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

Rupture requires repair: Where do we go from here?

A+student-painted+banner+hangs+above+2B+alley+pro-Palestine+encampments+on+Wednesday%2C+April+24%2C+2024.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Nick+Peace%29
A student-painted banner hangs above 2B alley pro-Palestine encampments on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Nick Peace)

I was there when the Emerson College encampment started. After months of being ignored by the administration, the students finally found a way to be heard. They were doing what we trained them to do. We taught them the history of the righteous non-violent protest of the Civil Rights Movement that most definitely disrupted and inconvenienced the establishment. We taught them about the anti-war movement that was led by young people and violently suppressed on college campuses around the country ending in murder at the hands of the United States military at Jackson State University and Kent State University. We taught them how to call out injustice, speak truth to power, and how to be heard. We taught them in the classroom, in our cultural spaces from our art galleries to our cinema, on our theater stages, and beyond. The students believed the college when they said that we care about diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. They took us at our word.

And we have betrayed them—not any of us as individuals—but as an institution. The response from the administration has been to deny, delay, divert, and obfuscate. On March 22, after months of silencing conversation on the unfolding genocide and ignoring student activists, they turned up for a peaceful protest outside of the new president’s lavish inauguration, one of the few places they had a chance of being heard. The response from campus police, who we are told are part of our community but somehow still saw our Black and brown students as a threat to “order,” was to arrest them. We are told we don’t need to know what happened. Like with police across the country, an internal investigation was conducted and no wrongdoing found. 

And in the aftermath of those arrests, there was an opportunity to repair what was, by all accounts, a major rupture in our community. There were 34 days in between those arrests and the start of the encampment to meet with our student activists with compassion and respect. After all, they were doing precisely what we trained them to do. There were ample opportunities to seriously engage with their demands, like calling for a ceasefire, as the city of Boston has now done, and to respond to their call for transparency in college finances; a reasonable request from the students whose exorbitant tuition keeps the school running—not a hefty endowment like many of our peer institutions. Instead, the administration chose to delay, deny, obfuscate and add to growing policy criminalizing speech on our campus.

I was there when the encampment started and students were jubilant to be gathering in community and doing something to address the genocide that they were watching unfold on social media. They had spent months writing letters, trying to host conversations, beseeching the administration. All the polite things that went largely ignored. And here they were, empowered by the ideals that we taught them, finding a peaceful way to be heard. 

The space they created was beautiful. For those of you who didn’t make it in person, you missed an opportunity to see love in action. I know you’ve heard about the library, about the classes held there, about the unhoused neighbors we welcomed into that space. While it’s too late to experience it, I hope you’ll really listen to my colleagues who were there. Even Jewish ones like myself were welcomed with open arms despite disingenuous claims to the contrary. 

I was there when an ECPD officer shoved his way through a crowd of students to begin locking the buildings, ensuring there would be no escape from the violence that was about to be meted out by cops in riot gear against them. They locked me and my colleagues out of Tufte Building where we stood watching the police fill the Massachusetts Transportation Building until they outnumbered us three to one before attacking with clubs. We were one of the smallest schools to have an encampment and had among the highest number of arrests. 118 is 2.5 percent of our student body. And while they weren’t all Emerson students—that morning I bailed out students from Boston University and Tufts University—there were dozens of folks assaulted by the police who weren’t arrested and hundreds more who watched their peers be brutalized from the lobby of the 2B dorm building and from the windows on every floor above. They also watched on the livestream that one of the activists helped me set up so that this violence couldn’t happen in total darkness. If you have not watched the stream, it’s still up on the Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine Instagram account, @fsjpemerson. It’s crucial to see for yourselves the scope and scale of that attack. Students were beaten and arrested for doing what we trained them to do: standing up for what’s right and taking care of one another.

And now here we are, with an even bigger rupture to repair. And another listening tour. And more empty promises that fail to acknowledge the severity of the rupture and the deep divide in this community. I went on a listening tour of my own—spending time with student activists, with staff who are still afraid for their job for supporting our students, with alumni, shocked at the violence that has played out on our tiny campus—who have signed on (over 800 and counting) to a letter expressing no confidence in the administration, and with parents who are shocked and angry and have signed on (over 100 and counting) to a similar letter expressing no confidence. 

I addressed the faculty assembly as a staff person who has made my professional home here for almost 17 years because staff don’t have a mechanism to express their concerns with the administration. We have no handbook, no assembly, no duty to shared governance. All I had was an opportunity to address my colleagues with more power at this institution to ask them to take into account those without a seat at the table, and over 30 percent of them voted not to hear me speak. 

I know that the task they faced was a difficult one. But it will be far more difficult for us to face the students who voted no confidence unanimously through the Student Government Association (SGA), and to face the countless staff, parents, and alumni who have spoken up, sometimes at significant personal and professional risk. 

We must begin to do the work of healing, and making Emerson a place that actually values “Expression Necessary to Evolution” not just on paper but also in practice. It can’t be business as usual. Regardless of how faculty vote, we need a full reckoning with what took place on April 25 that can only happen through democratizing this campus by engaging all of who have made Emerson our educational and professional homes.

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Comments (2)

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  • W

    Watermelon / May 18, 2024 at 10:23 am

    You basically wrote nothing.
    What is wit you Americans that you think everything is around you??
    Putting a spotlight on your university instead of the war?
    So typical and annoying
    Grow up!

    Reply
  • J

    jaye yanovitch / May 18, 2024 at 10:04 am

    So a younglin like you actually thinks that Gaza is under attack……Gaza is ruled by a terrorist organization called Hamas….Said Terrorist group was voted in by the citizens of Gaza…..Their Government made this entire shitshow hapopen….and you sympathize with the terrorists….?……

    Reply