The coalition, called ProtectUMD, sent a letter with the demands to officials at the University of Maryland at College Park in late November and met with a group of them at President Wallace D. Loh’s request, according to the Diamondback, the school’s major independent student newspaper. The Diamondback recently published a special project explaining each specific demand as it relates to students, which you can see here. (A full list of the demands is below.)
The petitioners listed the communities of students that participated in the initiative this way: “Marginalized, American Indian, Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA+, Muslim, Pro-Palestine, Undocumented.” No Jewish group at the university signed the list of demands, which include a call for “the active encouragement of faculty and students to engage in discourse and learning about the Palestinians’ struggles and the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement without fear of consequences by the university administration.” The BDS movement is a Palestinian-led global campaign to put economic and political pressure on Israel, and it is opposed by many Jewish students.
Asked for a comment about the demands and what the university would do in response, a university spokesman sent this response:
We commend the students for their passionate advocacy and for coming together in solidarity on these issues. President Loh has convened a group of his staff to thoroughly review the list of demands and make recommendations accordingly. That process is well underway.
A short time after the demands were publicized, white-nationalist posters appeared on the College Park campus; authorities said they appeared to be part of an effort targeted at colleges in a number of states, according to this Post story.
Among the 64 demands (which you can see in full below):
• Required diversity training for Greek organizations and groups recognized by the Student Government Association.
• An immediate response to hate speech or actions from university officials, including a consequence for the perpetrators.
• Penalties for groups that screen movies that “perpetuate false narratives and stereotypes” of Muslims.
• Acknowledgment during every campus event that “this is indigenous land,” along with efforts to “officially recognize the tribe or nation whose land upon which the University of Maryland is built.”
• One room in each major building designated for prayer.
• A full-time undocumented-student coordinator to advocate for, advise, represent and protect undocumented and “DACAmented students.” (DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields some undocumented immigrants from deportation.)
• A declaration of the College Park campus “as a sanctuary campus for undocumented and DACAmented students and their families.”
• Converting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies Program into a department in order to provide curricular autonomy.
• University System of Maryland divestment from Maryland Correctional Enterprises, the prison industry arm of Maryland’s Division of Corrections, as well as “student divestment from businesses and companies invested in MCE and the prison industrial complex.”
• Shuttle service for students on the College Park campus to the Diyanet Center of America in Lanham for “Muslim students to have access to a place of worship and participate in the many activities that the center hosts.”
The absence of Jewish groups from the initiative underscores continuing tensions between the Jewish and pro-Palestinian communities at the College Park campus. In April, for example, a celebration hosted by the Jewish Student Union called Israel Fest was protested by a few dozen students who carried pro-Palestinian flags, chanted and lay on the ground. The protesters left after security intervened. The Jewish Student Union’s website says it is the largest cultural and social organization recognized and sponsored by the university.
A statement issued to the Diamondback from ProtectUMD about why no Jewish groups signed the demands said that any community was welcome to participate. It said in part:
ProtectUMD is a coalition of organizations throughout the University of Maryland’s campus dedicated to uniting the different voices into one voice for change. When the coalition was created, multiple organizations were contacted to participate while others contacted us themselves. Not all organizations chose to be a part of the coalition. ProtectUMD respects this choice. No one organization is in charge of the coalition and as such, the purpose of ProtectUMD is not to prioritize demands but uplift the needs of all marginalized communities. As a result of this, we did not turn away any communities that wished to stand with us.
The newspaper’s project includes video responses from a few Jewish student leaders about why their groups did not participate. Sam Fishman of the Jewish Student Union said, for example:
In the ProtectUMD letter, they kind of indirectly call out JSU for smearing them as anti-Semitic. And the exact quote is, “Administration should support and defend activist groups by nullifying slander and smear campaign from bigger group.” JSU also happens to be one of the largest student groups on campus. “Example: Many members of [Students for Justice in Palestine] were slandered as anti-Semitic for being pro-Palestine.” That is a clear reference, I believe, to our response to the protests at Israel Fest last year. And first of all, if you read my opinion piece in the Atlanta Jewish Times and [JSU President Julia Ring’s] in the Diamondback, you will not see the words “anti-Semitic” anywhere. You will not see us accusing them of hating Jews. We rebuke their positions on Israel, sort of. And we call for why they should not have protested our event. But never do we smear them as anti-Semitic. And I think to call JSU out for that is completely ridiculous.
The groups that signed the list of demands are: the African Students Progressive Action Committee; Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority,Theta Nu chapter; Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Iota Zeta chapter; the American Indian Student Union; Ashley Vasquez, Behaviorial and Social Science College, University Senate, Committee on Committees undergraduate representative; Bisexuals at Maryland; the Black Student Union; Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Chi chapter; the Coalition of Latinx Student Organizations; Community Roots; Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, Eta Beta chapter; the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association; Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Kappa Phi chapter; Katherine Swanson, student body president; U-Md. NAACP; Lambda Theta Alpha Latin sorority, Upsilon chapter; Lambda Theta Phi Latin fraternity, Delta Eta chapter; the Muslim Students Association; True Colors of Maryland; Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society; Preventing Sexual Assault; the Pride Alliance; Students for Justice in Palestine; the Student Labor Action Project; and Our Revolution.
The 64 demands follow, and each is linked to the linked Diamondback story:
For All Marginalized Student CommunitiesAccountability for hate speech or action:
For the American Indian Student CommunityFor the Black Student CommunityFor the Latinx Student CommunityFor the LGBTQIA+ Student CommunityFor the Muslim Student CommunityFor the Pro-Palestine Student CommunitiesFor the Undocumented Student Community