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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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4/12 protest cover pic

Student Government welcomed new Eagles to campus with second policy protest

‘Who has the power? New Eagles have the power’

Complete with a two-hour student protest — the second Student Government-led demonstration of the week — this year’s New Eagle Day gave admitted students a true taste of life at American University. Led by Student Government Secretary and Vice President-elect Julia Comino, protestors welcomed new Eagles with signs and flyers on the University’s free speech guidelines and called on the University to reverse the Jan. 25 ban on indoor protesting and limitations on postering.

Some prospective students and parents appreciated the demonstration and said that they were inspired by the student advocacy on campus.  

“I actually appreciate that they care and that they’re involved and trying to make a difference. I found that to be kind of inspiring,” said Julie Suriel, the parent of an admitted student from New Jersey. 

Following instructions from an SG email and Instagram post the previous day, protestors lined up in the Woods-Brown Amphitheater around 11 a.m. There, organizers instructed them to remain respectful of the admitted students and their families.

As hundreds of prospective students left Bender Arena for the day’s events, protesters lined Lydecker Way by the amphitheater, holding signs and chanting. Demonstrators also handed out pamphlets addressing other issues, such as AU’s ties to the fossil fuel industry and the recent hiring of Huron Consulting

Demonstrators then looped around campus before settling back on Lydecker Way across from Bender Arena. As new Eagles and their families took a lunch break, demonstrators walked onto the amphitheater stage. There, they stood before an audience and chanted, aiming to get the attention of prospective students and their parents. 

“Do you want to come to a school that bans free speech?” the group chanted. 

Rohin Ghosh, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and an Advisory Neighborhood Council commissioner for Ward 3E, handed out flyers to incoming families and explained that he wanted to “make sure that everyone knows we have to defend our programs, defend our staff and defend the things that make the University what it is.”

protesters near bender pic

Comino, a junior in the School of Communication and the School of Public Affairs, explained that SG felt it was necessary to plan this protest on New Eagle Day. 

“As new Eagles come to campus we think that it’s really important that as we welcome them, we welcome them to this long history of student protests that we have on campus,” she said in an interview with The Eagle. “We think that’s something that we should be extremely proud of. We think that’s something that administration should be extremely proud of — and they usually are.”  

Several of the group’s chants referenced the University’s history of protests. As a part of a series of speeches, Comino said, “Hey new Eagles, as we welcome you to our campus we want to welcome you to our long history of student advocacy. It has been student advocacy that has shaped this campus, but the current administration, the current University president, has been attempting to stamp out student advocacy.” In response, other demonstrators declared “Shame.”

Kimberly Kraska, a junior in SPA and CAS, participated and expanded on the importance of protesting at this specific time.

“We really wanted to basically make sure that administrators were having to listen to us, and part of that is disrupting their plans,” Kraska said. 

The protest occurred two days after SG’s demonstration at the welcome reception for President-designate Jonathan Alger. When the University posted about the reception on its social media, it left out any mention of the protest. Its Instagram post received over 70 comments, with many demanding attention be given to the demonstration. 

“[The administrators] are very happy to capitalize off of changemaking until it makes them a little uncomfortable, which is exactly why they didn’t include us in the picture of the Jon Alger event that they posted,” Comino said. 

“It was just very poor of [the] administration to make this decision and to think that the students would not go against what they set in place,” said Arusa Islam, a junior in SPA and SG vice president and president-elect.

Some parents of prospective students expressed similar feelings to protesters. Michael Shauck of Connecticut was one of them. 

“I think coming down against free speech is not a good idea … it’s too paternalistic,” Shauck said, as he observed the protest’s loop around campus from outside of the Kay Spiritual Life Center. 

Michael and Quanda Dottin, parents of a committed student from New York, said they were inspired by the student advocacy they saw on campus. 

“This is where this is supposed to happen,” Quanda said. “Also in the streets, but if you don’t learn how to do that right here then you won’t be able to take it to the streets. Y'all are doing really good practice, and I don’t mean practices as in what you’re learning. You’re implementing it, you’re practicing it, you’re not just talking about it.”

The protest also caught the attention of current students passing by. Charles Simon, a sophomore in SPA, watched the group as they moved through campus and back into the amphitheater. He said that, though he initially supported the indoor protest ban, he’s shifted his perspective. He commended those advocating for free speech. 

“It’s not cool for the University to have done this, no matter how much I disagree with the people that they did it to,” Simon said. “I am referring to [Students for Justice in Palestine] because I really disagree with some of the things they’ve said. But, still, suppressing free speech is not the way to go about it.” Simon hopes to see the ban rescinded. 

SJP announced last week that the University put the organization on disciplinary probation as a result of a Feb. 8 silent indoor protest. This was the first instance of the protest ban violation leading to disciplinary probation, according to the University’s Student Organization Conduct Status webpage.  

Alexa Burke, an admitted student from Connecticut, said that this was her first time hearing about the indoor protest ban. 

“At first, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s not good that there are issues on the campus,’ but then I figured that I really like that the community comes together for having a voice,” Burke said. She also said that seeing the students voice their opinions was good for balancing out her overall opinion on the University. 

Islam took note of the impact the demonstration had on prospective students as well. 

“I think it went really well. I think we had a lot of involvement with the student body and this is definitely an issue that we are going to be focusing on,” Islam said. “I think it not only shapes our student body right now but what exactly protesting means to future students.”

parents/families in quad pic

Matt Bennett, the University’s vice president and chief communications officer, observed the protest with other administrators and told The Eagle, “Students are expressing themselves, that’s what they do.” 

Bennett also acknowledged the importance of protest to university culture. 

“As it happens every day on this campus, our students, our faculty and staff, they express their views and that’s important. That’s a part of the University environment,” he said. The University had no additional comment about the protest.

After about two hours, the protest ended in front of Mary Graydon Center.

“As the young man stated before, you can’t attract new students by saying ‘This is where change happens’ and then be afraid of change,” Michael said.

Kathryn Squyres contributed reporting to this article. 

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Ariana Kavoossi. 

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