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Back-and-forth continues between Smith College and students as sit-in nears a week

Students and others gather outside the Smith College administration building, as protesters remain inside.
Smith Students for Justice in Palestine
Students and others gather outside the Smith College administration building, as protesters remain inside.

Dozens of Smith College students are continuing a sit-in inside the administration building on the Northampton, Massachusetts, campus — nearly a week after the protest began.

The protesting students say they want Smith to get rid of all its investments tied to weapons manufacturers — a demand they connect to the war in Gaza.

The college has said the school's investments in military contractors and weapons manufacturers are "negligible and entirely indirect."

Roz Beile, a student working with the group Students for Justice in Palestine, said the amount is besides the point.

"We believe that any money sent to ... war is sent to genocide and is sent to white supremacy. And we, as an institution, do not stand for this," said Beile, a senior. "As a university with a lot of support from students and community, we have a responsibility to set a precedent for other private liberal arts colleges, other state institutions."

That's especially true, Beile said, because of Smith's relatively small percentage of investments tied up in the weapons industry.

"So we really see Smith as being able to be the pioneer in the divestment movement," she said.

The students began their protest Wednesday, refusing to leave College Hall, at the corner of West and Elm Streets.

College President Sarah Willie-LeBreton met with the students on Saturday, and followed up with an email Sunday night — a copy of which the group provided to NEPM.

In the message, Willie-LeBreton relayed an offer from three members of the college's board to meet virtually with three student protesters on Tuesday — but only if the group met certain conditions.

For the meeting to occur, Willie-LeBreton wrote in the email, all the students occupying College Hall would have to "vacate the building by start of business [Monday at 8 a.m.]" and "identify themselves as they are leaving the building."

The students would take the meeting, Beile said, but would not leave.

"Not a single one of those students left the building ... and identified themselves," she said.

Beile said the students won't end the sit-in until there is "an assured promise of divestment or towards divestment."

Possible punishment

In her email, Willie-LeBreton noted that in the Saturday meeting she had told the protesters they were "all in violation of college policy" and she could not "guarantee" the students "immunity" from punishment by Smith's Conduct Board.

"Nevertheless, what I can promise you is that should you depart peacefully before 8:00 AM [Monday], leaving the building in the condition that you found it, I will recommend to the Conduct Board to consider your cooperation as a significant mitigating factor," she wrote Sunday evening.

As of Monday afternoon, no progress was reported.

"We are continuing conversations with the students in College Hall and with the broader campus community," Smith spokesperson Carolyn McDaniel said in an email. "We believe this is not the most effective form of activism and we are exploring other ways for them to make their voices heard."

The situation was also discussed Monday afternoon at a faculty meeting, according to a Smith professor.

A protest in the administration building at the UMass Amherst campus in October ended with the arrests of more than 50 students. The students, who wanted the university to cut ties with defense contractor Raytheon, still face punishment for student conduct violations, including the loss of study abroad opportunities.

Disclosure: Smith College is a funder of NEPM. Our newsroom operates independently.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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