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Alumni react to campus protests

Amanda Xi '25

At Mercersburg Academy, students may learn about the Israel-Palestine conflict through history class or reposts on social media, but on many university campuses around the country, college students are declaring their opinions by organizing public protests. Although there are nuances within the rallies between campuses, the consensus is a demand for a ceasefire in Gaza. Since the attack on Israel by Hamas in October, the media has covered the conflict continuously, but now many college students have had enough and are speaking up by protesting. 

Recent Mercersburg graduates attending colleges most often in the news have personally experienced the demonstrations. Will Dietz ’23 attends Columbia University in New York, where pro-Palestine students have set up tents on the main lawn. Students at Columbia were among the first to protest, drawing extensive publicity due to the University’s prestige and its history of student protest. However, Dietz faults the media for exacerbating tensions on campus and drawing ill-intentioned outsiders to the perimeter of campus. “The news reports were exaggerating a bit and sometimes outright lying. I talked with a lot of Jewish friends, and they seemed to all share the sentiment that when they were on campus, they felt completely safe. But when they stepped outside the gates and had to walk by the crowds of protestors who were non-affiliates of the University, they felt uneasy.” To note,  antisemitism has been on the rise in recent years and has grown since the beginning of the war - as has Islamophobia. Even though the students may have begun this movement, it appears that the protests drew in many non-students who are primarily rousing fears on campus. 

At Emory University, another campus facing student protests, Maggie Betkowski ’21 says, “People not associated with Emory have come onto our campus and vandalized buildings with hate speech, which has been really disappointing to see, and it dampens the message of the protestors.” Similarly, Priscilla Lee, ‘23, attending the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “There were a couple of rumors of armed non-students going up to the dorm areas, but it’s not confirmed.” So far, she has not experienced any other disruption by the students, primarily depending on the news for information.

Olivia Short ’23, studying at New York University, agrees that campus protests are highly visible. Short says, “You can see all the protesters camping outside our building. I’ve watched our cleaning people wash paint off of our building. Our entire business school is boarded up, and we get constant emails about our safety.” Because she lives off-campus, Short has no definite knowledge of whether the protesters were NYU students or not. 

Students also expressed disappointment in how their school administrations were dealing with the situation. In response to the protests, Columbia brought in NYPD, who arrested more than 100 activists. Dietz says, “It’s very saddening that protestors and universities can’t seem to reach agreements on this issue because, in most cases, it results in the universities calling in heavy police presence, which almost never feels right on a university’s grounds.” Short agrees, saying, “I think that our school has reacted somewhat poorly to the protest.” She also urges the students to think before acting too fast, stating, “Other students have responded to the situation by protesting against the school president and threatening her, which is not the right decision, but that has been the outcome of many things.” 

For many, college is the first exposure to different ideas and a period of learning. Betkowski says, “The protests have brought the conflict in the Middle East much closer to home.” Even though it is easy to feel sheltered and safe in little Mercersburg, these recent graduates have learned that a conflict in the world can become personal in a new environment.

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