57 arrested at UMass walkout, sit-in calling for college to condemn Israeli attack

UMass students gather outside the chancellor’s office in the Whitmore Administration Building Wednesday to demand that the university cut ties with weapons manufacturers and condemn Israeli actions in Gaza. UMass Police arrested 56 students and one faculty member after the building closed at 6 p.m.

UMass students gather outside the chancellor’s office in the Whitmore Administration Building Wednesday to demand that the university cut ties with weapons manufacturers and condemn Israeli actions in Gaza. UMass Police arrested 56 students and one faculty member after the building closed at 6 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

UMass students gather outside the chancellor’s office in the Whitmore Administration Building Wednesday to demand that the university cut ties with weapons manufacturers and condemn Israeli actions in Gaza. UMass police arrested 56 students and one faculty member after the building closed at 6 p.m.

UMass students gather outside the chancellor’s office in the Whitmore Administration Building Wednesday to demand that the university cut ties with weapons manufacturers and condemn Israeli actions in Gaza. UMass police arrested 56 students and one faculty member after the building closed at 6 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 10-26-2023 5:16 PM

AMHERST — After being given multiple oral warnings to leave the Whitmore Administration Building on Wednesday evening, 56 University of Massachusetts students and one UMass employee were arrested on charges of trespassing, according to a university spokesman.

The arrests, made five at a time until around 2 a.m. Thursday, came following a walkout and rally involving more than 300 students and coordinated by a group called UMass Dissenters that brought demands to UMass leadership, whose offices are in Whitmore, to condemn Israel’s recent military actions in Gaza and cut campus ties with companies in the defense industry.

As the building closed at 6 p.m., those who chose not to depart were arrested, even though UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said UMass recognizes the right of students to demonstrate on campus as being consistent with the university’s commitment to free speech and the advocacy of opinions and ideas protected under the First Amendment.

“The arrests were based on the refusal by those arrested to comply with a lawful order by UMass Police to leave the building,” Blaguszewski said.

Some of those participating in the rally said they were prepared to be arrested and had already arranged bail money.

While the students who entered the building were unable to get their written demands into the hands of Chancellor Javier Reyes, they did present them to Michael Malone, the provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.

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Still, Blaguszewski said in a statement that the protesters’ specific demands do not align with the university’s publicly stated positions and policies. He referred to the university’s position on the war in Israel and Gaza in an Oct. 10 email sent to the campus by Reyes:

“The attack on Israel by Hamas, with the kidnapping and murder of civilians — acts of terror which we vehemently condemn — and the escalation of the conflict to all-out war have led to untold suffering and tremendous loss of Israeli and Palestinian life.”

While students had apprised several administrators of their plan to occupy Whitmore until its closing, at which point some students intended to be arrested, the university counseled students against this as not being in their best interest, Blaguszewski said.

He also notes that university buildings have regular public operating hours, with Whitmore’s posted hours as being 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. UMass has standard protocols that require members of the public depart to ensure public safety and the protection of property within the building, he said.

A Thursday rally at 2 p.m. was expected to continue putting pressure on UMass to meet the demands, as well as to recount protesters’ experiences being arrested and held in police station cells overnight until their bails were posted. In addition, some members of UMass Dissenters and Students for Justice in Palestine were expected to have a private meeting with Reyes at that time.

Smith College walkout

The protest and sit-in at UMass on Wednesday was not the only one locally involving college students. Smith College students also walked out of their classes and were among more than 500 people who made the short journey to march in front of L3 Harris Technologies in Northampton, protesting what they argue is the weapon manufacturer’s role in the conflict in the Middle East.

Part of their appeal was also to L3 Harris employees, asking them walk out of their jobs and refuse to continue making weapons being used to kill Palestinians.

That came two weeks after Demilitarize Western Massachusetts, a local antiwar organization, blocked the access road to L3.

Along with Demilitarize, the protest was organized by the Anti-Imperialist Action Committee, Berkshire Communists, Palestine Action US, River Valley Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Smithies for Justice in Palestine.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.