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Victory for Students Occupying Rochester University in Solidarity with Palestine

by Kosta Harlan |
February 7, 2009
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Students at the University of Rochester declared victory and ended their sit-in protest after the university administration agreed to several of their key demands. On Jan. 6, over 75 students occupied an auditorium in the Goergen Biomedical and Engineering building, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza. Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Rochester organized the sit-in to raise pressure on the administration to meet their demands.

The protesters demanded that the university divest from corporations involved in war profiteering, initiate a day of fundraising for humanitarian aid to Gaza, send supplies to the devastated Gaza University and provide a minimum of five scholarships to Palestinian students each year.

Palestinians in Gaza are still reeling from a brutal three-week war in which Israeli occupation forces, backed by the United States government, killed over 1335 Palestinians and wounded several thousand more.

The building occupation came amid a wave of similar university occupations that swept Great Britain in the past two weeks. “The 16 university occupations in England inspired us to do something similar here in solidarity with people in Gaza,” said Eugene Brud, a junior at University of Rochester and an organizer of the protest.

Just nine hours after the sit-in began, the students declared victory after the Dean of Students signed a statement agreeing to several of the key demands. “The occupation ended in a joint statement with the Dean of Students, Dean Burns, that included commitments by the university administration to carry out humanitarian and academic aid, as well as scholarships for the people of Palestine,” Brud said.

“As for divestment, we got an agreement for a public forum on the issue of divestment with the administration. This is, of course, far short of the demand for divestment from arms manufacturers,” continued Brud. “But the gains obtained [...] can still be viewed as a success, as it allows a space to push the issue further and, if the effort is put into it, with more strength and clarity.”

In addition to Students for a Democratic Society, the university occupation saw broad participation from community and campus organizations, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Rochester Against War and the Campus Antiwar Network.