Educators Stand as Shield: Universities Face Student Protests

Gaza solidarity encampments: We, as educators, need to protect our students | Protests

In recent months, universities, once regarded as breeding grounds for societal change, have revealed themselves as institutions more concerned with their political and economic interests. This revelation has been highlighted by the response from university administrations to the student-led Gaza solidarity encampments and protests. The duty of care that universities owe to their students has been called into question, prompting educators to step up and protect their students.

University Responses to Student-Led Protests

Across US college campuses, student-led sit-ins demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from companies doing business with Israel have emerged. However, rather than engaging with their demands, university administrations have responded with force, mobilizing law enforcement against these students. The police, often armed in riot gear, have dismantled encampments, brutalized protesters, and made numerous arrests.

Faculty Members Standing Up for Students

In response to this heavy-handed approach, brave faculty members have placed themselves in the line of fire to protect their students. At New York University, faculty members formed a human chain around the Palestine solidarity encampment to protect praying students and to resist the police’s attempts to dismantle the encampment. Faculty members have also taken a stand against the police intervention, describing the actions as a stain on the university.

Violence Against Educators

Despite their peaceful intention to protect their students, these educators have often faced violence from the police. For example, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Virginia Tech, faculty members were arrested and physically assaulted while standing alongside protesting students. Such incidents highlight the very real risks that educators are taking to fulfill their duty of care towards their students.

Revisiting the Purpose of Education

These events prompt us to reflect on the real purpose of education. As American educator Robert Maynard Hutchins once said, the aim of education is not merely to teach facts, theories, and laws, it is to teach students to think, to unsettle their minds, and to widen their horizons. The knowledge imparted in classrooms should enable students to understand the world and their place in it. The current student protests and encampments embody this spirit of intellectual curiosity and societal engagement.

Global Resonance of Student Protests

The student-led protests are not confined to the United States, with similar encampments being violently dismantled in Berlin and Amsterdam. The global resonance of this student movement is evident, and educators worldwide must decide where they stand in this historic moment. They have a choice to either support their students in their quest for justice and a better world or to remain silent observers.

In conclusion, the response of educators to the Gaza solidarity encampments and protests represents a pivotal moment in the history of higher education. It has revealed the stark contrast between the rhetoric of universities as agents of change and their actual actions. It has also highlighted the crucial role of educators as protectors of their students, reinforcing the duty of care that they owe to those in their charge. As the global student movement continues to grow, educators must choose their path and decide what role they will play in shaping the future of education.