‘It never felt right to me that I got arrested for that’
Several University of Massachusetts Amherst students arrested for an illegal sit-in protest in October are miffed that they’re now not permitted to enroll in study abroad programs.
Fifty-six students and faculty were charged with trespassing during an anti-Israel occupation of the Whitmore Administration Building after closing hours, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
One student who planned to study abroad in the coming semester is now considering a federal lawsuit.
The (anonymous) student’s attorney, Shay Negrón, said UMass is “oppressing” her client and their “right to the First Amendment.”
“By imposing these sanctions on my client, UMass is sending a very disturbing message: If anyone exercises their right to free speech on this particular subject matter on this campus, they will be severely punished,” Negrón said. “This is very serious and scary.”
Negrón added “[The student] shouldn’t be disproportionately reprimanded for any of these things that they were doing when they were exercising their right for free speech.”
The student currently is “on the hook” for some $20,000 related to studying abroad.
International Programs Office Director Kalpen Trivedi noted in an email to the affected students that they possibly could be readmitted to study abroad pending appeals to their sanctions.
“If there is a different decision from the Dean of Students as a result of your appeal, IPO will reconsider your eligibility for study abroad,” Trivedi wrote.
Negrón says her client should be allowed to participate in study abroad while their appeal is pending.
Another student disciplined for the sit-in, Aidan O’Neill, said he “didn’t know” his arrest would affect his ability to study abroad. He said he’s been able to “secure housing” for the new semester but “had to pay hefty withdrawal fees” for his planned time at the University of Barcelona.
“I was arrested because I was at this peaceful protest,” O’Neill said. “It never felt right to me that I got arrested for that and standing up for something that my university is doing.”
O’Neill told MassLive he “can’t really find it in” himself to feel regret about participating in the sit-in, and accused UMass of being “biased” against pro-Palestinian students.
Jewish Voice for Peace attorney/activist Rachel Weber, who represented O’Neill during his arrest, said UMass could have enforced “less punishing” discipline against the students such as “simply writing an essay.”
UMass Amherst spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski pointed out that “students in the past who have refused to comply with a lawful order to leave a closed building while they were protesting were also disciplined under the Code of Student Conduct.”
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