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Protest promotes student activism

Austin Ikard
RAISING VOICES TO THE SKY: Students unite to show solidarity with Palestine amidst the Israel-Palestine conflict. During the demonstration, students held up signs, flags, and raised their voices in chants

On May 2, 2024, students filled the courtyard during second lunch in protest, some of them walking out of their second-period class to join the event. Students expressed their support for Palestine in the Israel-Palestine conflict, advocated for the Ceasefire Act, as well as protested the presence of troopers from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) at a similar protest on the University of Texas (UT) at Austin campus throughout the previous week. 

Students from other Austin Independent School District (AISD) high schools participated in walk-outs on Monday, April 29. The schools included McCallum High School, Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, and the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA). 

“I think it’s important to get students involved, especially since there are a lot of protests happening around Austin,” senior and event organizer Kinda Natsheh said. “I think it’s really important to spread the word and make sure we get as many people involved as we can. A lot more people are stepping up to speak about it because we’re seeing the direct impact the conflict is having in Austin. Before it was so easy for people to turn a blind eye, but now we are able to see how much of a difference it makes when one person speaks up.”

In addition to the students advocating for Palestine, an opposing side formed in the courtyard, in support of Israel. 

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 “I’m a Jewish student here at Bowie, and there’s only a few of us. I get people want to protest, but this almost feels like it’s being done with ill intentions,” junior Sarah Marcus said. “Honestly, I was scared to come out here because I thought people would harass me.” 

OPPOSING VIEWS: Senior Sam Vane takes a stand at the protest, proudly displaying a sign advocating for Israel. Vane was the first student to create an opposing group at the protest. (Alex Edwards)

School administration instructed faculty to act in accordance with AISD policy on student activism. 

“With student activism we can’t encourage it or discourage it,” Academic Director Kaylin Brett said. “We definitely have to allow students to use their First Amendment freedom of speech. However, we also do ensure that we are making sure everyone’s safe. So, if there are comments or signs that target or shame certain identities, that is when we intervene because we are an anti-harassment district. And then if there are any physical actions of doing anything that’s unsafe then we intervene then as well.”

According to the AISD policy, staff cannot act as political actors in the walk-out or prevent students from participating. During the event, administration only intervened when they saw signs or actions that could be considered hateful or harassment. 

“We have strategically placed our law enforcement and administrators so that students can exercise their rights,” Assistant Principal Hector Munoz said. “It’s peacefully done the right way. And we’re giving students the ability to practice their freedom of speech as they should. And this being a high school we’d like to give the rights for the students to practice freedom of speech in a safe manner. So, we’re all respectful of each other’s inclusivity and practices and all the above.”

Many students on the Palestinian side could be found holding signs expressing their opinions. Examples of sayings written on the signs include: “there is more spilled blood than drinkable water in Gaza,” “lives are worth more than oil,” and “this is not a religious issue. It’s human rights.” Students in this group also chanted things such as “viva viva Palestina (sic)” and “the people united will never be divided.” 

“We’re standing in solidarity,” senior Sofia Colaluca said. “I have a friend who is Palestinian who organized this. And so we’re standing out here in solidarity for all the innocent people killed in all regions of the world right now in Palestine and to get America to support the Ceasefire Act.”

One student on the pro-Israel side, senior Sam Vane, was holding a sign that read: “only terrorists hold hostages for 208 days.” 

“I don’t have a problem with the protest, but I do have to say that if there’s going to be a Palestinian protest, that there will have to be counter protests to support both sides,” Vane said. 

“I feel no ill will towards any of the Palestinians and I wish them well.”

When the bell rang to end the second lunch, administration began asking the students to disperse, marking the end of the protest. 

“I think it went pretty well,” Natsheh said. “I was afraid that nobody was going to show up. But either way, I mean, everybody who was involved was extremely passionate about it. And we’re all very educated about it. And I am very satisfied. I feel heard and recognized.”

This story was originally published on The Dispatch on May 2, 2024.