupy+2B+alley+at+Emerson+College+in+tent+encampment
Arthur Mansavage
Students form a human barricade in the 2B alley on April 21 as Boston police officers are stationed across the street. (Arthur Mansavage/Beacon Staff)

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Updated on April 23 at 12:17 a.m.

The Emerson Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s “Popular University Encampment” in 2 Boylston Alley entered its second day on Monday and unveiled a day full of events, including a lecture, presentations, and a community discussion.

Protesters put up tents Sunday evening and pledged to occupy the alley until the college responds to Emerson College Students’ Union’s and Emerson SJP’s seven proposals. Students chanted, wrote messages with chalk throughout the alley, chatted amongst each other, and lounged in the alley until around 11 p.m. Students then gathered during quiet hours to have community discussions late into the night.

From the morning to early afternoon on Monday, a counterprotester sat across the alleyway and hung up an Israeli flag. Additionally, Boston Police Department (BPD) arrived early at the scene but did not issue immediate arrests. A fire marshal was present and was trying to get students “charged for their chalking of the 2B alley,” according to an Emerson SJP post.

Upon multiple requests for comment, BPD told the Beacon that they could not provide information regarding the potential arrests at this time.

At 12:31 p.m. on Monday, students sat in for a lecture on Palestine and the pro-Palestine encampment’s connection to Occupy Wall Street, which was led primarily by interdisciplinary associate professor Yasser Munif. The lecture was followed by a Q&A session where students got to ask direct questions to Munif, interdisciplinary professor Nigel Gibson, and associate professor Nelli Sargsyan. 

“I’m just so impressed by the student’s ability to organize [and] their thoughtfulness to consider all these different kinds of issues that potentially can come up and how to take care of each other,” Sargsyan said in an interview with the Beacon. “[With] the way that they’re organizing, [I feel like] I can learn from my students… I see them as amazing educators.” 

In an interview with the Beacon, Munif said the rally serves as an opportunity for students to put increased pressure on the college that would force them to commit to student demands and proposals. Munif added that it is more productive for the college to take these actions than allow these acts of resistance to continue. 

“This is how social movements operate,” Munif said. “They create a situation where it becomes socially too costly to keep the status quo and therefore, change happens.”

An event will be held on Wednesday at 4 p.m. led by Sargsyan, Munif, associate professor Vinicius Navarro, one graduate student, and four undergraduate students. Sargsyan said if the encampments continue until then, the event will be moved to the alley.

At around 3:28 p.m., Willie Burnley ‘16, Somerville at-large city councilor, spoke in front of the group to stand in solidarity with the students. Burnley was among the several hundred students in 2015 who demanded campuswide cultural competency and sensitivity classes in a rally that led protesters from the halls of the Walker Building to a faculty meeting in the Bill Bordy Theater. He also wrote an essay in 2013 for Lash Magazine titled “The Race Problem at Emerson,” which became required reading for the writing, literature, and publishing department. 

“Seeing all of these students here today fighting for justice domestically and abroad is one of the greatest feelings of joy I could imagine,” Burnley said.

When Burnley came to Emerson in 2012 from California, he expected the college to be “welcoming, progressive” and allow him to be surrounded by “like-minded individuals.” Instead, the college “never invested in students, never [gave] us real power to determine our futures, [and] never [let] us know where our funds were actually going,” he said. 

“You are forcing Emerson to, once again, be transparent about where they’re putting your money,” Burnley said. “The money that I owe them, but I am not gonna pay them back.”

At 4:19 p.m., the Boston Common Coalition for the Homeless (BCCH) led a presentation called “Homelessness from Gaza to Boston: The Art of Defying Displacement.”

“As an organization, the Boston Common Coalition refuses to be complicit in the erasure and displacement of our neighbors, all the way from Boston to Gaza,” a BCCH representative said.

BCCH representatives invited an unhoused individual to speak about their experience with homelessness. The individual is a founder of Homeless Lives Matter Miami Dade and has been homeless in Miami, New York, and now Boston.

“Our war is not in Ukraine. Our war is not in the Middle East. It’s in our streets,” they said. “But we pray for those that are in war around the world. We stand for what is right and for the justice that we all deserve.”

At around 5:22 p.m., Emerson SJP announced on Instagram that they were meeting with President Jay Bernhardt to discuss the encampment campaign.

According to Anna Feder, a member of Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine who attended the meeting with administration, a college official reportedly shared an ordinance with Emerson SJP organizers earlier today to warn students that they could be forced to remove the tents. The ordinance was passed by Mayor Michelle Wu in 2023 and “bans individuals from setting up tents and tarps on public property,” according to the City of Boston’s website.

“[Encampments] undermine the city’s ability to maintain adequate access to public property for individuals of all abilities, an unobstructed path of travel, and a safe and hazard-free environment for all individuals,” the website read.

According to Feder, Bernhardt said arrests could happen and that he doesn’t have control over BPD. Additionally, Bernhardt offered to allow students to move the encampments, she said. She said Bernhardt did not agree to commit to any of the student demands. Bernhardt has yet to confirm or deny any information regarding the ordinance, possible arrests, or his meeting with Emerson SJP at the time this story was published.

In an email sent to the Emerson community Sunday night, Bernhardt said that college officials were working closely with BPD to monitor the rally. The 2B alley is under the jurisdiction of BPD, where, generally, the jurisdiction of a municipal police agency extends to all property located within the municipality’s boundaries, according to the rules and procedures of BPD. Bernhardt has yet to respond to whether or not the college asked Emerson College Police Department to not issue arrests or if they asked BPD to hold off from making any arrests. 

At 6 p.m., Jews Against Zionism (JAZ) held a “Freedom For All Seder” at the encampment. 

At around 8 p.m., Emerson Green Collective (ECG) led a presentation discussing environmental justice in Palestine. 

At around 9 p.m., students began preparing for potential arrests or encampment sweeps by creating human barricades in front of the 2B alleyway arches and in front of the Massachusetts Transportation Building, where it is said to be the locations with the highest risks of arrests. Students also wrote a lawyer’s number on their arms in case they were to be arrested. 

It is unknown if BPD has plans to make immediate arrests as of 12:31 a.m. There are only two police cars visibly present on Boylston Street outside the college’s campus as of 12:31 a.m.

Beacon staff Sophia Pargas and Olivia LeDuc contributed to this report.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Nguyen
Hannah Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Hannah Nguyen (she/her) is a junior journalism major from North Wales, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in publications like The Boston Globe, North Penn Now and AsAmNews. Outside of writing, she enjoys thrifting and painting her nails. (see: https://linktr.ee/hannahcnguyen)

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