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Knox College students protest for Palestine, call for disclosure of investments

Knox College student Marin Hart speaks during a walkout and teach-in May 10 on the south lawn of Old Main.
Addison Steinbach
The Knox Student
Knox College student Marin Hart speaks during a walkout and teach-in May 10 on the south lawn of Old Main.

Knox College students joined college students across the country protesting for an end to violence in Palestine.

“We refuse to be complicit in genocide, and we must take action to stop it. I believe one day Knox will celebrate us,” said senior Marin Hart in a speech that opened the protest on May 10.

The demonstration was planned by Knox Students for Palestine, a group that has been meeting since January.

It started with a walkout during afternoon classes. Around 200 students and faculty gathered on the lawn south of Old Main.

Like college students at other institutions, those at Knox are asking their school to disclose their investments to reveal if there are ties to Israel.

“We just want to get the information out, or at least start Knox thinking about divestment more seriously,” said fifth-year student Kevin Cox, one of the organizers of the protest.

Socially responsible investing

Hart compared their movement to calls for action during apartheid decades ago when students and faculty convinced the college to divest from South Africa.

“Knox has divested from apartheid before because of student and faculty action. Knox removed their investments in South Africa starting in 1988 and completely by 1996,” Hart said. “We have done it before and we can do it again.”

Hart pointed out that Knox has a committee on socially responsible investing, formed in 2016, but said it hasn’t been active in recent years.

The administration is already taking action to restart the committee.

Hart said they want to hold the committee accountable and “make sure our money follows our ethics.”

Knox Students for Palestine has also asked the administration to remove Starbucks and Sabra products from the campus store in January. Sabra, a company known mainly for their hummus, is a venture of the Strauss group, which directly supports the Israeli army.

The administration has denied the request, but said it will consider removing Sabra products if students stop buying them.

Hart said that individual boycotts are important, but that is not enough.

“We as an institution should be living up to our values and be willing to make a statement against genocide and against occupation in the products we are willing to sell to our students,” Hart said.

Learning about the conflict

Knox Students for Palestine also wants the college to make a statement supporting Palestinians and denouncing what they consider genocide.

But the administration sees that differently.

“I think the President was really transparent earlier in the winter that we are always happy to talk to students, but making a statement isn’t the thing that is going to solve the problem,” said Vice President for Student Development Marquita Barker. “I think we have done our best to communicate to students not necessarily through a statement but through genuine support for students when they come to us.”

Barker attended the protest to learn more about what students are feeling, to see if there are ways her office could support their needs, and to learn more about the conflict.

Educating others was another goal of the protest.

After the walkout and opening statements by leaders of Knox Students for Palestine, Izzy Scott led protesters in a teach-in.

Scott planned a jigsaw activity, which is a cooperative learning strategy. Students broke up into groups and watched videos on different topics.

“We are not experts. Knox Students for Palestine is mostly made of white students, and we didn’t want to come across as making any sorts of claims to our own expertise,” Scott said. “With the jigsaw, people get to talk about and focus on what they want.”

The materials used were from the Palestine Academy, a hub of information and resources curated by Palestinians about their history and the current conflict in Gaza.

The videos covered different periods of Palestinian and Israeli history, details about the current conflict, and information for how to support Palestinians.

“In my group we watched a video on Zionism, and honestly I was embarrassed, I never knew what that word meant,” said junior Ava Vaccarella. “I didn’t realize that the Arabs and Jews lived peacefully in Palestine before Israel declared their own land.”

Condemning antisemitism

Jummah, or Friday prayers, were performed during the event as well. They were led by Muslim students, but all were invited to participate.

And they did -- Muslim and non-Muslim students alike prayed together on the lawn that afternoon.

“With prayer, there is also praying for Palestine itself. The more voices we have putting it out in the world the better,” said senior Amira Siddique.

Organizers also invited attendees to make posters calling for change.

Knox Students for Palestine provided the materials, including chalk to write messages on sidewalks.

They asked students to make posters calling for a boycott of Starbucks and Sabra, as well as asking the college to divest.

Organizers made it clear that these posters were not meant to spread any hate.

“We condemn antisemitism. That being said, as a Jewish person, genocide is not a Jewish value. We do not associate this genocide with Judaism,” said junior Ren Herzog.

The protest wrapped up as classes ended that day.

Organizers put the student-made posters all over campus following the event. To Knox Students for Palestine, this was only the first step.

“To some extent, next steps are determined by how the school responds to this, but we’ll be here, we’ll keep pushing,” said junior Winter Goodner.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Eleanor Lindenmayer is a journalism major at Knox College.