Providing Student News to Old Dominion University Since 1930

Mace & Crown

Providing Student News to Old Dominion University Since 1930

Mace & Crown

Providing Student News to Old Dominion University Since 1930

Mace & Crown

Silenced Voices: The Intersection of Free Speech and Palestine Protests on University Campuses

SDS Protest Outside Webb Center, February 28th, 1967

On Oct. 10, 2023, an email with the subject “Monarch Nation Stands Strong for Peace and Understanding” was sent out by President Brian O. Hemphill in collaboration with the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding, addressing and condemning the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. The email was sent to students, faculty, and staff.


Subsequently, a group of students and alumni wrote emails from Oct. 20, 2023, onwards to President Hemphill, Velvet Grant, Alicia Monroe, Ashley Schumaker, Karen Meier, Alonzo Brandon, and September Sanderlin, supporting the letter written by the alumna, Seena Alkaifi. In her letter, she highlights the first paragraph of the statement made by the president in collaboration with the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding as misleading. 


She mentions, “They have presented a one-sided perspective showing solidarity and concern only for Israeli civilians with no acknowledgement of the ongoing and historical suffering and death of Palestinians.” Although the statement by the institute did mention that they “hold space for the Palestinian, Druze, and Bedouin civilians who are also suffering,” Seena recalls that “the opening for the statement conveys an unbalanced and biased stance that was harmful to numerous students, faculty, and staff within [their] district who identify as Muslim, Palestinian, or Arab.” 


One student received an email back on Oct. 25, 2023, from Velvet Grant, who copied Hemphill, stating, “He is very appreciative of you taking the time to write and share your thoughts and concerns related to this matter. We are grateful for the time and effort you put into this outreach.” 


By this time, those students had formed Students for Justice in Palestine. The branch is not yet under an official student chapter, as they continue to search for professors to sponsor them. Faisal Alkhatib, a member of the chapter, said, “We have been trying to find support, but many professors are hesitant because they are afraid of the backlash.” 


As no other emails were sent out after their request in the letter, the students in SJP planned a sit-in protest on Nov. 9, 2023, outside the president’s office. When they arrived, the police were already there. The head of security called out the name of one of the students and read out the rules for the protest. 


“We were surprised that they knew the names of anyone in the crowd. The message was only spread through word-of-mouth by the students who are a part of SJP, and there were only 15-20 of us,” Alkhatib recalled. “The police were wearing body-worn cameras, and they recorded and took pictures of the protest. We were asked not to wear masks or cover our faces in any way, or else we would be charged with a Class 6 felony.” 


2 hours and 15 minutes into the protest, Vice President for University Advancement, Alonzo Brandon, walked over to the students to schedule a meeting to discuss the matter. The students agreed but promised to finish the third hour of the protest before leaving. 


“At no given point during the protest did anyone ask for our names, but then the very next day, each one of us who was present there received an email,” said Ahlam Jaber. The day after, several students involved in the protest received an email from Katie Winstead Reichner, the Executive Director of Student Engagement and Traditions and Student Engagement & Enrollment Services, with the subject “Old Dominion Freedom of Speech Notice.” It reiterated the rights of students to freedom of expression and how they can learn more about it. 


A penultimate meeting was scheduled for Nov. 16, 2023, at 1:45 PM, in which only four student representatives were allowed to meet with the Chief of Staff, Vice President, and President. “In the meeting, we shared our concerns and told them how their email was only sent to a specific community, which puts us in danger. To which the president responded that he wasn’t aware of the contents of the email as it was from the Institute of Jewish Studies, and he only signed off on it without measuring the importance of these words,” said Jaber. The students were assured that in the future, these matters would be dealt with with due diligence, as the administration wanted students to feel safe on campus. 


This incident was addressed by the President in the email with the subject, “Welcome to the Spring 2024 Semester at Old Dominion University!” It said, “During the Fall 2023 semester, I directly heard from individual Monarchs, who shared that they did not feel safe due to specific instances and individual interactions experienced on our campus. While we will always have differences, we should not allow those issues, regardless of their level of impact or severity, to create a divide on our campus in which individuals are questioning their safety.”

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About the Contributor
Ifrah Yousuf
Ifrah Yousuf, Assistant News Editor
Ifrah is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and is in her second year at ODU. She is also a screenwriter and has written a web series called, Chai Chats. Currently, she is working on a coming-of-age fiction novel surrounding three university girls exploring feminism and exploitation of women’s rights and the social injustice in Pakistan which led to Aurat March (Women’s March) in 2018.

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