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Activists disrupt U of M event to urge divestment from Israel

Protesters hold a banner that states "No honor in genocide" while on stage at the University of Michigan's Honors Convocation.
TAHRIR coalition
Protesters hold a banner that states "No honor in genocide" while on stage at the University of Michigan's Honors Convocation.

Student activists interrupted University of Michigan President Santa Ono mid-sentence as he wrapped up the UM Honors Convocation held in Hill Auditorium on Sunday, March 24. The 101st Honors Convocation, an event recognizing students who have achieved straight As for two or more consecutive terms, earned a 3.5 grade point average or higher during a term, or were first-term freshmen ranking in the upper 5% of their class within their school or college, saw an unexpected disruption.

Honor student Zainab Hakim, invited to the event for her achievements, ignited the disruption while on stage behind President Ono, holding a sign that read "Divest Now" and proclaiming, "Ono and regents, you are funding genocide. 32,000 Palestinians have been murdered by Israel. Your students demand divestment," inciting uproar in the audience.

Student activists from the Tahrir Coalition, scattered throughout the auditorium, joined in chanting "Ono, Ono, you can't hide. You are funding genocide," compelling Ono to take a seat, prematurely ending his speech.

In a statement in response to the event, U of M spokesperson Colleen Mastony said, "Although we support students’ right to protest, such rights are not limitless."

Student activist holds sign on stage to protest University of Michigan endowments to Israel.
Tarana Sharma
Student activist holds sign on stage to protest University of Michigan endowments to Israel.

Nicole Wan, co-president of the American Civil Liberties Union undergraduate chapter at U of M and an honors student, said the protesters specifically targeted the event due to the presence of Ono and the Board of Regents, whom she alleged have consistently "refused to meet" with the coalition and the student organization Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, despite numerous attempts, including a petition drive, to address concerns regarding the university's endowment investments.

"President Ono has been canceling on a lot of the events he's invited to because he is afraid of talking to his students," Wan said.

The protest, organized by the Tahrir Coalition as part of the "Divest Don't Arrest" campaign, aimed to address the university's investments in companies that could profit from the Gaza conflict. Ono's alleged avoidance of student engagement played a pivotal role in the decision to protest at the event, organizers said.

Videos of the protests swiftly circulated on social media platforms, with one video posted on the Instagram page of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, amassing over 20,000 likes. Comments such as "no business as usual" and “No justice. No peace,” inundated the comment section.

Ono released a statement the following Tuesday condemning the protest.

However, some quotes from the statement drew criticism from student activists.

One such quote, "It was painful for everyone who had gathered – and especially so for members of our Jewish community," was seen as conflating Zionists with all Jewish people, despite some protesters being Jewish, representing the organization Jewish Voice For Peace.

On Wednesday, March 27, U of M issued an email soliciting feedback from the Ann Arbor campus community on a newly proposed Disruptive Activity Policy. The survey, set to close at 11:59 p.m. on April 3, stirred controversy.

The Tahrir Coalition decried the move as an attempt to "stifle protests on campus," alleging in an Instagram post that the proposed policy "violates students’ rights to free speech and is a gross abuse of power by our administration."

The proposed policy outlines three key points:

1. "No person without legal authority may prevent or impede the free flow of persons about campus."

2. "No person may disrupt the University Operations of UM Facilities."

3. "All persons in violation of this policy ... must comply with lawful requests to leave U of M Facilities."

The draft stipulates that students accused of violating the policy will receive written notices and meet with university officials to discuss the allegations. Failure to accept responsibility may lead to a hearing where students could face consequences, including suspension or expulsion.

An emergency protest has been organized to combat the proposed policy. As of now, no protests have been canceled following the proposal of the policy.

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Public's broadcast license.

Zena is a senior at the University of Michigan with aspirations of becoming a broadcast journalist. She is interning in the Michigan Public newsroom.
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