Across the nation there’s a collective quaking beneath the feet of students protesting for justice in response to their university’s ties to companies that support militarism: death, dread, and despair. It is these risk takers, tuition payers and righteously indignant troublemakers, who are on the front line holding these institutions to their humanistic missions. They’ve put their books down and picked up bull horns to call for accountability. They’ve put their collegiate wellbeing to the side and picked up signage to emphasize peace. They’ve put their fear to the periphery and picked up the mantle of struggle to demand justice. Their belief, sense of obligation, leadership, and determination should be celebrated not penalized. In the face of backlash and injustice, it begs the question of the university officials: What side are you on?

Instead of doing institutional self-reflection and mission-oriented decision making, college administrators are attacking anti-war youth on campuses. University officials are threatening and suspending scholars. Additionally, on and off campus, police are arresting students and charging them with misdemeanors such as trespassing. Young people who may otherwise be on track toward graduation, will have to reassess their academic future. Young people who may otherwise have never faced legal issues, will have to carry a criminal record into their professional horizon. Young people, who may otherwise be positioning themselves to become the movers and shakers of tomorrow, are stepping into the shoes of leadership today because present day university administrators form the new silent center of our society.

Universities have abandoned their responsibility as shepherds of students and have committed a dereliction of duty reflected in choices they’ve made across the country. Universities are more concerned about encampments on their campuses, than military occupations abroad. They are more frazzled by allegations of defacements of campus buildings than they are by the terrorizing of hospitals, universities, and homes overseas. They are more outraged by the inconvenience brought by student protests than they are the tens of thousands of lives lost due to the war. Columbia University boasts a mission statement of being “the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment.” How is this institution one that values education while hundreds of its students and community have been arrested, charged, and/or suspended including the daughter of Congresswoman Ilhad Omar? Washington University lauds a mission statement of committing “to act in service of truth through the formation of leaders.” Meanwhile, more than 80 people, including community members, political leaders, and students, have met similar fates as those at Columbia. Arizona State University gloats a mission statement that asserts it is “assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.” However, more than 70 students and people were arrested on their campus. Instead of universities owning their role in a global conflict and confronting this reality, college campuses are boasting their ties to militarism and censoring antiwar sentiments by chilling protests.

The overlaps between Black diasporic student freedom movements and the Palestinian campus social uprisings are telling. Throughout the civil rights and Black power movements, Black students and accomplices were expressing their self-worth and dignity by holding institutions accountable to their indirect or literal dysfunctional relationships and policies. In 1985, Black students at Columbia successfully achieved university divestment from businesses operating in Apartheid South Africa such as Coca-Cola, American Express, and Ford. In response to the murder of Michael Brown Jr. and police killings of Black people across the nation, student activists and allies organized demonstrations and occupied campuses yelling chants such as “which side are you on, friend?” Similarly, Palestinian students and allies are calling for Universities to stand on the right side of history. From coffee at Starbucks to weapons designed by Boeing, students and communities are calling for university divestment from companies that are funding the onslaught against Gaza.

Since many University officials struggle to stand for what is just, the call to students involved in protests is multifold as they seek to accomplish change on their campuses. First, students must protect themselves and their peace as they face the backlash from their institutions and the police. Students must balance their health with their heart to be in the thick of organizing and demonstrations. Second, they must study past movements as they will help inform their practices in the present day. History shows the mistakes and shortcomings of past demonstrators that can offer teachable moments to present activists. Third, students must remember that this work is a marathon, not a sprint. The work to make campuses more just and honest did not start and will not end with you. Personally, I’ve long stood with the oppressed and valued youth voice. From years of being committed to the liberation struggle to being founder of Justice Cultivator, a social justice and equity advocacy platform, the bravery of these students resonates with my own rearing and development as an activist. While a student at Saint Louis University, I protested and helped procure an agreement for equity in 2014 with the campus’ President toward increasing institutional racial access and justice. It is out of these experiences that I humbly give feedback to youth leaders demonstrating with love.

Anti/war student protesters have made it clear which side they are on and where their feet land. University officials, how about you?

BC Guest Commentator Jonathan

Pulphus is the Founder of

justicecultivator.com and an equity

advocate and organizer. Amongst many

hats, he is a learner, writer, and activist.

Jonathan is from St. Louis, Missouri, and

graduated from Saint Louis University in

2017 with a BA in African American

Studies and minor in Women & Gender