CVRP places Students for Justice in Palestine on probation, campus organizations emphasize need for safe spaces


Editor’s Note: The Flat Hat has decided to honor the requests of several sources and keep their identities anonymous out of protection for their safety and wellbeing.  

Friday, Nov. 17, members of the College of William and Mary’s branch of Students for Justice in Palestine protested outside of Blow Memorial Hall on the second day of the College’s board of visitors meeting in the Grimsley Board Room. The SJP students organized the protest to urge the BOV to listen to student voices and increase visibility for Palestinian organizations. 

“We want the school to represent our values as students, as people that do attend this institution,” an SJP member who attended the protest said. “Your messaging, the money that the school invests should go and do things that we as students think is right, not to whatever the board of visitors deems most fit. In line with what the general campus feels and what the general campus advocates for. The whole point of the protest was to hold the board of visitors accountable to the students.”

SJP planned the impromptu demonstration the same evening as their general body meeting. During the demonstration, they gathered outside Blow, peacefully playing Palestinian music, echoing chants and waving Palestinian flags. After the meeting was dismissed and several board members began to leave the Dawson Circle lot behind the building in their vehicles, a few SJP general body members walked back and forth at the crosswalk to obstruct the traffic. This latter action led to the College’s Community Values and Restorative Practices department to place SJP on probation through the end of the Spring 2024 semester. 

“Following a regularly scheduled organizational meeting, the group learned that the Board of Visitors was meeting in Blow Hall at the same time,” the College’s Student Organization Conduct History webpage reads. “The group assembled and protested outside of the Blow Hall circle and some members crossed the crosswalk repeatedly, preventing vehicular traffic from moving freely. This was the organization’s second violation this academic year.”

The SJP student clarified that the action of blocking the street was not planned beforehand or recommended to protesters by the SJP executive board. 

“When we did the board of visitors protest, there were some students that decided that they wanted to block the board of visitors from passing by using the crosswalk a few times and that was the students’ own choice,” the SJP student said. “The school saw it fit to throw the blame on the whole of SJP and put us on probation.” 

According to Section IX of the Student Code of Conduct dedicated to Special Regulations for Recognized Student Organizations, probation could lead to various disciplinary actions if misconduct continues. 

“Probation is continued recognition and operation with a warning that further misconduct during the period of probation or violation of the terms of the probation may result in loss of institutional recognition,” the website states. “Conditions may be attached as terms of continuance during the period of probation.”

Prior to this decision, the organization had received a warning after an organized protest in the Sadler Center on Oct. 25, 2023. 

The guidelines for protesting at the College can be found on the Guidance for Expressive Events page of the College’s Student Unions and Engagement office. According to these guidelines, protests must be stopped if they disrupt normal university operations, obstruct access to offices or buildings, threaten physical harm or damage to property, take place within a university building without authorization or involve unauthorized entry into certain areas of campus. 

“As stated in the Use of Campus Facilities Policy, ‘The university is committed to supporting the exercise of constitutionally protected expression in university-controlled facilities and property while maintaining a safe atmosphere free from disruption,’” the College’s director of university news and media Suzanne Clavet wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “The Guidelines for Expressive Events were developed by the university’s Ad Hoc Committee for First Amendment Rights (2018-19) and completed in 2019.”

“I think I speak for a lot of us when I say we feel like we do not enjoy the same rights to protest or free speech as other organizations on the campus and it makes us feel singled out obviously in a predominantly white institution of power,” the SJP student said. 

According to the Community Values and Restorative Practice office, SJP was placed on probation on Dec. 11, 2023, for infringing on the rights of others, failure to comply with instructions and endangerment of health and safety. Another SJP student voiced frustration with the probation decision and with how the College handled the Nov. 17 board of visitors protest. 

“I think I speak for a lot of us when I say we feel like we do not enjoy the same rights to protest or free speech as other organizations on the campus and it makes us feel singled out obviously in a predominantly white institution of power,” the SJP student said. 

The SJP student thinks that the College has made it feel as though SJP specifically has very little room for error in its conduct. 

“It feels like a constant targeting, we always are asked to explain ourselves, and I feel like other members of the community aren’t always given the same treatment,” the SJP student said. “There’s a double standard where we’re always, we were expected to answer for our actions in every little single thing that we do, and other organizations are just not.”

This feeling of unease has caused SJP students to compare and contrast their situation with other SJP chapters’ experiences on college campuses around the country. The SJP student further noted that the SJP chapter at the College invites the National Lawyers Guild to their protests for any legal assistance they may need. He also shared that several administrative members often choose to attend their events.

“Across the country, we see targeting of the SJPs and we see Florida trying to ban the chapters and we see how they like to paint us in the media, but obviously none of that is true for us,” the SJP student said. “Because any events we hold, we have the National Lawyers Guild so that we have legal observers there. We have the WMPD, we have the regular PD, we have the Dean of Students there, and the Dean of the Community Values and Restorative Practices, so, everything that we possibly can in order to have the administration see the event we’re hosting and to believe in us as a student organization.”

Nationally, administrators at several higher education institutions — such as Columbia University, George Washington University and Fordham University — have either suspended their institution’s SJP chapters or prevented them from organizing in the first place. In November 2023, the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine filed a lawsuit against the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida Ray Rodrigues after he, in consultation with Fl. Gov. Ron DeSantis, issued a memorandum ordering the deactivation of SJP chapters at the state’s universities. 

SJP members at the College have noted that their initial warning and probation sanction have made them extra diligent when planning their protests in accordance with university protesting rules.

“We’re making a concerted effort for peace among everyone. That’s the big goal of our club and to be transparent with the university about what we do, which we have been since the beginning, and that’s our continued goal,” the SJP student said. 

Throughout the Fall 2023 semester, SJP continually organized several peaceful protests and rallies. On Dec. 7, 2023, they hosted a counterprotest to the “U.S. Foreign Aid and Exercise of Power Keynote Conversation” outside the Sadler Terrace. The keynote conversation was an event between Chancellor Robert M. Gates and retired General Joseph Votel, former Commander of CENTCOM. The first quoted SJP student noted how their counterprotest served as an opportunity to deconstruct the popular narrative that the keynote conversation would likely convey, that all United States aid is benevolent.

“It doesn’t really show what that aid really goes towards and what that aid really is used for and how it’s used in a way that is a manipulative thing to take advantage of other, smaller nations,” the SJP student said. 

During the same event, the College’s Dissenters chapter held a peaceful disruption of the talk inside the Commonwealth Auditorium, holding up Palestinian flags and standing in unison in front of the stage. SJP was not involved in the planning of this protest. In an Instagram video on the national @wearedissenters page with over 64,000 views, College President Katherine Rowe asked the students to stop their actions. WM Dissenters did not provide comment for this story. 

According to the Nov. 16-17 BOV meeting minutes, College rector Charles E. Poston J.D. ’74, P ’02, ’06 and Student Assembly President Sydney Thayer ’24 both made comments on violence in Israel and Palestine among conversations regarding other university business.

“Mr. Poston made opening remarks regarding the events in the Middle East, noted the effects the events have had on those in the William & Mary community, and mentioned recent correspondence he had with alumna regarding William & Mary’s stance in condemning bias in all forms and all acts of violence,” the minutes read. 

Thayer mentioned actions taken by the Student Assembly.

“Ms. Thayer spoke about the impact of events in the Middle East on students, the passion of student advocacy efforts, and the desire of the Student Assembly to support students during difficult times,” the minutes state. “She said the Student Assembly continues to work towards the goal of transparency among the student body and highlighted efforts being made to accomplish this goal.”

“This is kind of like a final warning type of thing, so we’re under a lot more scrutiny,” the SJP student said. The main point of SJP is to serve as a safe space for people. So it is worrying that they put us on probation.”

Other organizations formed at the College this past semester focused on violence in Gaza, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, advocate for continued actions calling for Palestinian liberation and express their support for SJP. 

“We at JVP stand in solidarity with SJP as they continue their activism alongside other student organizations,” the JVP executive board wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “We do not see the [probation] of SJP changing the trajectory of activism, and will continue advocating and fighting for Palestinian liberation.”

The JVP executive board also discussed the importance of organizations such as these in order to create spaces for various dialogues. 

“Other Jewish organizations are explicitly Zionist, which left us and other Jews feeling alienated,” the JVP executive board said. “JVP is a left-leaning, anti-Zionist Jewish space which prioritizes not only the liberation of Palestine — but also Jewish community and history.”

The first SJP student echoed this sentiment regarding SJP specifically. 

“This is kind of like a final warning type of thing, so we’re under a lot more scrutiny,” the SJP student said. The main point of SJP is to serve as a safe space for people. So it is worrying that they put us on probation.”

The second SJP student discussed how the organization plans to continue its advocacy moving forward into the Spring 2024 semester. According to the student, SJP plans to schedule monthly protests, communicate with Hampton Roads for Palestine to organize events with the community and fine-tune their larger focus on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“Now we have to focus on divesting from the institutions that support the Zionist occupation,” the SJP student said. “But at the same time, abiding by university rules, doing this all within the [rules of the] administration is important for us this semester.”

He also noted that the student organization plans to incorporate more Palestinian cultural events into their schedule for the semester.

“We’re going to focus a little more on using culture as a form of resistance,” the SJP student said. “The exec is planning to have cultural nights at least once a month. At the end of the semester, we want to do a whole dedicated showcase demonstrating Palestinian bands, music, culture, poetry — show all the things that make us beautiful in the form of resistance.”


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