Op-Ed: UH is trying to suppress pro-Palestine activism

Chalk slogans on a sidewalk include calls to boycott Starbucks, Sabra, and Mcdonalds

Some of the chalk slogans SJP activists were asked to remove | Raphael Fernandez/The Cougar

Editor’s Note: This article was written by several representatives of the University of Houston’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter.

Last week, students took to the sidewalks to express their discontentment with the University of Houston’s complicity in the genocide on Gaza. In front of M.D. Anderson Library, the sidewalks were covered with chalk messages calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine and demanding action from the University. As students began to write out their messages, others stopped to read, and still others put down their bags to join them.

The students made their demands of the University visible and unavoidable. These demands included the removal of companies like Sabra, Starbucks and McDonald’s from campus and the divestment from weapons manufacturers. These companies funded two Israeli military brigades, sued their union after it tweeted a message in support of Palestine and gave free meals to the Israeli military after the start of the aggression.

Since 2016, the University has invested over $7.6 million in weapons manufacturers like Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Electric. In 2023, the University invested in companies like Delek Group and Primo Water that facilitate the extraction of resources like oil and water from the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.

Through these investments and contracts, the University of Houston is not only complicit in the occupation and apartheid of Palestine but profiting from it as well. We understand that as students at the University of Houston, it is our responsibility to hold our University accountable for its complicity in occupation, apartheid and genocide.

Whether we are political organizations, student athletic clubs, cultural associations or academic clubs, our silence allows for the University to continue its harmful investments. And it is together, through a joint coalition, that our voice in opposition can end them.

The growing sentiment in favor of boycotting and divesting from companies’ complicity in arming the genocidal assault on Palestine was clearly expressed through the chalking this past week. Chalking not only expressed the discontent of the students participating, but it also educated many others about the activities of the University in its complicity in genocide.

This unconventional form of grassroots education was immediately successful. That success could be measured through the University washing off the messages at the end of each day. When washing off the chalk did not deter students, the University sent an email on Tuesday afternoon to student organizations explicitly banning the use of chalk and threatening suspension for organizations that do.

Though this threat of suspension is a clear suppression of speech and targeted at the organization, Students for Justice in Palestine that was tabling those days, the threat is also a measure of success. This threat of suspension was targeted at SJP. SJP is the most involved organization advocating for the boycott and divestment that the chalk messages related to.

Many students testified to witnessing chalk used to advertise for events like farmer’s markets and hosting Ann Coulter, a conservative political commentator. It was not until chalk was used to spread the message about the University’s role in genocide that an email banning chalk messaging was sent. Though this email threatened suspension and acts to repress student demands, it shows the success of the students at making their demands visible.

We understand that the University will increase its repression tactics as the movement for boycott and divestment becomes more popular and visible. Repression and fear are tools that the University uses to prevent having to take action on the popular demands of the student body and discourage the growth of the movement. However, the students will not give in to the fear and repression tactics deployed by the University.

And it is not just SJP that supports the call for boycott and divestment. A coalition is in the midst of being formed to endorse these demands. The students will not be silent or silenced. The movement is growing and getting louder. Though banned from chalking, under the threat of suspension, our struggle continues.

We will continue to call for boycott and divestment until our demands are met. We will educate not only the students but all of Houston about the University’s complicity in genocide. To other organizations, join us in our call for boycott and divestment through joining the coalition endorsing these demands. To the students, come to the event hosted by the coalition on April 18 to learn about the history of boycott and divestment. Participate in the Q&A to hear from the student organizations for why they joined the coalition.

We have a responsibility to end our University’s complicity in genocide, and through this coalition, we will make these demands heard and accepted.

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