The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Students shaken after demonstration and counter-protest at University Forum

<p>Spiders Against Apartheid demonstration takes place Oct. 25 with counter-protesters and University of Richmond Police Department standing outside the demonstration. &nbsp;</p>

Spiders Against Apartheid demonstration takes place Oct. 25 with counter-protesters and University of Richmond Police Department standing outside the demonstration.  

Editor’s note: The Collegian decided to leave out the names of students in this article for their safety. Students have come forward with accounts of verbal abuse and hate speech. The editors of The Collegian decided to include their interviews as anonymous sources.  

A more accurate source was used to explain the different meanings of the phrase "from the river to the sea."

One week after protestors and counter-protestors confronted one another, students of all backgrounds continue to feel unsafe. 

The demonstration was organized by Spiders Against Apartheid, a pro-Palestinian group at UR, comprised of students of all faiths. Pro-Israel counter-protesters and Jewish students were also present, with the counter-protesters standing behind Israeli flags and others observing the protest along with other bystanders. Tensions rose as both sides challenged one another with opposing viewpoints.

One Jewish student who spoke anonymously to The Collegian out of concern for her safety said that Jewish students felt unsafe on campus after the demonstration.

“I almost cried in class yesterday,” the student said. “I have a dear friend who cried in class this morning.”

People who talk about the conflict often leave out the Israeli side, the student said. 

She feels as though it is seen as a “single-sided issue” and that the “suffering that Jews have gone through for literally thousands of years” has been undermined. 

Personal information including Instagram and LinkedIn profiles of both the counter-protesters and bystanders was posted by McKenna Dunbar, ‘23, who spoke during the pro-Palestinian demonstration.

In a statement to The Collegian, Dunbar wrote that when students shared stories of trauma and xenophobia and were “met with heckling and ridicule,” Dunbar was “compelled to act” and identify those who were part of the counter-protest through their large following on their LinkedIn page and public Instagram profile.

“Alongside fellow students, we identified those who chose to laugh instead of listen,” Dunbar wrote. “For me, implementing justice is not just about challenging hate – it’s about ensuring that every voice, especially those recounting deep pain, is heard and respected. I stand united in the global fight against xenophobia, antisemitism and all forms of intolerance.”

Students in support of the Palestinian people have expressed their fears about being able to safely speak their minds. 

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One student said that she was concerned to see that at other universities, students were targeted for expressing sentiments supporting Palestinian people. 

Students on campuses across the U.S. are worried about their information becoming privy to the Canary Mission, a website dedicated to documenting “people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses and beyond,” according to its website. Students and professors from universities across the U.S. have had their full names, photos, places of work and social media accounts posted online. 

“We want the administration to ensure the protection of faculty and students if they do decide to speak out for Palestine,” she said. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Directive Six on Tuesday, which lists a set of plans for educational institutions, including the UR, to coordinate with law enforcement to combat threats of violence against all religious organizations following the Israel-Hamas War that started on Oct. 7. 

“The Secretary of Public Safety & Homeland Security shall designate a chief coordinating officer to oversee a ‘situation room’ focussed on enhancing our comprehensive efforts to protect houses of worship and religious-affiliated institutions in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” one of Youngkin’s measures read. 

The Biden Administration shared Monday with NBC News that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security will partner with campus law enforcement to track hate-related threats.  

The UR Police Department declined to comment on how UR will move forward regarding the partnership between the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. 

An anonymous Jewish student pointed out that some of the signs protestors carried and images posted on social media contained harmful messages. 

“The phrase ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ is scary,” she said. 

For Palestinians and Israelis, the tension on the slogan lies in the phrase "from the river to the sea” which has different connotations for each group. It references the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. While Palestinians and pro-Palestinians align the saying with a sense of freedom from oppression, Israelis label the phrase as “pro-Hamas” and a call for the destruction of the Israeli people, according to The Guardian.

The backlash to the counter-protest could be harmful to Jewish students, she said. 

“People are going to misinterpret what happened and put all Jewish people together in that category as being insensitive,” she said. “I'm afraid of people's reactions to the counter-protests even though it does not represent every [Jewish person].”

Another anonymous Muslim student said the Muslim community on campus has become more cautious.

“Sometimes a lot of them say ‘okay, be safe.’ especially more during this time,” she said. “We share tips on how to protect yourself or how to be more safe if somebody were to attack you.”

The student said the protest put into perspective the dynamic on campus between students who are in support of Palestinian people and Israeli people. 

“As I’m walking on campus, [the dynamic on campus] is always at the back of my mind, it’s just not something I can ignore,” she said.

Contact executive co-editor Amy Jablonski and news writer Juliet Zucker at amy.jablonski@richmond.edu and juliet.zucker@richmond.edu

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