Claremont, California: 20 Students Arrested at Pomona College Pro-Palestinian Protest

Students occupied the office of Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr in protest of the dismantling of a mock apartheid wall.
Published: April 8, 2024

CLAREMONT, Calif. — Twenty students were arrested at Pomona College Friday after pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the office of president Gabrielle Starr.

The protesters were part of the Pomona Divest from Apartheid coalition, according to a press release from the group. The demonstration began as a protest over the dismantling by school staff of a 32-foot-long mock “apartheid wall” constructed outside the Smith Campus Center, The Los Angeles Times reports. The wall was created to highlight “the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people living under the brutal conditions of illegal Israel Occupation.”

Many students had been camping outside the wall since it was erected in late March. Eve Oishi, a professor of cultural studies at Claremont Graduate University, told the LA Times that the wall was “not highly unusual at all” in terms of the art installations often seen during campus protests.

“I don’t understand why it was seen as such a threat,” she said.

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Starr said the dismantling was done “in preparation for events scheduled on Sunday, and in line with our policy.”

The student government also voted in Feb. 2024 to divest all school investments from Israeli apartheid, which was opposed by Starr, according to The Guardian. More than 75% of student voters voted in favor of five propositions on divestment at the school, including ceasing all academic support for the state of Israel, and voting for the college to divest from all companies tied to Israel and all weapons manufacturers.

Students Storm Office of Pomona College President

Demonstrators from Pomona and other Claremont Colleges chanted slogans, including, “Israel bombs, Pomona pays. How many kids will you kill today?” Around 4 p.m., a group entered the main administration building and took over Starr’s office. According to a news release from Pomona Divest in Apartheid, the “18+ students sitting in Starr’s office were barricaded in by Campus Safety Officers, who positioned themselves in front of the exits.” Fifty additional protesters entered the building after a protester unlocked the door to let them in. Those protesters occupied the hallway outside Starr’s office.

Law enforcement officers from Claremont, Romona, Azusa, and La Verne responded to the scene in riot gear, drawing criticism from students and faculty.

“Civil disobedience and peaceful protests by students were met with tactical gear and assault rifles,” members of the Claremont Consortium Faculty for Justice in Palestine wrote in a statement about the event. “Students who are scheduled to graduate in less than a month are being threatened with suspension for non-violent protest. This response is shameful.”

In a letter to the campus community, Starr said the protesters wore masks, refused to identify themselves to campus officials, and used a “sickening, anti-black racial slur” when addressing an administrator. Starr noted the protest was part of “an escalating series of incidents on our campus, which has included persistent harassment of visitors for admission tours.”

“Regardless of what the Pomona College Administration thinks about this, this is a peaceful act of civil disobedience and it does not warrant such a strong police response,” said Heather Ferguson, a professor of history at Claremont McKenna College. “It’s actually extraordinarily difficult to imagine why anybody would think that would be an appropriate response.”

Nineteen students were escorted out of the building by officers and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. Another protester outside the building was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice. The arrested students were taken to the Claremont Police Department, where a crowd of more than 100 demonstrators assembled.

All charges were dropped a few hours later, according to Inside Higher Ed, but Ferguson said the arrested students were served “Emergency Interim Suspension” notices while in jail and have been expelled from campus.

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