Emerson students still want answers

Chalk signing at “the Alley” at 2 Boylston Place, where the encampment was held. The repeated number, 118, marks the number of students arrested on the night of April 25. Photo Courtesy of Milena Fernsler/BU News Service.

By Michael Rodriguez

Boston University News Service

Exactly one week after the 118 arrests at Emerson College’s pro-Palestine encampment, some students are still recovering from the aftermath. They continue to call on their administration to meet their demands and have clearer communication with the student body.

On April 21 at around 7 P.M., a group of students at Emerson College established a peaceful pro-Palestine encampment in a public alleyway on campus at 2 Boylston Place in Boston, MA.

According to a message on Emerson Today, Emerson’s President Jay Bernhardt informed students that Boylston Place was not solely owned by Emerson and shares access to businesses not affiliated with the college. However, it is governed by the Boston Police Department. 

Four days later, from around 1:45-3:30 A.M., Boston Police Department started detaining individuals involved in the encampment, but some students felt the message was not a fair warning. This is because students said they were exercising their First Amendment right at the encampment.

Some students expressed frustration with their administration, especially because one of Emerson’s significant mottos is, “Expression necessary for evolution.” Haley Balderson, a senior communications studies major with a minor in psychology, said, “Expression necessary for evolution is a b—— saying for a college that allows this to happen to their students.” 

Grace Mackenzie, a sophomore musical theater major, lives directly above Boylston Place and said that knowing her classmates were arrested and brutalized was troubling to her. “I think what the administration has failed to realize is that the arrests and mentality that those protesters faced, even those of us who weren’t there, have this trauma for the first time,” said Mackenzie. “Walking through that space feels so different.”  

A town hall meeting was held from approximately 10:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M. on April 29 at the Semel Theater in the Tufte Building on campus. Emerson students were invited to share their experiences from the night of April 25. 

Bernhardt — along with Chair of the Board of Trustees Eric Alexander and Vice Presidents Jim Hoppe and Shaya Gregory Poku — were all in attendance, amongst many members of the college’s administration, faculty and staff. 

While a group of Emerson students passed a no confidence vote for their President, calling on him to resign last week, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously that they had full confidence in Bernhardt’s abilities to fulfill his current role. 

Juliet Shames, a sophomore musical theater major, said there’s specific demands students feel aren’t being met by the administration. “Protestors are still specifically asking for them to disclose financially where money is going in terms of supporting Israel and other forces, [to] divest from that if they are and to publicly call for a ceasefire,” said Shames. “I don’t think that’s a lot to ask, [and] it was kind of shocking that we still haven’t even received an apology.”

The students’ responses to their experiences filled the time allotted for the meeting. 

Despite the meeting, there are students at Emerson who are still not satisfied with the way administration has handled the situation. They continue to call on the institution to have more efficient communication with the student body. 

Julia Lippman, a junior marketing and psychology major, said she hopes for the demands to be met, specifically greater financial transparency. “I think it’s good for us to know what our universities are investing in. This is our money, our family’s money,” said Lippman. “We should have the right to know where that’s going, so I do think that it’s a fair demand.”

Numerous Emersonians have continued to showcase full support of their peers’ advocacy and the experience they endured on April 25. This includes Lauren Kearl, a senior marketing and psychology major. “It’s really sad honestly, [but] it’s very inspiring, and I’m very grateful for everyone that was there,” said Kearl. “I’m really proud of them.”

Some students at Emerson iterated that the student body members involved in the encampments will remain on the “right” side of history, stating that the work they’ve done will eventually aid in a permanent ceasefire.

Zayan Agha, an international graduate student from Pakistan studying film, said that although he has not been directly involved with the protests on campus, due to the risk of losing his visa status, he supports his peers’ actions. “There is resistance from authorities now, but I think students are putting a lot at risk and looking back in 30 to 50 years from now,” said Agha. “I believe it will all be worth it.”  

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