Case Western Students Host 'Die In' Protest During University's Annual Open House

The protestors, affiliated with Students for Justice for Palestine, want the organization's current ban revoked

click to enlarge Students for Justice for Palestine spearheading a protest at Case Western in November. - Maria Elena Scott
Maria Elena Scott
Students for Justice for Palestine spearheading a protest at Case Western in November.
About 80 or so Case Western students dropped "dead" in the middle of the university's bustling Tinkham Veale University Center on Friday morning, as prospective students and their parents were scheduled to attend an open house ceremony nearby.

The protest, led by the campus' Students for Justice for Palestine chapter, was a signal to university admins, the organization told Scene, for their lack of transparency regarding possible financial ties to Israeli arms manufacturers. As they called for Friday, SJP has repeatedly pressured Case Western to pass a Resolution 31-15, which would lay bare the university's dealings with foreign entities like Israel.

The so-called "die-in" is also a prodding move by SJP to protest its suspension as an official student organization. In early March, the Palestinian supporters group was suspended by the university due to allegedly glueing flyers to the campus' Spirit Wall, which its Office of Student Conduct claims violates its posting policy.

From their ban to Friday's open house protest, SJP and Case admins haven't come any closer to reaching agreement, activists told Scene before the "die-in." Partly because SJP members believe their apparent flyer-glue charge was made in error in the first place. (Members interviewed denied there was "hard evidence" the Spirit Wall was debased by SJP.)

"[Case President Eric] Kaler and the administration are pretty clearly silencing pro-Palestinian advocacy and any relevant discourse about the genocide going on," Hannah Morris, a Case junior and SJP member, said on Thursday. "I think they're uncomfortable, and I think that [the suspension] was totally a move to try and stamp out SJP."

She clarified: "I don't think there's been much, like, positive progress towards reinstating SJP, to my knowledge."

After more than a half year into fighting between Israel forces and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, conflict that's taken the lives of 34,000 Palestinians, pro-Palestinian protests are close to reaching a zenith in both scope and legal backlash in the month of April.

Protestors blocked traffic for hours on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge; others shut down a major freeway in Oakland. And in Cleveland, activists calling for sympathy for Gaza have blocked airport traffic, shut down City Council meetings and covered Euclid Avenue and Public Square repeatedly with chants and flag-waving.

Case Western isn't an island in rising tensions between student and faculty.
click to enlarge Gaza protests have filled City Council meetings, shutting them down at one point earlier this year. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Gaza protests have filled City Council meetings, shutting them down at one point earlier this year.
Just on Thursday, dozens of pro-Palestinian protestors encamped at Columbia University in New York were arrested and cuffed in zip ties, many of them SJP members frustrated with their own six-month suspension. Crackdowns on unauthorized protests—which, in some cases, led to students being kicked out of campus housing—ran in tandem with Columbia President Nemat Shafik's testifying to Congress about apparent anti-semitism on campus.

On February 26, after months of back-and-forth tension, George O'Connell, the director of Case's Office of Student Conduct, issued an "interim loss of recognition" on SJP, stripping it as a legal club. O'Connell's office demanded the names of all SJP members and engagement "in continued participation" with his office to "resolve" the effects of the alleged glue-posting.

“Failure to adhere to this notice or any form of retaliation will be considered an additional code of conduct violation and may result in further conduct charges and sanctions,” O'Connell's letter demanded.

Another SJP member, who commented anonymously fearing retaliation from the university, told Scene that Friday's "die-in" echoed the sentiment of SJP's response to its ban, posted on Instagram on March 4. ("You can try to shut our organizations down, but you can't stop the movement from growing," the post read.)

"Our goal at the end of the day, in everything that we do, is to make sure that we foster a safe, equitable, and just not only university community," the student told Scene, "but broader society and fight systems of oppression and colonialism that have completely ravaged the lives of many of us."

"So we will not stop, and we will not let more people die quietly," they added. "So the university can try all of its tactics in full rank as much as it wants. But at the end of the day, what we have and what they don't is people power."

In a statement to Scene, a Case spokesperson did not acknowledged any progress, if any at all, in bringing SJP back as an official student organization.

"Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the university doesn't comment on student conduct issues," they wrote. "As with all student organizations, the university follows its student judicial policies and procedures."

Update: Around noon on Friday, after the protestors cleared Tinkham Veale, Rachael Collyer, the director of the Ohio Student Association, told Scene that members of SJP were not directly involved in the “die-in.”

“SJP did not participate in the planning of the demonstration or in the demonstration itself due to concerns about their safety and about receiving further backlash to their student org from the university,” Collyer wrote in a text message. “The intention of the protest was to lift up the voices of the broader CWRU community, who are voicing their support for SJP to be reinstated.”

“Additionally,” she added, the two students interviewed for this article “are not SJP members.”

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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