Statements from the April 2024, “Hands off Our Students!,” Emory Faculty and Staff Solidarity Gathering

Hands off Our Students! A Faculty and Staff Walkout and Speakout at Emory

Vani Kannan, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of English, Emory University

On Monday, April 29, 2024, Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine led a walkout and speakout in response to the brutal crackdown on the peaceful protest calling the university to divest from Cop City and Israel. At the time, it had been six months since Israel began bombing Gaza. Faculty, staff, students, and community members gathered at Asbury Circle at noon, shared food, listened to music, chanted, and heard from a series of faculty/staff speakers. These statements are unified by calls for divestment, to drop all charges and retaliatory threats against protesters, and to vote “no confidence” in President Gregory Fenves. 

Graduate Coalition for Justice, Open Letter

This letter was written by students who came together to form a coalition across graduate schools after an MD/PhD program student distributed a statement calling for action from Emory University’s complicity in genocide. We hope for graduate students to send this letter to their faculty instructors to advocate for themselves and their students. We also want for faculty instructors and graduate instructors across Emory to meet the demands to refuse carrying on business as usual upon reading the letter

Dear faculty instructors,

As students and graduate employees of Emory, we express deep condemnation, outrage, and rejection towards the atrocities of police brutality on Emory’s campus against peaceful protesters calling for Emory’s Total Divestment from Israeli apartheid and Cop City.

Georgia State Patrol (GSP), Atlanta Police (APD), and Emory Police (EPD) have intimidated, assaulted, arrested, tased, deployed tear gas, and fired rubber bullets against protesters on our campus. Police brutality was exercised indiscriminately and ruthlessly. Students, faculty, alumni, and Atlanta community members were charged with criminal trespassing, assault of officers, and disorderly conduct; the Department of Homeland Security threatened some with domestic terrorism charges. These actions all carry long-term, sometimes lifelong, consequences.

The Emory administration’s view of Emory as a nation-state to be protected from “outside” infiltrators through the use of police violence, increased calls to private property, and the implementation of regular ID checks, all parallel the exact ideologies and strategies of the Israeli state against Palestinians. The irony that Emory does so on land itself violently stolen from the Muscogee Nation in 1821 is not lost on us. Our friends from Georgia State University, the Atlanta University Center, and the broader Atlanta community should be welcomed on our campus and treated as guests — not beaten, teargassed, and tased. The university is violently severing its ties with not only its student body, faculty, and staff, but also with all of Atlanta. We decry the administration’s weaponization of state violence and their intentional propagation of false narratives regarding the course of events.

We have spent three sleepless days supporting arrested students, faculty, alumni, and members of our Atlanta community. We have been coordinating therapy and medical care for traumatized and injured students who received and watched brutal violence, dedicating untold hours speaking to human rights attorneys and legal assistants from Human Rights Watch, contacting immigration officers, attending court hearings, and holding vigils at the DeKalb County Jail, where faculty, students, and community members spent more than 24 hours in one of the documented worst jails in the nation, without access to water and necessary medications. All the while, we have been dealing with our own trauma, having witnessed firsthand our friends and students brutally tased, tackled, crushed under the weight of militarized bodies, and slammed into the pavement. Some of this, we did not witness, we experienced directly. We have been tending to our own injured bodies, minds, souls, and hearts. All this we have done while continuously organizing to demand Emory divest from genocide, apartheid, and state violence, building solidarity with our graduate colleagues, such as graduate students at Candler occupying the School of Theology and our undergraduate student workers organizing divestment and work stoppages. In doing so, we put ourselves at risk of being doxxed, arrested, and facing punitive retaliation from this university that we know will not protect us; that has made clear it will be the one to call in violence to be unleashed against us.

These events did not start on Thursday. Over the last 200 days, we have all stood by and witnessed one of the most horrific and documented genocides in our lifetimes. It has been both inescapable and rendered unspeakable by the crushing silence from Emory. For an entire academic year, we have struggled to pay attention to our research or focus on our classes with scenes of horror playing out behind our eyes. We have struggled with the administration and with our departments for anyone to acknowledge the terror that has surrounded us. For those who have family in Gaza, in Palestine, and for all of those who see themselves in the people of Gaza, this has been a year of grief and horror of unspeakable depth.

These events are not over as of the writing of this letter; on April 28, an individual was arrested on campus because they supposedly resembled a suspect of an Emory investigation. This happened at the exact same moment the speaking event of anti-Zionist political scientist and activist Norman Finkelstein was taken over by alt-right and neo-Nazi speakers, forcing it to be canceled. It’s clear where the university’s priorities lie.

Arrests over the last days have not been random. In what is largely a diverse and peaceful movement, Black, Muslim, and POC students have overwhelmingly been targeted and subject to the greatest extents of police brutality. Videos from the Emory Quad on Thursday morning look like images we have all seen of George Floyd, Daniel Prude, and Jimmy Atchison at the hands of the police. These events recall the Kent State Massacre in 1970, when the National Guard called in by the university administration killed four students. Only eleven days later, two black students were killed at Jackson State University. As a body of graduate students composed primarily of people of color and international students, we feel exceptionally vulnerable and unprotected.

We refute Fenves’ insinuation that those who protest are seeking to disrupt our community’s ability to attend to their academic obligations. We emphasize that as students we see our struggle in solidarity with Gaza as fundamental to and intractable from our education. If Fenves seeks to create a safe and peaceful community for our education, he will divest. We, as graduate students, teaching assistants, and instructors of Emory University, refuse to continue the regular functioning of the institution. We believe that to continue business as usual is to normalize what is nothing short of a deep, bleeding wound in the midst of our own. We therefore refuse to continue laboring or participating in this university for the rest of the academic year and will consider ongoing labor next year contingent upon the university’s response in the coming days.

We urge each individual faculty to boycott Emory’s infliction of police brutalization, by:

  1. Demanding disciplinary amnesty from the administration for all students affected by arrests.
  2. Canceling all final exams and remaining assignments. Students deserve the right to focus their final days at school on protesting and supporting fellow organizers, as well as taking the chance to recover from the physical and emotional trauma they have undergone.
  3. Submitting A’s as final course grades for all students in undergraduate and graduate classes. We emphasize that faculty should cease all academic labor on behalf of the university. Doing this is a way to withhold labor without punishing students and affirms that the mission statement of this university is to: “create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity” rather than evaluate and rank students. This strategy is already being employed by Emory faculty (although we will not name them here out of an abundance of caution).

We leave it to instructors to decide if they will offer individual feedback on student work as part of their intellectual commitment to students, but we stress faculty to cease all grading labor for the university.

We are calling for you as faculty to exercise your academic freedom and the autonomy you hold over the classes you teach. You are in a unique position to support all those affected, many of whom are us, your own students and advisees.

Emory Encampment Demands

Statement on Emory “outsiders” by the Encampment

Emory Alumni Open Letter of Support for Protests for Palestine

Amiri Banks, “Free Palestine, Free The World!”

Amiri Banks, Student Development Counselor at Oxford College of Emory University

As faculty and staff organizing in support of our courageous students fighting for a Free Palestine, we unequivocally condemn the egregious negligence, moral cowardice, and abject complicity of Emory University and its leadership. In the past several months, the world has witnessed horrific atrocities being committed or condoned by the Israeli government against Palestinian people and the Arab world more broadly. The violence of Israel and its western hegemonic allies in Gaza, North Africa, Western Asia and across the planet is intimately intertwined with the state violence we have witnessed in this country and on this campus. The institution’s implicit sanctioning of harassment and repression towards Emory community members who support a Free Palestine culminated this past Thursday with the brutalization and arrests of students, staff, faculty, and Atlanta community members, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown folks organizing against a militarized, imperialist warmongering machine also known as the U.S. government. Once again, we saw how the central contradictions of the U.S. political and economic system as outlined by W.E.B. Du Bois — that is, the rise of capitalism and imperialism via the legacies of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism — continues to have cascading implications for the welfare of human beings at Emory, in Georgia, and beyond.

In Atlanta, Cop City is a manifestation of this machine and these legacies. Yet Emory’s administration has demonstrated that it is as invested in Cop City as it is in aligning itself with Israel’s oppressive, inhumane regime, which trains and collaborates with the same police departments that caused so much harm before, during, and after the events of April 25. This is after the Israeli military’s killing of over 34,000 people, including more than 14,000 children, after its destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives, after its widespread decimation of infrastructure, art, culture, history, and ecology across Gaza and the West Bank. The hypocrisy of Emory, which purports in its mission “to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity” is made even more clear when one considers the fact that every major university in Gaza has been completely or partially destroyed, and over 100 academics, librarians and scholars have been murdered. Yet, through all of this, and despite the actions of the administration, students at Emory continue to rise up in an effort to hold this university accountable for its complicity in projects of oppression and tyranny. As faculty and staff, we recognize the critical urgency of this moment and choose to join our students in doing so.

We will continue to support and protect students organizing to Free Palestine and Stop Cop City, centering and uplifting the voices of our Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Black and Brown students. They embody the legacy of freedom fighters like Diane Nash, who was only 21 years old when she and several other students from various Black colleges began attending workshops on nonviolence, inspired by the Indian anticolonial struggle and its nonviolent tactics of satyagraha. Throughout the 1960s, Nash led countless other young people in protesting against injustice, further advancing the Black Freedom Tradition of mass noncooperation and contributing immensely to the social change that has allowed Emory to boast of its diversity. There is a prophetic irony in the fact that Emory’s diversity has spawned a multiracial coalition of resistance, shaped largely by students who are the descendants of enslaved people and immigrants. These students’ dynamic family histories and very presence at Emory is, after all, a direct result of the world freedom movement of anticolonial struggle and civil rights that forever changed Africa, Asia, the U.S., and the world. As James Baldwin said in 1960, “Americans keep wondering what has ‘got into’ the stu­dents. What has ‘got into’ them is their history in this coun­try. These students prove unmistakably what most people in this country have yet to discover: that time is real.” And as Diane Nash once said of her time as a student activist: “We knew that we were doing this for generations yet unborn. We had you in mind when we acted. So although we had not met you, you should know that we loved you.”

As faculty/staff from those generations yet unborn, we will continue to embrace this love for those who come after us, so we will continue to support our students because we love them. We will be uncompromising about divestment from Israel and Cop City not only because we love our students, but because we love humanity. We also understand that, like Diane Nash, our students will need to be disciplined and mature in their tactics and long-term vision, as this historical moment of Freeing Palestine and stopping Cop City is connected to a larger, lifelong movement towards collective liberation for world humanity, which will transform this institution, this country, and this planet. By calling for a divestment from war and police, we are simultaneously calling for an investment in peace and people. Transforming society into a place where food, water, shelter, and a loving, caring community are guaranteed to all — and thus achieving what Martin Luther King, Jr. called a “Beloved Community” that brings together all people into “A World House” — will necessitate a fundamental transformation of Emory University and a permanent paradigm shift towards a truly internationalist, pro-peace world.

Currently, this institution is a place where we are often incentivized to prioritize individualistic, hypercompetitive, and often toxic aspirations of prestige, wealth, and success as defined by the ruling elite. The suffering of Black, Brown, and other marginalized folks who labor and struggle to survive on this campus and throughout Atlanta or Georgia is often invisibilized or framed in ways that absolve Emory’s community of its responsibility to these deeply personal, moral, and human questions. Our participation in the enterprise of Emory in many ways limits our vision of the possibilities for ourselves and the future of humanity, but this moment in world history offers us a path forward. In 1968, during his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” King described this path as requiring a “revolution of values.” As faculty and staff, we are eager to support this revolution of values and center the humanity of  those who are fighting for it through the struggle for a Free Palestine and an end to Cop City. We are eager to move towards a recentering of humanity at Emory and to be a part of recentering humanity in this world.

Emory, like every so-called elite institution, is facing a crisis of youth in the 21st century. Across every race, class, or background, youth are experiencing unprecedented assaults on their mental, emotional, physical and interpersonal well-being. This has resulted in deaths of despair, whether that be from gun violence, disease, drugs, poverty, suicide, or any myriad of other threats, and anyone can see that Emory is not immune to this crisis. As the tragic loss of 2 students at Oxford College in the span of 2 months during this past academic year showed us, the stakes are very high. Attending an institution like Emory, which is so deeply entrenched in capitalism, white supremacy, the U.S. war machine, and so many other systems of oppression, can quite literally kill you. Many students know that excellent grades, internships, and even high-paying jobs will not spare them from this crisis. They have an acute understanding of the fact that they have been lied to and used. They have been encouraged to focus on their own “success” even when it causes them suffering, internal doubt, and a sense of emptiness. Meanwhile, faculty and staff who have also been born into this period of counter-revolution have struggled with their own sense of morality, conscience, and purpose as the crisis unfolds. While some have become so deluded as to deny or defend the situation, we have chosen to act and speak. Yet the university has adopted a “business as usual” approach to this crisis, expecting students, staff, and faculty to act as if nothing is happening despite the world falling apart around us. Well, we all know that something is happening, EVERYTHING is happening, so there will be no business as usual.

Where do we go from here, and how will the movement evolve in response to the complex social, economic and political developments of the coming years? Only time will tell, but developing solutions and strategies will require vigorous dialogues,  new questions, the nurturing of new relationships, and disciplined, mature approaches to resolving ideological or tactical tensions that emerge. Coming together and articulating a shared vision will require an embrace of protracted struggle, change, challenges, tensions, contradictions and disagreements. In time, this will hopefully involve mass-based coalitions with ordinary people of all ages, classes, genders and backgrounds, especially working class, Black and Brown folks both within and outside of the Emory community. This will require intercultural dialogue, consciousness raising, ideological struggle, and a profound sense of unity that challenges the elitist, siloed culture pervading Emory. This will require that our resistance is rooted in civilizational, human values and political strategies, such as what the Palestinian people call Sumud (صمود ), steadfast perseverance and intergenerational resistance, and Al-Thawabit al-Wataniyya ( الثوابت الوطنية), which includes the right to resistance and self-determination. In the face of performative activists, obstructionists, rogue actors, and media or intragroup forces seeking to undermine the movement, we must be even more committed to this lifelong struggle. We must be able to properly identify these challenges and internal conflicts so we can respond in a way that is accountable to the collective vision and moves us towards our common goals.

Emory’s social system is America’s social system; that is, it is designed to isolate, corrupt, pacify, exploit and humiliate people while feeding them lies about its virtues. It is designed to divorce people from their heritage and history, encouraging them to define themselves by their ability to survive this cruel game of capitalism. It is designed to convince those who struggle to survive that they should blame or attack themselves and each other, rather than confront the powers that facilitate so much violence and discord. It forces those of us at Emory or in academia more broadly to cease critical interrogations of reality that are in service of humanity. Instead, we’re encouraged to embrace faux intellectualism and theorizing that is in service of the self or a privileged few. But the people refuse to be lied to any longer. Just as King said, they are “ready for mass action, ready for its risks, and ready for its responsibilities.” Emory’s students, staff and faculty are at their best when they choose to embrace the debt they owe to those who came before them, and the responsibility they owe to the children of the present and future.

As faculty and staff, we choose to support those who are rejecting the morally bankrupt, selfish aspirations imposed on them by Emory and the ruling elite. We choose to support those who are instead pursuing what James Baldwin called “the hard kind of courage” when describing what he witnessed in the civil rights movement. By drawing attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and Emory’s support of a regime that is dedicated to their destruction, we are drawing attention to Emory’s support of U.S. imperialism which is also dedicated to our destruction. Thus, by disrupting Emory’s normal functions, we are directly challenging the U.S. state and its proxies, demanding that the institution cease its cooperation with entities that have caused so much harm. Everyone at Emory and in this country is implicated in what is happening right now, and we must each ask ourselves hard questions about how we choose to live our lives. We must take responsibility for the future of this campus, this country, and this world. Du Bois, King, and Baldwin all envisioned this future, one in which people in this country joined the rest of the world in creating a civilization for world humanity, informed by an Afro-Asiatic reconfiguration that opposes what King called the triple evils of war, poverty and racism. 50 years after the end of the Vietnam War, King’s statement that the U.S. government is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” remains true. Even if Israel is dropping the bombs, America is front and center in producing the weapons, funding the genocide, and emboldening Israel. As James Baldwin said, every bombed village is my hometown. Baldwin also said “the children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe.” If only the leaders of Emory would face what they are doing to their own children, both in Atlanta and in Gaza or across the world.

Many at Emory are exhausted by this system. They are exhausted by the obsession with rigor, competition, accolades, and numbers. They are exhausted with the culture of individualism and elitism that lends itself to isolation and hostility. They are exhausted by Emory’s failure to address its undeniable contributions to the catastrophic, horrific genocide in Gaza. As a friend of mine recently wrote, “the crisis of American society is a crisis of legitimacy: the people do not trust the nation’s governing institutions, making it impossible for the ruling elite to rule in their accustomed ways.” Well, the crisis of Emory is a crisis of legitimacy for the same reasons. But as my friend also wrote, “A crisis is an opening. When everything is in flux, new coalitions and new ways of doing politics become possible, and the actions of ordinary people take on greater weight in deciding how the crisis will be resolved, and in which direction history will move.”

We proudly join our students in seeking to resolve this crisis, and in doing so, we know that we are joining them in bringing about a more liberated Emory and a more liberated world. Stop Cop City, Free Palestine, Free The World!

Donna McDermott, “There is a Muscle in the Center of Your Chest”

Donna McDermott, Ph.D., Assistant Teaching Professor, Writing Program, Emory University

I work in the English Department, in the Writing Program. I suspect that many of my colleagues would present a moving poem in this moment. But, I teach students to write about science, so I’m going to read to you from a data point.

This data point is on a map. The map is pink, and it covers the whole world. This point is placed in Gaza, just east of Beit Lahia. In a comment, the contributor has written:

Idk how long I will live so I just want this to be my memory here before I die. I am not going to leave my home, come what may. My biggest regret is not kissing this one guy. He died two days back. We had told how much we like each other and I was too shy to kiss last time. He died in the bombing. I think a big part of me died too. And soon I will be dead. To younus, i will kiss you in heaven.

Queering the Map.

We may think of ourselves as too old and too serious to be making maps of the people we didn’t kiss. But I suspect that all of you remember what it feels like, to be young and have that hope and just saturated with love. 

As I grow older and more serious, I try not to let go of that capacity for love. Not just romantic love, but all love. All the pieces of my life that I love. The smell of my mother when I hug her. The swooping bats in the park at dusk. That clockwork feeling when I’m planning a lesson and it’s going to go well, and the pride I feel in students when they tell me that, actually, they really did learn something this semester.

On Friday evening, I watched students and faculty fill the quad and sit in little groups, talking and eating and chanting and listening. I’d never seen that here before, not on that scale. Our students turned fear and pain into camaraderie and compassion. Watching them, I felt a form of love for my community.

There’s a cost to all this love. If I can feel the love my mother has for me, that means I know, at least a little, about the love between a mother and son in Gaza. And when I watch a video of this mother when she finds her son’s corpse with his hands bound and his body beaten, because Israeli soldiers entered Nasser Hospital and left a mass grave of torture victims behind—I have to feel just a fraction of that pain, too.

If I can feel the love I have for this body I live in—that means I also have to feel something horrifying when I see a picture of an infant in Gaza with wrinkles on her belly because it’s empty, because she is starving to death, because Israel won’t let humanitarian aid into Gaza.

And when I sat on the quad on Friday and watched our community come together, I thought of those students who were arrested Thursday morning. That they deserved to be there, untraumatized, unburdened. They should have gotten to have that. This is what they were building, it seems, with that encampment. This community and love. But because those students also have love for the people of Gaza, Emory leadership tore them apart.

That data point I read to you before is from a project called Queering the Map. The map shows us that we, queer kin, are all over the world, and that our love connects us.

I teach students about models and data and tests and science. But I also try to teach them that we don’t lose ourselves when we study those things. We still feel. We have to, because a data point is not just a data point. So, here is another point from Queering the Map. This queer Palestinian has placed the point in Jabalia, in Gaza. But it reminded me of our students on the Quad:

“Ive always imagined you and me sitting out in the sun, hand and hand, free at last. We spoke of all the places we would go if we could. Yet you are gone now. If I had known that bombs raining down on us would take you from me, I would have gladly told the world how I adored you more than anything. Im sorry I was a coward.”

Queering the Map.

You’ve felt bits of that, right? That adoration and that cowardice? 

There are many powerful people in our world who are telling us that the right thing to do is to sit quietly and smile nicely as Israel and the United States wage genocide. It takes courage to question this narrative. But their violence has already reached us, and it will continue to. So why not practice courage? Build courage like a muscle.

Because our students? They have courage. They have intellect that connects across disciplines. They have empathy, not just for themselves, not just for their friends, but for people halfway around the world.

President Fenves could have looked at those students and felt pride. Supporting those students in their fight against genocide could have been the pinnacle of his academic legacy. But he didn’t choose that.

So, instead of looking to our administrators, look to our students. We teach them to have a 

growth mindset—let’s do that too, working toward the growth of our own courage. Practice courage when you feel the love you have for this heartbreaking world. Practice courage when you witness the people of Gaza, and listen to the horrors they experience, and remember that they are people who love, in exactly the same way you do.

And practice courage when you love this community so much that you demand it be better. That it find the courage to divest from genocide.

There is a cost, to all of this. But it pays you back.

Dr. Dilek Huseyinzadegan, Response to April 25th’s Events

Dr. Dilek Huseyinzadegan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Emory University

I am still processing Thursday’s horrific events when a peaceful demonstration against Cop City in Atlanta and genocide in Gaza turned so violent by law enforcements’ intrusion on our campus, so I will keep it short. 

Last year, a group of Emory students staged a protest against Cop City by setting up a living room on the Quad. In the middle of the night, the Atlanta Police Department showed up on our campus, large SUVs circling, officers threatening protestors with arrests. Students peacefully dispersed although they were traumatized by such a close encounter. A number of faculty members met with the administration for over a year to demand accountability and redress for what happened that night.

Last Thursday, I feel that the Emory administration’s response was to bring Cop City to our campus. 

I have worked as a researcher and an educator for 20 years, 10 of which have been at Emory. I have never imagined that a police officer would point a machine gun at my head and threaten me with arrest on my own campus, my work place, and all this while I was trying to communicate with a student who was arrested, who was giving out the phone number of her mother, for me to call and let her know. But that is exactly what happened on Thursday. 

Make no mistake about it: The Emory Administration invited Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State Patrol officers to our campus in response to the beginnings of a peaceful protest. Both APD and GSP are known for brutalizing students and people of color in our city. And the admin’s decision to call the police came after faculty, staff, and students repeatedly and continuously pleaded with them not to escalate by inviting the police. About 20 individuals, most of them students of color, were arrested. The “outside agitators” mentioned in Fenves’ letter was the APD and GPS, who compromised the safety and health of its own students, staff, and faculty. This clearly demonstrates that the priorities of our administration and the Board of Trustees lie elsewhere than student safety or bettering our city. I am ashamed to report that Emory University now holds the dubious distinction of having the fastest police response to any university protest ever in history! 

My students are brilliant and fierce; I love and trust them and I follow their lead, and I urge you to do the same. They have called upon the university to both disclose Emory’s investments and divest from the apartheid state of Israel and the construction of Cop City in Atlanta. I will follow their lead, also because students protesting war and genocide have never been on the wrong side of history.

I am a philosopher, and a philosopher’s main job, ever since Socrates, is to ask questions. Here is one for us to ponder as a community:

Do we want a campus where pepper bullets, tear gas, random and violent faculty and student arrests for “criminal trespassing on the Quad” are normalized? 

I do not. And anyone who cares for the safety and wellbeing of faculty, staff and students cannot.

Thursday on our campus we all saw a little demonstration of what Cop City will look like.  I cannot continue to perform “business as usual”  in our university. I am deeply worried about the conscience of our institution passively sanctioning the construction of Cop City and asks us to perform normalcy amidst the most visible and documented genocide in history.

Marina Magloire, “A Message for My Students”

Marina Magloire, Assistant Professor of English, Emory University

A message for my students:

“The children of Gaza are proud of you,” read signs made by displaced children in Rafah, written in English so that American students can read them. Over the noise of oceans, of language, of border walls, over the violence of displacement and genocide, a whisper of your doings here have reached the listeners who matter most: the besieged people of Gaza. What you do here matters so deeply for a world far beyond Emory.   

In 2002, after an attack by the IOF on a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin, another Palestinian child addressed an audience through film, looking into a camera to speak on the soldiers who just destroyed her camp. She said, “I’m not afraid of these cowards. They’re like mice. Despite their great weapons, they hide behind their tanks, afraid of civilians like us. Their cowardice is legendary” (Bakri, Mohammed, Jenin, Jenin, 2002). What we saw on Thursday was the legendary cowardice of state violence, using excessive force against unarmed people to maintain its status quo. But if their cowardice is legendary, so is your courage. On Thursday, I witnessed students, faculty, and community members standing up to this violence to keep each other safe. Even knowing they could not win against the weaponry of the APD and the Georgia State Patrol, people present at the encampment stepped in to help each other, refused to accept the knee of a police officer on the neck or back of their peers, even when the violence seemed inevitable and insurmountable. And it is this legendary courage, not the cowardice of your oppressors, that I will carry with me out of that day.

As my colleagues before me have noted, education means nothing if we punish students for practicing what we teach: to “decolonize,” to question systems of power, to ground their intellect in a principled desire for justice. Because of the courage of our students, books will be written extolling the virtues of the 2024 student uprisings, conference presentations will be given on the role of art and culture in resistance to the Gaza genocide, words upon words, discourse upon discourse. But we will know who did the real work, who made the theory practice, who made the revolution irresistible. And it was all of you who were there on Thursday.

I’ll end with a poem by the great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, On Hope:

Do not tell me:
I wish to be a baker in Algeria
In order to sing with the revolutionaries
Do not tell me:
I wish to be a shepherd in the Yemen
To sing for the uprising of the age
Do not tell me:
I wish to be a waiter in Havana
To sing for the victory of the poor
Do not tell me:
I wish to be a stone carrier in Aswan
To sing for the rocks
My friends:
The Nile will not pour into the Volga
The Congo and Jordan Rivers
Will not serve the Euphrates
Each river has its own
Our land is not barren
Each land has its own rebirth
Each dawn has a date with revolution.

Palestinian Staff and Alum of Emory University, Response

Hi everyone, thank you for being here. I wish I could have joined y’all today, but I do not feel safe speaking up in the anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim environment on campus. As a staff member and alum of Emory University, it has been horrifying watching the violence inflicted on our community members by Emory leadership, especially President Gregory Fenves. As the entire world now knows, EPD, APD, and Georgia State Patrol violently assaulted, arrested, tased, tear-gassed, and used rubber bullets on peaceful students and faculty this past Thursday. This extreme use of force was facilitated by Fenves. 

Emory students who organized the encampment simply wanted their university, where they pay tuition, to divest from apartheid and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, as well as from Cop City. A majority of Atlanta residents have opposed the construction of Cop City. More than 116,000 signatures of Atlanta residents call for a vote on Cop City. However, the city has spent over a million dollars to fight against our right to this democratic process. In addition to the numerous reasons Cop City is not wanted by residents, the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program trains our police with the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF), who have been killing Palestinians for over 75 years. We all witnessed some of these learned violent tactics used on our students and faculty.

Fenves put our students, faculty, and staff in danger by calling outsiders, the city and state police. How can our president bring Georgia State Troopers, the same group that murdered Tortuguita, an unarmed peaceful protestor of Cop City? I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I am not. 

On October 25, 2023, Fenves sent an email to the Emory community condemning peaceful protests for Palestine, where he falsely accused the protesters of using hateful rhetoric. He had recently expressed empathy and grief for Israel. That was the last communication we have received from him on this topic. He has not said a word about the over 50,000 Palestinians killed. His blatant biases and dehumanization of Palestinians sheds some light on why he quickly called in outside forces to brutalize community members standing against the genocide and for humanity. Instead of apologizing, he has attempted to falsify the narrative, again. 

Our students and faculty have been traumatized from the university that was supposed to protect them. A recent article in the Guardian stated:

The university’s response was likely the quickest show of police force in response to a divestment protest among the dozens nationwide that have occurred in recent weeks. It was also probably the only one where pepper balls, stun guns and rubber bullets were used against students, faculty and community members – at one of the few student protests in the south to date.

The Guardian. (2024, April 27). Emory University in Georgia calls in police after campus protests. The Guardian.

Now is the time for us to come together as a community. We have to protect our students and stand in solidarity with their needs/demands and make sure they are not punished for being brave and pushing for humanity. We also need to recognize that our university is funding harm to our local, national, and international community. Let’s make sure this ends now and is no longer a part of our reputation. 

Love and Solidarity.

Librarian at Pitts Theology Library, Response

Before I get started: I bring solidarity greetings from the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC (USA), Christians for a Free Palestine, and Librarians and Archivists with Palestine. I am a theological librarian, please come see me whenever you may need me.

My first non-propagandized trip to Palestine was in January 2014 with a group of seminary classmates and faculty from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. On a special excursion during this trip, a small group of us went to visit Hebron, arguably, the place in the West Bank where the apartheid state is most prominently on display. At every turn you see IOF soldiers with rifles standing in watchtowers, military checkpoints barricading Palestinian’s freedom of movement, and illegal Israeli settlers occupying the upper floors of Palestinian homes while the Palestinian owners of these homes must use windows at the back to get inside. Every moment of every day is an undeniable witness to the dehumanization that is at the core of the settler colonial project of Zionism. 

Ten years later, in February of this year, a classmate of mine from that trip in 2014 went back to Palestine as part of a solidarity delegation. I’d like to share with you all a portion of the blog post she wrote after their trip:

Protocol for approaching soldiers is generally to stop at some reasonable distance and wait to be called closer to talk to them, which was our intention. So, we stopped a few hundred yards away and then only took an occasional step forward. Even in the dark the soldiers could see us in car headlights and took notice, coming out from behind their concrete bunker to both get a better look at us and show their weapons. I saw them call to the other soldiers on the checkpoint, speak into their radios, and within a couple minutes an armored personnel carrier showed up with at least four more even more heavily armed soldiers who got out to join the others.

As these soldiers took up positions at the checkpoint, one of them raised their rifle to look at us through their scope. Like some sick video game or war movie, as he drew up on us, the red laser sight went up my body, across my white sweatshirt, and to my friend’s head right behind me- flashing on her glasses. 

My two fellow white presenting American friends in this story were lucky. Had they dressed in all black and shouted “Allahu akbar” as they approached the soldiers, their lives would have been over in an instant. Our Palestinian siblings throughout the West Bank and in Gaza are never this fortunate. I’ve seen first hand footage of Israeli drones striking down unarmed Palestinians as they walk throught the rubble. I’ve witnessed, live and in real time, Caterpilar bulldozers digging up century old olive groves. I’ve seen with my own eyes, peaceful Palestinian protestors thrown to the ground and kicked, pelted with tear gas, rubber bullets and live amunition, and children forcefully restrained and dragged into IOF military vehicles for simply existing. 

What I witnessed on this very campus last Thursday was no different. For no justifiable reason at all, heavily armed forces stormed onto our campus. They voiolently body slammed people to the ground, deployed chemical weapons on unarmed, peaceful protestors, and repeatedly tazed an already retrained person as they were pinned to the ground. The level of force wielded against our students, faculty, staff, and community supporters can only be described as absolute evil. These were violent “war zone” scenes that should have never taken place. Yet, they did, and that is something that our administration needs to take full accountability for.

It amazes me that some people still claim that supporting Palestinian self-determination is “radical.” It should not be radical to want bombs to stop dropping to the ground, killing hundreds of innocent civilians at a time. It should not be radical to want children to stop being starved to death. It should not be radical to want medical workers, journalists, artists, intellectuals, and UN workers to stop being slaughtered. It should not be radical to want our government to stop funding a genocide. For all of these reasons, it should absolutely not be radical to support a Free Palestine. Rather it should be extremely rational. 

As a librarian, part of the responsibility of our collective work is to preserve what humankind produces as we experience this life. At present, every library, both academic, public, and private, have been destroyed by the IOF. These actions are a deliberate act to erase Palestinians not only from the map, but also from collective memory. To my fellow Emory library workers—if you value the preservation of cultural heritage, it should be extremely rational for you to be actively involved in ending the current genocide in Gaza. So, I invite you to join us, as Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine to support our student body as they demand this institution, and many like it accords the country, to completely divest from the $493 billion dollars that are contributing to the Israeli apartheid war machine, and to cut all ties with Cop City. 

Citation:  Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine. “Statements from the April 2024, ‘Hands off Our Students!,’ Emory Faculty and Staff Solidarity Gathering.” Atlanta Studies. May 8, 2024. 10.18737/atls20240508.