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Michael O’BrienMay 02, 2024
Students at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles gather on campus for a protest march against the ongoing war in Gaza on April 24. (Photo courtesy of Fernanda Vega/Los Angeles Loyolan)

Elite institutions such as Columbia,Yale and M.I.T. have drawn the lion’s share of national media coverage because of encampments protesting the ongoing conflict in Gaza. But many Jesuits schools have also been sites of passionate protest, peaceful activism and regrettably some incidents of anti-Semitism.

In New York, just under 60 blocks south of the restless Columbia University, students at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus organized an encampment inside the lobby of Lowenstein Hall on May 1.

The encampment follows a hundreds-strong protest on April 25 that called for Fordham to disclose the university’s securities and divest from defense manufacturers and other companies that can be tied to the Israel Defense Forces’ offensive in Gaza, and to end its study abroad partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.

Fordham has had a fraught relationship with student advocates for Palestinians for years now. A group of students sued the university in 2017 over its refusal to recognize Students for Justice in Palestine as an official club.

The New York Police Department arrived on the scene at Fordham on the evening of May 1. Fifteen demonstrators were arrested and the encampment was dispersed. 

“We draw the line at intrusions into a classroom building, especially by people who are not members of our community,” Fordham President Tania Tetlow said in a letter to the university community, explaining her decision to get police involved to end the encampment.

Other Jesuit schools have also experienced large-scale protests in recent days. Many student protestors are seeking greater clarity on their university’s investment policies and transparency in the identity of the corporations included in endowment portfolios.

Last week, Loyola University Chicago saw the continuation of a multi-day protest in the campus’ East Quad, which was filled with students brandishing Palestinian flags and banners demanding that the university divest from weapons manufacturers who are supplying the Israel Defense Forces.

Loyola’s campus has experienced unrest for months now, with reports of student protests recurring since the end of February. 

Although pressure on the university to amend its investment policies has been high, Loyola officials believe the university’s current investment policy is sufficient.

In an email to The Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University spokesperson Matt McDermott said: “Loyola has already adopted and published the Sustainable Investment Policy, which considers the University’s commitment to sustainability, and the aspiration to contribute to a more just, humane, and sustainable world in our investment policy and practices. As such, Loyola will not adopt other calls for divestment.”

The current policy does include a commitment to “prudently exercise ethical and social stewardship in its investment policy and practices.”

But the policy apparently does not go far enough to allay the concerns of student demonstrators. According to The Loyola Phoenix, the Coalition of Solidarity and Justice organized a  demonstration on April 22, demanding that the university divest from defense contractors that may be manufacturing weapons used by the I.D.F. in Gaza. The student newspaper reported that chants of “L.U.C. what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?” could be heard in the campus’s East Quad.

On April 15, student groups at Loyola Marymount University's Westchester campus protested after the Associated Students of Loyola Marymount University vetoed a motion to divest from companies that could be entangled in Israel’s war against Hamas, as reported by The Lion.

Unfortunately, some events at Loyola Law School, L.M.U.'s affiliated legal school, escalated beyond peaceful protesting.

On April 18, the incoming dean of Loyola Law School, Brietta Clark, issued a statement that deplored the acts of some students in response to an event on April 17 that was sponsored by the university’s Jewish Law Student Association. She called the behavior, which was not specified in Ms. Clark’s statement, “unprecedented on our campus” and said it “fell below any legitimate standard of decency and professionalism, let alone our institutional mission and values.”

Ms. Clark, who will begin her tenure as the Fritz B. Burns Dean of Loyola Law School on June 1 after serving as interim dean and senior vice president, told students that she valued the “intellectual vibrancy and diversity of our community, especially when we engage our students, faculty, and staff in discussions about society’s most timely and complex challenges.”

“But that commitment has limits,” she said, “and I am committed to helping our community move forward toward a path of dialogue and engagement that honors our values and mission.”

Students in Washington, including many from Georgetown University, rallied at George Washington University where an encampment was established to protest universities’ investments in corporations that provide aid to Israel. Washington’s Metro Police Department warned that protesters would be removed from the encampment but have so far not followed up on those warnings, and the student encampment at G.W.U. continues to grow.

America reached out to university officials at Loyola Chicago, Loyola Marymount and Georgetown University for a statement about managing on-campus protests, but school officials declined to comment or did not respond. America also reached out to student leaders at organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine at a number of schools but similarly did not receive a response.

A history of activism

The current on-campus activism has some precedent in the past of many Jesuit institutions.

Fordham has seen a number of notable student-led protests over the years. Perhaps its largest on-campus rally, as documented by The Fordham Ram, occurred in 1965 during the civil rights era when approximately 1,000 students and faculty came together to protest the brutal murder of the Rev. James J. Reeb, who was beaten to death in Selma, Ala., while participating in the famous march from Selma to Montgomery.

Student activism has also been an integral part of Loyola Chicago’s history and identity. Loyola students were involved in what is believed to be the first protest in which women religious in habits joined picket lines in the United States.

In 1963, a Black student at Loyola tried using a swimming pool owned by the Illinois Club for Catholic Women. She was denied entry, and Loyola students rallied to protest her exclusion. While the protests started to fizzle out a few weeks after they began, they received new life after a group of Franciscian sisters joined the students to demand integration.

“When the nuns joined [the picket lines] followed by the priest…the pressure was on,” Micki Leaner, the student who had been denied admission, recalled in Chicago History magazine.

In April of 1986, reports emerged of students staging a sit-in inside a Georgetown administrative building, which was organized in large part by the university’s Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism. Their efforts were a success; as a result of student pressure, the Georgetown Board of Directors agreed to divest from South African businesses, according to Georgetown University’s library.

Grappling with the right to protest and remaining committed to peaceful acts of protest is something that L.M.U. can learn from its own past, as the university’s students once organized large-scale protests against the Vietnam War. Despite strong warnings from the university, including claims that the nature of the protests were “unlawful” and threats to call in local authorities, there were no reports of violent encounters or dramatic acts like flag burnings that had typified other on-campus protests of the era.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the distinct entities of Loyola Law School and Loyola Marymount University. It has also been changed to identify Micki Leaner as the young woman excluded by the ICCW in 1963.

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