The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

As Israel launches attacks on Rafah, students stage “die-in” protest for Palestine

Alex Strand
A die-in protest began in the Davis Center Atrium as students laid on the floor holding signs in support of Palestine Feb. 15.

On Feb. 15, approximately 50 students staged a die-in protest in the Davis Center in support of Palestine.

UVM Students for Justice in Palestine organized the protest, demanding that “UVM divest from the genocide and that state and local governments do everything in their power to end the slaughter,” according to the group’s Feb. 14 Instagram post. 

“UVM is actively funding this genocide abroad through its endowment while failing to protect Palestinian students on campus,” the post stated.

This came days after Israel began strikes on Rafah, a city in Palestine’s Gaza Strip where more than one million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge from bombing in other regions of Gaza, according to a Feb. 12 NBC News article. 

“There’s no way to take a neutral stance on a genocide,” said first-year Anomaly Louch. “If you’re not taking action, you’re complacent.”

Students urged the importance of getting involved, even in smaller cities like Burlington. 

“If things don’t start from the grassroots level, they don’t go anywhere,” said an anonymous first-year student.

Around 5 p.m. students gathered on the first floor of the Davis Center as the protest began. Organizers handed out small pieces of paper with information about the protest and chants that would be recited. 

“I’m here today because I think not enough action has been taken by both the University and the government against the genocide in Gaza,” said first-year Kali Berthiaume.

As the crowd gathered, one of the student organizers began to speak.

“We’re here because UVM is actively aiding this genocide through its inaction, its silence, its repression and its financial investments in companies that actively equip and facilitate this genocide,” the student organizer said. “UVM is profiting off of genocide.”

The crowd responded by chanting, “Shame!”

“Our local government that claims to value inclusion and anti-racism voted against a ceasefire resolution and voted against allowing residents to even vote on the apartheid free resolution,” the student organizer said.

Students then lay down on the floor of the Davis center, holding signs reading “UVM Divest from Genocide” and “Protect Palestinan Students.” Many wore keffiyehs in support. 

Students at universities across the U.S. have staged die-ins to call attention to the over 28,000 Palestinians that have been killed by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, 2023. 

“This government that we live under, which supposedly protects freedom, liberty and human rights, is sending weapons as we speak to kill more children,” the student organizer said.

The organizers led the crowd in chants. “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes,” students shouted from their places on the floor.

The student organizer then announced that the die-in protest would be moving to the fourth floor of the Davis Center, where a debate between Burlington mayoral candidates Joan Shannon and Emma Mulvaney-Stanak was taking place.

Protestors move to the fourth floor of the Davis Center to wait outside the Burlington Mayoral debate between Joan Shannon and Emma Mulvaney-Stanak. (Alex Strand)

Joan Shannon, a longtime city councilor and current Democratic candidate for Burlington mayor, has come under criticism for opposing an Israel-Hamas ceasefire resolution, according to a Dec. 12, 2023 VTDigger article.

“Our protest was initially aimed at UVM’s investments in companies that are linked to Israel’s genocide and occupation of Palestinians,” said UVM SJP in a statement made to the Cynic. “Joan Shannon—notorious for her Reaganite political stances draped in liberal language—happened to be in the building; we turned our focus to her as she was leaving.”

Organizers planned to confront Shannon after the debate, the student organizer said.

“We are here to be louder than their calls for repression and make sure we are here until we’re heard,” the student organizer said.

Chants of “Joan Shannon you can’t hide, you support genocide,” could be heard as the students walked up the Davis Center stairs to the fourth floor. 

As the students arrived on the fourth floor of the Davis Center around 5:30 p.m., two police officers were standing silently against a wall.

Protesters laid down, waiting for the debate to finish. Student organizers shared names and stories of Palestinans who had been killed by Israeli forces.

“Sidra Hassouna was killed three days ago by an Israeli bomb in Rafah,” a student organizer said. “Her body was found hanging on a piece of rebar with her legs missing.” 

“Shame!” protesters responded.

Protesters held signs with the names of Hind Rajab, Sidra Hassouna and other children killed by Israeli forces. 

“UVM paid for [Hassouna’s] death. UVM funded her death,” the organizer said. “Joan Shannon voted against a ceasefire that would have saved her life.”

In a Feb. 26 statement made to the Cynic, Hannah King, Shannon’s campaign manager, addressed SJP’s accusations.

“Joan is heartbroken about the pain this conflict has caused. As Joan clearly stated in her comments at the debate, she is in full support of a bilateral ceasefire,” King stated. “This is a situation that warrants thoughtful community conversation, and incendiary comments do not help this goal. To suggest that any vote by the Burlington City Council could have prevented these horrific deaths is absurd and polarizing.”

The die-in continued on the fourth floor of the Davis Center as protestors chanted. (Alex Strand)

A student organizer then called for UVM to divest from companies they say are directly profiting from Israel’s attacks on occupied Palestinian territories.

The organizer cited 2010-2011 figures from SJP’s website which show investment information for how UVM has spent its endowments.

“UVM has been hiding its investment data for 13 years,” said a student organizer. 

The organizer listed some of UVM’s investments, which totaled over $2 million, in companies including Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell International and United Technologies. 

These companies manufacture bombs, missiles, fighter jet components and surveillance equipment used by the Israeli Defense Forces. Many of these technologies have been used extensively in bombings of civilians in the Gaza strip, according to the American Friends Service Committee.

“Money for staff and education, not for war and occupation,” the protesters chanted.

The debate ended around 6:30 p.m. As people began to file out of the Livak Ballroom, organizers confronted Shannon, then followed her and her campaign team as they exited the building.

“If we continue for long enough, politicians cannot ignore their people,” said first-year Zane Baker. “They can try to strike us down to ignore our movements, but at the end of the day, they can’t, so stay strong, continue to push for Palestine, and eventually there will be change.”

Following the protest, student organizers emphasized the importance of persistence. 

“We have spent the last four months witnessing atrocities that have permanently changed our understanding of this country, its institutions, and its politicians,” said UVM SJP in a statement made to the Cynic. “We will continue to organize and mobilize against every entity and individual complicit in this genocide.”

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About the Contributor
Liliana Mefford
Liliana Mefford, Features Editor
(She/her) Liliana Mefford is a sophomore political science major with minors in economics and Spanish from Madison, WI. She started at the Cynic as a features writer, then assistant features editor, and now features editor. Outside of the Cynic, she enjoys being a barista, reading, and fast walking. Email [email protected] to get in contact with Liliana.