RISD Students Stage Sit-In for Gaza, Call for University Divestment from Israel

Students at the Rhode Island School of Design have staged a sit-in at several buildings in downtown Providence, joining the wave of pro-Palestine protests sweeping American college campuses. The action is led by the RISD Students for Justice in Palestine (RSJP), who have called for the university to divest from Israel in response to its escalating military campaign in Gaza. 

Citing Columbia University’s Gaza solidarity encampment as inspiration, 22 students and one non-student member of the Providence community earlier this week occupied an administrative and academic building in downtown Providence. One building at 20 Washington Place has been declared “Fathi Ghaben Place,” in honor of the prominent Palestinian painter and educator who died in Gaza in February after unsuccessful appeals to the Israeli authority to obtain medical aid outside the enclave. 

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RSJP wrote in a manifesto posted to social media that its members “are not comfortable learning and participating within an institution that touts decolonial rhetoric, boasting a decolonized curriculum, yet refuses to initiate and act upon colonial practices of giving land back and liberation.”

According to a subsequent post, representatives of RSJP met last night with RISD President Williams and Provost Ghadessi to discuss possible ways of meeting the protestors’ demands, which include a “clarity of finances” and an annual “conversational overview and investment forum open to the RISD community.” Following the meeting, the activists informed university administration that the occupation would continue. 

“[We] will continue to demand disclosure, divestment, the establishment of a student oversight committee, and a condemnation of the genocide taking place in Gaza. We remain here with humility and steadfastness with our cause,” the post reads. 

In response, university administration released a campus-wide email, screenshots of which were posted by RSJP on Instagram stories. “The occupation negatively impacts many students and breaches trust, goodwill, and our collective commitment to education,” one screenshot reads. “Students are here to learn art and design.”

Visual arts faculty and students have been active in the demonstrations in support of Palestinian liberation at college campuses across the nation, many of which have been largely peaceful. In April, after New York police entered occupied campus grounds and more than 100 students were suspended and arrested, 11 members of Columbia’s arts department released a letter in support of their students’ demonstrations. 

“We, the undersigned Visual Arts and Music faculty, stand for your constitutional rights of assembly and free speech,” the Columbia professors’ letter said. “We ask the University to revoke all suspensions, expunge the disciplinary records of sanctioned students, and immediately allow all students back into their dormitories.” 

Elsewhere in New York City, students, alumni, and faculty at Parsons, the visual art and design branch of the New School, and New York University have staged protests on campus grounds. In the case of NYU, college administration erected a physical blockade around Gould Plaza following a demonstration. Each action has called for the respective school’s divestment from corporations with links to Israel and a condemnation of the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians there since October 7, according to the local health ministry. 

“We believe in the power of art beyond capital gain and exploitation,” RISD activists wrote in their manifesto, adding: “We condemn the specific targeting of Palestinian art and cultural spaces as a part of the broader repression of Palestinian that has been ongoing for the past seven months.”

ARTnews has contacted RSJP and RISD administration for comment.

Source: artnews.com

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