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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

‘History will remember where you stand’: Students, faculty, staff testify at town hall regarding April 25 arrests

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  • Eric Alexander, chair of the Board of Trustees, yells “Back the fuck up” at Bryan Edouard, a student speaker at the town hall, on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

  • Facilitators Dr. Deion Hawkins and Mneesha Gellman address the town hall on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

  • SGA President-elect Nandan Nair speaks during the town hall on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

  • Anna Feder, FSJP, speaks at the town hall on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

  • Samantha Ivery, director of Equity Initiatives, speaks at the town hall on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

Members of the Emerson community gathered in the Semel Theater in the Tufte Building for a moderated town hall Monday morning to discuss the events and emotions leading up to, during, and after the April 25 arrests.

Community members were invited “in the spirit of engaging with one another with candor and courage and with an eye toward healing and action,” according to an email sent the morning of April 29.

The town hall was facilitated by Dr. Deion Hawkins, assistant professor in communication studies, and Dr. Mneesha Gellman, associate professor and director of the Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI), along with several other faculty member volunteers, according to an Instagram post shared by Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FSJP). 

President Jay Bernhardt and Eric Alexander, chair of the Board of Trustees, sat near the front of the theater. Vice Presidents Jim Hoppe and Shaya Gregory Poku, who were both seen in the 2 Boylston Place Alley after the April 25 arrests took place, were both seated near the top of the theater. 

There were at least 100 speakers at the town hall, and 92 email statements were sent during the event by a combination of students, faculty, and staff. Many protesters who were arrested on April 25 were present, reflecting on their experiences in the alley and after being arrested. They talked about the injuries they sustained and the collective mental traumas they continue to unpack. 

The town hall came after the faculty assembly on April 23, where 69 percent out of 150 faculty members voted in favor of having a community-wide town hall meeting before May 2. The vote came in response to the Emerson Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Emerson College Students’ Union (ECSU) proposal to the college to “hold an in-person college-wide assembly before the last day of spring ‘24 classes to allow students, faculty, staff, and administrators to discuss campus climate following March 22,” an Instagram post said. 

Though the town hall was planned before April 25, the discussions were largely centered around the recent arrests. Hawkins led with a guiding question asking students how their experiences at Emerson this year have been negatively impacted and what policies and structures contribute to this negative impact. Responses to this question took up the entirety of the town hall’s budgeted time. 

Many students reiterated the “Popular University Encampment” demands for the college to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, ensure financial transparency, and divest from entities that financially support Israel. Some students suggested during their speaking time that classes should have a pass or fail option, as many are still recovering from the turmoil the arrests have caused. 

Students also echoed sentiments from the Student Government Association’s (SGA) vote of no confidence last week, calling on Bernhardt to resign. 

“Show us action. Show us anything. You have already failed us,” said a student speaker. “But if you cannot respect us enough to concede to our demands and resign, then prove yourself. We are waiting. We are watching, history is watching, history will remember where you stand.” 

Speakers also alluded to the unanimous nature of the vote of no confidence and how the student body largely supports the measure. 

“Maybe resignation is not the solution, but when much of the student body feels unanimous in their support, it’s unconscionable,” a speaker said. 

According to the Boston Globe, Mayor Michelle Wu and Police Commissioner Michael Cox together agreed to remove the 2B Alley encampment and the arrests of protesters. Students condemned their call for violent police intervention.

​​“To the City of Boston and mayor, we will not let you hide from the violence you enacted against your students in your positions,” a student said. 

Additionally, speakers called out local and national media outlets for stating that no injuries were reported per police reports, despite dozens of video and photo evidence circulating on social media showing police officers using extreme force. 

“To the media, [we] will not forget the lies you distributed and the woeful failure of your journalism,” a student said. 

Faculty and staff at the college, many of whom are Black women who were at the scene of the April 25 arrests, shared what they witnessed and the distress it has caused, including Samantha Ivery, the director of Equity Initiatives. Ivery said she was present at the encampment and locked out of campus buildings when the arrests began. 

I was there in the encampment. I saw the multi-faith Seder during Passover. I called my mom, and I said, ‘Mom, I think that’s what heaven looks like,’” Ivery said. “I will never forget being locked out of Emerson’s building. I will never forget the screams. I will never forget the cries. I will never forget seeing bodies thrown and dragged across the brick ground. I will never forget pulling my colleagues from the hands of the police. I will never forget the blood. I will never forget.”

A Jewish student spoke out about how it is “shameful” that their identity is being used to “justify horrific actions against a group of students I am a part of.” 

“The only anti-Semitism I have witnessed on campus and towards myself has been against the Jewish students in the encampment,” the student said. “Some of the things that are spouted in the comments section of the Jews Against Zionism Instagram are enough for diplomatic action.” 

In response to this testimony, Bernhardt wrote “email; anti-Semitism is only against JAZ; (BS)” in his notepad.

JAZ, otherwise known as Jews Against Zionism, is an unaffiliated student organization on campus that officially formed following the March 22 arrests, where 12 Emerson students and one non-Emerson student were arrested during a pro-Palestine protest outside Bernhardt’s inauguration ceremony.

After a Beacon reporter asked Bernhardt what he could have meant when he wrote the note following the town hall, Bernhardt said he “did not write that.”

“JAZ has a right to exist as a student organization,” he said. “I support their rights to their beliefs. I absolutely have no negative feelings towards them.”

When asked for a second time why “BS” was written next to “JAZ,” Bernhardt initially denied writing it.

“I was just taking notes,” he added. “I don’t believe [I wrote] anything negative.”

In a later email statement to the Beacon, Bernhardt said he “took a number of notes on the more than 100 speakers who commented throughout the meeting.” 

One of the notes “indicated that I had a different perspective on an emailed statement that was read, based on knowledge of alleged antisemitism acts and language targeted against Jewish students who are not affiliated with JAZ,” Bernhardt wrote.

In an additional email to the Beacon written after publication, Bernhardt further clarified the note stands for “both sides.”

Faculty and student workers further reflected on their experiences at the encampment while arrests were underway on April 25.

Tamia Jordan, the director of Intercultural Student Affairs, was also at the scene when the arrests came down. Similar to other faculty testimony, Jordan said she was also locked out of campus buildings. She spoke of hope for the future and in her role.

“We are hired to support BIPOC students. We’re hired to create community. When attempting to do a job that we were hired to do by this institution, [they] locked us out and no one has yet to apologize for that,” Jordan said. “[The arrests] happened in a very terrible … and brutal way and the community came together for justice. It lifted my heart in such a way and gave me so much hope. I just hope that we’re able to do the job that we were hired to do.”

Additionally, many resident assistants were asked to provide support for their residents and help them find which precincts people were at. 

“Later that night, after I listened to the screaming and witnessed the brutal arrests of my fellow students, I had to return to my residence hall and immediately jumped into my role as a support for my residents who had also experienced trauma without having a chance to process my own emotions and experience,” an RA said. 

Illona Yosefov, an instructional technologist and Israeli, spoke about how many Israelis have condemned occupation and genocide in Gaza. Additionally, Bernhardt said in a Q&A interview with the Beacon after the March 22 arrests that the college is “not going to take a formal position or take a side in a global dispute that doesn’t directly affect our college and our operations.” Yosefov said that it is “not true that the administration does not make any political statements.”

“This resistance to calling for a ceasefire or divesting from Israel is not a policy that the university has because there were calls about Ukraine,” Yosefov said. “After Oct. 7, there was an email saying we condemn the act of Hamas. But after that, there was nothing saying we condemn killing aid workers or blowing up universities and hospitals or starving babies.”

Senior visual media arts major Bryan Edouard directly called upon Bernhardt during his testimony, saying, “Don’t look away, I’m right here.” He also asked all students to stand up as he spoke and later explained this choice in an interview with the Beacon. 

“When I got on the mic, I made sure Jay Bernhardt was looking. And that’s why I’ve asked all the students to stand up because if he was looking at me, he had no choice but to look at everybody else,” Edouard said in the interview. “As a VMA student, ain’t nothing more hitting than when you’re at the inferior angle among many people who seem taller than you. And at that point, he needed to know we were taller than him. You’re not just attacking one person. You’re not just arresting a small group of kids. You’re coming at the world, bro.” 

During his testimony, Edouard, a graffiti artist, reached into his bag to reveal a can of spray paint. 

“The chalk could easily turn into…” he said, pausing and pulling the can from his bag, “SPRAY PAINT!” 

Senior visual media arts student Bryan Edouard speaks at the moderated town hall held on Monday, April 29 in the Semel Theater. At timestamp 0:14, Eric Alexander, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, can be seen and heard saying “Back the fuck up” to Edouard. (Video courtesy David Sazdic)

In response, Eric Alexander, chair of the Board of Trustees, stood from his chair, stating, “Back the fuck up.” In a photo, Bernhardt could be seen physically gesturing for Alexander to sit down. The interaction was also caught on video. Edouard responded to the interaction in the interview. 

“​​I’m not scared of you just because you got power,” he said, referencing Alexander. “Just because you can fuck with my financial aid. I can always transfer. And that’s not gonna hurt me. That’s gonna hurt you. Because I can still say I’m part of the Emerson community. Because now I’m written in stone alongside my peers. I’m not just somebody who is doing things on the sideline now.” 

In an email statement to the Beacon, Interim Executive Director of Communications Michelle Gaseau recounted the incident. 

​​“It is my understanding that there was a regrettable interaction when someone physically approached members of the leadership team and pulled a can of spray paint out of their backpack; the board member was surprised and startled and asked that the student back up, using language that was not professional,” she wrote. 

In an interview with the Beacon, SGA President-elect Nandan Nair also responded to the comment from Alexander. 

“I was disappointed to see the chairman’s reaction,” Nair said. “While I understand the atmosphere was tense, it is in those situations where we must listen and hear those who were hurt and traumatized, not lash out. It was unprofessional.” 

A student speaker ended their remarks with a direct call to the administration present. 

“You can wash away the chalks off the alleyway, but you will never get rid of the blood on your hands,” they said. 

Following the town hall, students convened in the 2B Alley, chanting “Free Palestine” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, cause the power of the people don’t stop.” Students could also be seen chalking the alley with phrases like “We keep us safe,” “Jews for Palestine,” and “Ceasefire now.” 

At around 2:55 p.m., on-scene Beacon reporters noted a police van and two Boston Police Department cars had arrived at the alley. A protester warned students to disperse, and the police cars and vans left the scene by 3:11 p.m. as students yelled “shame” and booed them. 

Reporters witnessed students dispersing as police presence increased, likely a direct reaction to the recent arrests. 

As incoming SGA president, Nair pledged to support students’ right to protest and right to free speech. 

“I encourage and support every student’s right to protest and right to free speech. I do want to encourage their safety,” Nair said. “The last thing I want to see is another student get brutalized and beaten up by the police the way we saw a couple of nights ago. And so I encouraged their right to free speech. I encouraged their right to protest. I just wished for their safety and hope that they stay safe.” 

Bernhardt did not respond to a Beacon request for comment regarding the possibility of him resigning following the town hall.

In his interview with the Beacon, Nair emphasized his desire for the administration—especially Bernhardt—to prioritize listening to student testimonies sooner in the future. 

“One of our biggest criticisms and the community’s biggest criticism about President Bernhardt has been his accessibility and his lack of willingness to be out with people in these kind of moments of division,” he said. “And so I do appreciate him being there. I do believe it is a bit late to be doing this, but I’m glad he’s there, and I really hope he listens.” 

Nair also expressed pride in the students and faculty who spoke at the town hall and emphasized his intent to center community voices in the future. 

“I’m so proud of our community,” he said. “I will never be able to fully fathom and understand the pain and trauma of the students that were at the alley. But as SGA president, our job is to amplify and uplift the voices of our students and protect our student body. We will continue to hold this administration accountable until action is taken to move this university in the direction that its students feel best and to ensure that students have a voice at the decision-making table.”

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  • Samantha Ivery, director of Equity Initiatives, holds the hand of Muslim Chaplain Amber Hai, who is wearing a keffiyeh, which acts as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

  • David Sazdic, a photographer, films a student speaker at the town hall on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

  • A student speaker at the town hall dons a keffiyeh, which acts as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

  • A student speaker at the town hall wears purple “Emerson College” hoodie on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

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About the Contributors
Sophia Pargas
Sophia Pargas, Editor-in-Chief
Sophia Pargas (she/her) is a senior Journalism and Marketing Communications double major from Miami, Florida. She has served on the Beacon since her sophomore year, using it as an opportunity to grow professionally and cover the things that matter to her—personal narratives, culture, ethics, arts, and much more. Outside of the paper, Sophia is a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, an Engagement Lab student fellow, and has held several journalism and marketing internships at NBCUniversal, NBC South Florida, NBC Boston, and WCVB. To learn more about Sophia, her passions, and her experience, visit her personal portfolio "The SCP Journal." 
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)
Olivia LeDuc
Olivia LeDuc, News Editor
Olivia LeDuc (she/her) is a journalism student and assistant editor for the campus coverage of The Beacon’s news section. When she’s not reporting, you can find her crocheting or going on yet another long walk in the city.
Merritt Hughes
Merritt Hughes, Opinion Co-Editor
DJ Mara
DJ Mara, Kasteel Well Bureau Co-Editor

Comments (9)

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  • M

    Mark M Stewart / Apr 30, 2024 at 10:16 pm

    I raised two daughters through their teenage years so I am used to irrational emotionalism and gnashing of teeth, but nothing quite at this level from people whom I reluctantly call “young adults”. Oh that terrible man at the Herald who called us “snowflakes”. If you hold yourself out to public ridicule, there will be those who take the bait. You have damaged the Emerson brand, perhaps beyond redemption. This champion of the school has now put his Emerson shirts and hat into storage. I’m, embarrassed to wear them in public and be associated with what you have wrought.
    The war in Gaza was started by Hamas, and thus Iran. Those who start a war bear all responsibility for the horror that follows. Hamas has had the ability to end it from day 1 until now by unconditionally surrendering and giving up the hostages. The students who were arrested had the ability, when advised by the president of their imminent arrests, and advised by the police who asked them to disburse, to walk away. Both Hamas and the “Emerson 118” brought their woes upon themselves.
    I read an apt quote today. “The most privileged kids in America are so desperate to feel like oppressed victims, because that’s a status symbol in their eyes, that they are willing to adopt the rhetoric and nomenclature of the very same terrorist groups who would kill every single one of them.”
    To the Town Hall. I like the president even though I disagree with him on many issues, especially the coddling of the “righteous” protesters by giving no discipline, throwing bail, offering housing for court appearances, and then humiliating himself with the town hall. I would have preferred that his response aligned with that of Washington University in Saint Louis, where the students were expelled and the faculty who got involved with the nonsense were suspended. If you keep feeding the beast, the goal posts will simply keep getting moved. The Town Hall reminded me of the Seinfeld episodes with Festivus for the Rest of Us, only the students skipped the “Feats of Strength” and went straight to the “Airing of Grievances”. The guts that the President and Eric Alexander have shown by appearing at that farce is on par with the Speaker of the House filling a leadership void by going to Columbia University to have his speech drowned out by “You Suck”.
    Yes professor Emeritus. I agree that this Town Hall should be preserved for the ages. But it belongs in the Hall of Emerson Shame along with the 25 years it took this college to graduate a black person, and the photograph of the new “chalk art” in the Alley, declaring the President of the University to be a sleeper with swine. I am just so proud to see that the students are keeping it classy at the Big E.
    Take a look from 20,000 feet as to what is happening. The only people happy now are Hamas and the Mullahs in Iran, who put this horror in motion.
    Mark M Stewart, Esq.
    Class of 1977

    • A

      Anonymous alumni / May 1, 2024 at 1:33 pm


      You are seriously misinformed. And for that reason we need students to protest.

      • M

        Mark M Stewart / May 1, 2024 at 6:26 pm

        Yours is a knee jerk reaction by a poster who hides behind “anonymous” and posits no reasoned nor rational argument as to why I am “seriously misinformed”.
        Mark M Stewart, Esq.
        Class of 1977.

        • A

          Anonymous / May 11, 2024 at 9:25 am

          For one, you claim that Iran attacked Israel and left out that Israel bombed the Iranian embassy in Syria in April that killed seven people.

          You lie by omission. Yes, I’m anonymous because people like you like to attack people like me. You all do it covertly but ruthlessly.

        • A

          Anon / May 11, 2024 at 9:32 am

          You are misinformed or deliberately lying. You know Israel bombed the Iranian embassy in Syria And killed seven people.

          And of course I have to stay anonymous because right-wing reactionary Zionists find covert ways to destroy people.

    • J

      Jacob Abraham / May 1, 2024 at 7:01 pm

      Mr. Stewart,

      You may be vulnerable to deliberate misinformation campaigns about the war and the nature of the student anti-war demonstrations. At the same time, we often times believe what we want to believe, despite the evidence. And there is a risk that a comment like mine may entrench your beliefs even more.

      Despite that risk, I want to say that the student protests, yes, are absolutely messy, emotional and not without flaws and missteps. And they are also deeply truth seeking, honest, and humane. They seek a cultural shift in the way we relate to each as humans, and they want a better world with better values. This is what we need now more than ever.

      There is much to unlearn and much to re-learn from them.

    • A

      Adam in LA / May 1, 2024 at 7:29 pm

      (This comment has been removed because it does not follow The Berkeley Beacon comment section policies.)

  • R

    roger house / Apr 30, 2024 at 1:45 pm

    After watching the poignant live stream of the Town Hall meeting, I offer this impression as an emeritus professor of journalism and history. One vital consideration is whether the event was recorded – and if so – how will it be preserved and archived safely?

    The Town Hall brought together eyewitnesses to share what they saw and heard. Quite a few offered accounts that shed new light and differed from the way officialdom presented some issues in emails and news reports.

    A recording of the assembly will be a historically valuable document for the College – containing the voices of many sides for consideration – and useful in any desire to call for presidential accountability in the future.

    The recording would inform an independent inquiry of the events as well. Such an inquiry is often useful when a campus is in distress and seeking to heal for justice, not merely for order. And it is something that can be done in the quiet of the summer months.

    One questions might be the process for the impeachment – or removal – of a President that has squandered student trust and confidence, Board of Trustees notwithstanding.

    Students and staffers affected by the traumatic events may have standing to call for an independent inquiry. If so, will the Town Hall assembly recording be made available to them and others? It was a historic moment of truth telling but without reconciliation.

    Roger House – Professor Emeritus

  • R

    roger house / Apr 30, 2024 at 1:22 pm

    (This comment has been removed because it does not follow The Berkeley Beacon comment section policies.)