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

Students hold walkout in 2B alley following attacks on Palestinian students in Vermont

Students+hold+walkout+in+2B+alley+following+attacks+on+Palestinian+students+in+Vermont
Maddie Khaw

Editor’s Note: Although members of Emerson SJP asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, their identities are known to the Beacon.

Dozens of Emerson students walked out of class Wednesday afternoon in solidarity with the three Palestinian students who were shot in Burlington, Vermont on Saturday. The demonstration also occurred in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

According to police, the victims—who have been identified as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmed, all age 20—were speaking Arabic and two were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves, when they were attacked. They were walking home from a birthday party during their Thanksgiving break when a man shot two of the students in the torso and one in the lower extremities, according to Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad. 

The attack is being investigated as a hate crime, authorities said on Monday. It comes amidst a general uptick in hate crimes sparked by the Gaza war, including the fatal stabbing of a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy.

The suspect of this weekend’s shooting, identified as 48-year-old Jason J. Eaton, was arrested on Sunday afternoon on three counts of attempted murder and pleaded not guilty on Monday. As of Nov. 27, the victims remain hospitalized, with one facing a long recovery due to a spinal injury, a family member said.

In solidarity with these victims, students gathered in the 2 Boylston alleyway, with several bearing signs and Palestinian flags, donned in keffiyehs and Palestinian colors. Facilitating the event was Emerson’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization, whose representatives delivered speeches, led chants, and recited monologues.

In one speech, an Emerson SJP representative outlined the organization’s demands of the college, which included an endorsement of a permanent ceasefire, full financial transparency, and a severance of “the financial ties that Emerson has …  to Israel,” the speaker said. (Upon request, the college did not comment on whether Emerson has financial ties to Israel).

“There have been too many emails [from the college] not explaining the full story,” the speaker said. “We have seen the censorship of this group right here, of our faculty and staff, and what we as students are able to do … We want students’ voices to be heard, and the last thing that we ask for is financial transparency, and all ties to be cut immediately.”

Although college officials have previously sent emails to the Emerson community condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on campus, the college has not commented on the recent attack. Many of the student speakers consider this silence an attempt to stay neutral about the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

“We all know you can’t be neutral when it comes to genocide,” one speaker said. “We’re here to shut this down, as in no more business as usual until Palestine is free.”

In a statement on behalf of the college, spokesperson Michelle Gaseau said that Emerson staff have been meeting with community members who have concerns or need support in light of the conflict. She added that the school is “exploring the potential for educational forums, workshops, and/or communal gatherings for our community to be held during the upcoming semester.” 

“We are horrified by the recent violence against three Palestinian college students in Vermont over the weekend,” Gaseau said. “We extend our care and thoughts to their loved ones and all people who may fear for their safety because of this vile attack.” 

Among the speakers was a Palestinian student who attended Ramallah Friends School in the West Bank with the victims. They said they have been friends with Awartani and Abdalhamid since second grade. 

“I reacted as anyone else would, which was to physically be dumbfounded before your minds can even react,” the student said in an interview with the Beacon. “The body reacts before the mind does.”

In their speech, the student said people should condemn the attacks not because the students have been described as high achievers, but because they are human.

“Although this is all true, this shouldn’t be the confirmation the country needs to stand with people,” the student said. “Solidarity should not be conditional.” 

Additionally, they said that Emerson’s decision to only address the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism indicates that Emerson, along with the U.S. and the global West, is “obsessed with religion” and will resort to only talking about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as threats.

“These three Palestinian young men that were shot were not shot for being Muslim. They were not shot for appearing to be Muslim,” the student said. “They were shot for a garment of clothing, or keffiyeh, and speaking Arabic.” 

Photo: Maddie Khaw

Another Emerson SJP member said in their speech that mainstream media coverage has incited violence against the pro-Palestine movement.

“Journalism is about transparency. It’s about sharing narratives. It’s about storytelling. It’s our moral responsibility to push back when we see the dehumanization of Palestinian lives,” they said. “They are not numbers. They’re not statistics. There are [nearly] 15,000 lives.” 

They urged that U.S. media outlets are held accountable for “spreading anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, and Islamophobic rhetoric,” which critics have said led to the rise in anti-Arab and anti-Islam sentiment in the U.S. They also hope that Emerson releases a statement in solidarity with the lives lost in Gaza.

Students have also said professors have not facilitated conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some said their professors briefly brought it up after the Oct. 7 attack but have since avoided discussing the topic. One student said their journalism professors have not reflected on the media’s role in the conflict. 

“In journalism, we’re taught about narratives, we’re taught about free speech, about ethical values,” they said in an interview with the Beacon. “I think that it’s just extremely sad that it’s not being reflected in the curriculum regarding this conflict.”

Although Wednesday’s demonstration was largely student-organized, several faculty members were also present, including associate professor Yasser Munif, who also addressed the crowd. His speech called not only for an “end to occupation, to ethnic cleansing, to apartheid,” but also for a comprehensive and contextual approach to discussions of the current conflict.

“There is a long, long history, and we can’t just stop and freeze the picture,” Munif said in an interview with the Beacon. “There is something that happened before [the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel], there’s something that’s happening after that … What happened on Oct. 7 is important, and we have to condemn the violence and the killing of civilians. But we shouldn’t stop there.”

Munif teaches courses on social sciences, history, and social movements, with two of his current classes relating to the Middle East, race, and racism. He has discussed the topic of Israeli-Palestinian relations with his students, some of whom are involved with Emerson SJP, and insisted upon the importance of such discussions in the classroom.

“Education should serve that purpose—to be human, to feel with others, to fight for justice—especially liberal arts,” Munif said. “It’s about academic freedom, it’s about freedom of speech, and it’s about educating oneself. … If we’re not able to make that connection between what’s happening inside the classroom and what’s outside, I don’t think our education is relevant.”

In addition to discussing the full scope of the conflict, one speaker emphasized standing in solidarity with those affected—not just in theory, but in practice.

“Solidarity doesn’t just mean that we’re sending prayers or thoughts,” a member of Emerson SJP said. “… It means we’re here to demand justice and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

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About the Contributors
Hannah Nguyen, Managing Editor
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)
Maddie Khaw, Assistant News Editor
Maddie Khaw (she/her) is a junior journalism major from Portland, Oregon and serves as the assistant news editor for The Beacon's citywide coverage. In addition to journalism, she is also majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on race, gender, and social justice, and plays on Emerson's women's soccer team.

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