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Students Weigh In at ‘Liberation Zone’ Regarding University Response

SJP and other students share their thoughts at the Pro-Palestine protest.
Iqbal Singh
A student in front of the Roo statue and a university official.

  Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organized a ‘Liberation Zone’ on Monday, April 29, to call on UMKC to disclose and divest funds from Israel and Israeli institutions. 

  During the event, university officials removed tents and told protestors that temporary shelters are prohibited on campus. 

  Laylah Liwaru, a senior majoring in biology and the director of operations for SJP, said that her organization has struggled to work with administration due to lack of response. 

  SJP said they have attempted to collaborate with Michele D. Smith, vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, but have not been able to reach any solutions. 

  “We request for meetings, they say ‘yeah, we are going to meet,’ and then no response, no follow up,” said Liwaru. “Dr. Smith has been sitting here all day, I haven’t seen her this much the entire time we have been working with her.”

  Many of the members of SJP talked to Dr. Smith throughout the event and were confused about the hostility towards the protestors.

University officials at the event. (Iqbal Singh)

  “We aren’t doing anything wrong, it’s been a peaceful protest,” said Ophelia Griffin, a communications major and former SGA president. “We have been sitting here with friends, eating, laughing, sharing stories, hearing poems and they seem to have a problem with that.

  Protesters reportedly tried to explain that the tents were symbolic and in solidarity with other universities, but were still told by officials that the tents needed to be removed. SJP said they planned to remove them by the end of the event. 

“Their response is ‘we don’t care, we are going to take it down’,” said Liwaru. “We are literally just out here being people. I don’t think if it was any other organization it would be getting this much attention.”

  SJP also said they were told that the signs needed to be taken down. Mahmoud Kutmah, vice president of SJP, said that it was not the first time his organization used signs at the University Playhouse. It was the only time they have been told about a policy that does not allow signs, said Kutmah.

  “Admin has been very selective in how they enforce it because we did the same thing when we chalked up the walkway and made no comment,” said Kutmah. “They mentioned that we couldn’t have any amplified voices, yet we saw sororities and fraternities and other organizations have amplified devices to speak here.” 

  SJP said they want administration and faculty to hear their concerns and enact the demands they have published. 

  “There are inconsistencies in what we are being told and what’s being enforced,” said Liwaru. “It seems like there are only certain people’s issues that matter, unfortunately we are not those people.”

  At the protest, Dr. Smith declined to comment.

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