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

Letter to the Editor: All burn, no heart

On the verge of a good night’s rest after nearly a week of stressing over legal proceedings, academic discipline, and classes, I saw Jay Bernhardt’s interview in The Berkeley Beacon and felt every ounce of rage and frustration boil back up. Bernhardt states that he did this interview to “try to separate the facts from the misinformation.” Aside from the furious hurt and betrayal I’ve experienced from the Emerson administration’s actions this past week and a half, the thing that really set me off was Bernhardt’s claim that he was simply “providing the facts,” while immediately contradicting information he had publicly stated just days before. 

The interview included deflecting tactics that tried to make Friday’s incident about the irresponsibility of a small number of students, absolving his administration from any responsibility. This also distracts readers from the real issue at hand: the ongoing genocide being enacted by the Israeli government against the entire Palestinian population. 

As one of the students arrested on Friday, I hope I can provide some insight into Bernhardt’s hypocrisy and deflections. It is my understanding that Bernhardt would like to create a dialogue and to “make sure we all feel heard,” so please humor me in continuing the process of separating the facts from the misinformation. 

“I was not aware that there was even a protest happening…” he claims in the interview, yet in the email the day before, he remarked he was aware of the planned protests.

From Bernhardt’s interview with The Beacon on Mar. 28

If you were aware that the protests were happening, and aware that there is “a security presence” for these kinds of “significant events,” why on earth would you trust the police with this sole responsibility? You have a protest advocating for Palestinian liberation, a movement fuelled significantly by solidarity between Black and Brown people, and you think the police, with a relentless history of violence against these communities, are responsible enough to handle this situation with clarity and de-escalation, to satiate your “deep desire for no arrests?”

As one individual still processing the chaos of the incident, I cannot provide an objective summary of the arrests. However, I know that the first arrested individual was a Black student standing by the curb—not blocking the sidewalk or doors. This is apparent in videos of the arrests. As a group, we were greatly disturbed to see the arrest of an innocent person of color, and this was the moment where holding my ground to protect my peers and stand against injustice, both local and global, outweighed any legal consequences. 

Several protestors who were not arrested observed that those outside the “designated area” were not blocking any pathways. I know Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Emerson College Student Union (ECSU) had several student martials present to ensure safe and secure movement. I know that the police failed to clearly communicate an exit path for dispersal, which is a requirement when issuing a dispersal order (a last-resort action itself). I know a protester observed police asking a neutral passer-by to provide their ID so the police could use them as an aggrieved citizen and have grounds to arrest. I know I was told, “if you cannot afford an attorney, one may possibly be provided to you,” distorting my Miranda Rights to invoke greater uncertainty and vulnerability. I know they manipulated the words of arrestees to claim on their report that everyone in the no-free speech zone wanted to be arrested. 

These are all things that Bernhardt fails to mention. The Emerson College Police Department’s (ECPD’s) aggressive tactics undoubtedly contributed to a hostile and defensive environment and they must be held accountable for it. When asked about the large police presence escalating this situation, Bernhardt states he doesn’t understand “how that would contribute to the protesters choosing not to follow the guidelines…,” redirecting blame upon the students, avoiding the rather obvious issue of systemic racism within policing. Because that would require taking responsibility for your own institution’s failures. 

But no, Emerson is a progressive institution! Our administration could never fail its students of color! They value our “diverse voices and diverse concerns.” These arrests must be the fault of us rowdy young minorities, damaging the community’s safety by standing on the sidewalk to protest an ongoing genocide! How vulgar! How disruptive! Oh heavens, won’t someone think of the financial investors?!

Note that “staff people were at the police station…” Not the administration. Staff people refers to our Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FSJP) that came out of their personal concerns for our well-being, wholly independent of administrative procedure. However, I can neither confirm nor deny the administration’s presence at the station as I was rotting in a holding cell for 8 hours without food, water, or awareness of the outside world. 

From Bernhardt’s interview with The Beacon on Mar. 28.

The administration only got in touch with us after everyone’s release was publicly confirmed, wasting no time to send a little letter stating that we would be denied access to the majority of campus before facing academic hearings. The administration then claimed (both in individual meetings and in community-wide emails) that they were contacting the DA to drop the legal charges. This proved a merely performative act to restore damage to the school’s progressive image, as the legal charges were not dropped. When that proved insufficient damage control, they finally dropped the academic disciplinary charges.

I have received no personal apology from Bernhardt, merely a missed phone call from a 617 area number around the same time others received these calls. He made no further attempt at contact.

From Bernhardt’s email on Mar. 27.

The administration seems more interested in protecting its prestigious reputation than its actual students. The problem lies not within a mere failure of judgment on admin’s part within this past week, but within larger systemic issues plaguing the school and the world at large. 

The United States government has been supplying Israel’s government with weapons and resources, which the IDF in turn uses to massacre an ever-growing number of Palestinians. This is a genocide that our country is actively complicit in. As Americans, we have the power to stop this atrocity, to criticize and protest Israel’s brutal decimation of the Palestinian population, and our government’s active role in it. The Israeli government, aside from destroying infrastructure and killing civilians, has been blocking health and food aid, allowing Palestinians to starve to death. The ongoing bombings of the al-Shifa and Nasser Hospitals deny Palestinians basic healthcare, forcing children to undergo amputations without simple anesthesia. This is not only indiscriminate killing of innocents, it is eliminating essential resources to make any future life impossible. This brutality didn’t start this past year either, it’s been occurring for decades and has only recently been pushed to a new inhumane extreme. Such actions have no effect on removing Hamas. The Israeli government’s all-consuming destruction only reveals an intention for “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group, with the aim of destroying that nation or group,” which is the Oxford Dictionary definition of genocide. 

Throughout the interview, Bernhardt continues to absolve himself of any responsibility for Friday’s injustices, always circling back to issues with us students, which I shall not expound upon further because they are deflections from the real issue at hand. I am enraged with the administration’s handling of these events, but this is ultimately not why I’m writing. 

I am not writing to argue about the school’s implementation of time, place, and manner restrictions of free speech (a practice that has been legally contested throughout the history of student movements, and certainly a bit of an authoritarian measure for such a ‘liberal’ school), nor its continued suppression of student activists for activities as basic as passing out flyers. I am not here to argue about the police’s mishandling of the incident, though I think a proper investigation and evaluation of their procedures are in order. While these issues all frustrate me and are certainly worth mentioning, they are all secondary concerns. The underlying cause that brought us to this moment is the ongoing injustice in Palestine.

Bernhardt claims that this is the disappointing reality of the situation. Yet…Back in October, Presidential Communications “strongly condemned” the October 7th terrorist attacks against Israel.

From Bernhardt’s email on Oct. 9, 2023.

To mourn such a devastating moment is an appropriate response, but it is no excuse for ignoring any other forms of extreme violence. Since this tragedy, Israel has retaliated tenfold in the form of genocide of the Palestinian people. The college “mourns” this loss, but does not condemn the deadly attacks upon them perpetrated by the Israeli government. This is a one-sided moral condemnation of violence towards civilians. It is therefore a foreign policy stance, and a deeply hypocritical one at that. 

Bernhardt and his administration possess tremendous power with their potential to call for a permanent ceasefire, in turn putting pressure on other Boston schools and eventually the city as a whole to demand the same. The greater pressure there is from increasingly larger institutions, the greater the obligation will be for the US Government to support a permanent ceasefire, and end their funding and supplying of this genocide. 

From Bernhardt’s interview with The Beacon on Mar. 28.

To clarify, I abhor the targeting of civilians by all sides and believe the only path toward ending this misery is through a ceasefire. A call for a ceasefire could both condemn Hamas’ ruthless attacks and abductions, as well as the Israeli government’s genocidal actions. The US has already been in support of the notion of removing Hamas from power; what it has not been in full support of is the notion of a permanent ceasefire, which is made impossible with our continued provision of weaponry to the Israeli military, utilized to slaughter civilians en masse.

Jay, I understand that taking the risk of calling for a ceasefire could potentially alienate current and future Emersonians and investors. Ironically, you have already alienated a large portion of the Emerson community from the administration with your horrendous mishandling of the events of the past few weeks, so it seems like you don’t have much to lose. Regardless of what you choose, people’s faith in your leadership is already rapidly dwindling, so who knows how much longer they’ll keep you on the job? You may as well use whatever remaining time you have in power here by being on the side of humanity, because at this point, what do you have to lose?

The College spends so much time teaching us how to communicate ideas and stresses our obligations to communicate in a way that values social justice. As you say in your inauguration speech, we are here to “challenge the dominant narrative,” and “to be sincere in our desire to lift people up.” Emerson College has the opportunity to be true to these words, to challenge the narrative of so-called ‘neutrality’, by supporting the oppressed and vulnerable people of Palestine, yet it remains silent. 

If, per the school’s motto, “expression is necessary for evolution,” then this silence is preventing our community from evolving into a more just environment. Meanwhile, the president of Wesleyan University has reportedly just called for a ceasefire. Higher education, it appears, is not inherently bound to simply sit by and watch as thousands of innocent lives are slaughtered. You claim you “care incredibly deeply.” My friends and I put our bodies on the line in resistance to a “tragedy of such proportions.” What have you done, Jay? If you truly care, show us with your actions rather than your empty words.

Your silence is violence.

As for the Emerson Community, Bernhardt and the ECPD’s arresting officers are not the sole source of our problems. This is a systemic issue that emerges when students don’t have enough democratic power within their institution to create meaningful and progressive change for their community. SJP and the Student Union are here to help our peers in times of great injustice on a global and communal level. On a larger scale, I believe there is something deeply unjust at the heart of our country if funding the deaths of countless civilians is within the law, but peacefully taking a stand against this activity is illegal. 

We need as many of you who support us to show up and show their support. The larger our activist coalition becomes, the greater power we have, and the greater input we will have from the people we are here to support. As a united student body, we would have the power to make genuine change within our institutions. Follow @sjpemerson and @emersonstudentunion on Instagram to stay up to date with various meetings and events.

Just because the UN Security Council has recently voted in favor of a ceasefire resolution does not mean the battle is over. They must be held accountable for staying committed to this rule. Meanwhile, the US abstained from voting rather than supporting this resolution, and still shows no signs of ending its enabling of Israel’s brutality. It is up to us as people to continue to stand against genocide and our country’s support of it. 

I have long held the conviction that if we are all thrust into a world of unnecessary suffering, it is our duty as human beings to do everything in our power to minimize whatever suffering we can for each other. It’s a mutually beneficial way of living. I do not claim this belief to be my invention. In fact, I would argue it’s just basic human decency. Right now, many people, including our school’s very institution, are avoiding basic human decency in the name of Power and Wealth. I am not asking you all to go to jail and through all the bullshit bureaucratic hoops I am going through right now, but I am asking you to recognize that humans and events don’t exist in vacuums. 

We are all connected whether we like it or not. For instance, those tuition hikes the Union is fighting—imagine if the US quit spending millions on global warfare and instead used that for stronger financial aid across the country! Imagine how many humane causes that money could go to instead of weaponry! Regardless of how informed or involved you were before now, I encourage you all to join the movement for justice and liberation, because the genocide does not end with me writing this or you reading this. It will end with all of us, united, and it will end within our lifetimes. I am asking you to recognize that humanity cannot even begin to be free from oppression until Palestine is free.


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Comments (3)

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  • A

    Anonymous / Apr 5, 2024 at 10:21 am

    Anyways…. Am Yisrael Chai!!

    • A

      Anon / Apr 6, 2024 at 12:43 pm

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

  • A

    Amrita / Apr 4, 2024 at 4:37 pm

    I loved this, thank you for sharing your words. Free Palestine