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Signs outside Meyerhoff 030 during a demonstration in favor of divestment. Photo Courtesy of Ash Shehzad

UMBC SGA passes resolution endorsing Divestment from “entities complicit in Palestinian Human Rights Violation”

On March 5th, 2024, UMBC’s Student Government Association (SGA) voted in favor of passing a joint resolution, J.R. 01-2324, which asks SGA to request UMBC to boycott and divest from “entities complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights.” 

UMBC’s Chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group of student activists dedicated to “raising awareness about Palestinian issues and fostering a movement for Palestinian liberation,” proposed the resolution to the SGA on campus.

The resolution took place in light of the events of October 7, 2023, which exacerbated the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on portions of southern Israel and Tel Aviv, killing around 1300 Israelis and kidnapping 253 more. As per the Wall Street Journal, there are still 134 Israeli residents in Hamas captivity.

In response, Israel launched a full scale “land-sea-air” invasion of Gaza, decimating the 41-kilometer Gaza strip. As of March, more than 32,000 Palestinians and 1400 Israelis have been killed, as per Reuters. According to a UN report, an unprecedented humanitarian disaster has resulted from the forced displacement of 1.21 million Gazans to the narrow southern strip of Rafah. 

Protests and rallies have broken out across the United States since the start of the war, with people on both sides calling on the US government to facilitate a permanent ceasefire and return the hostages back home. The US government’s response to the war has also been heavily criticized.

Protests and vigils also broke out in DMV colleges, including here at UMBC. 

Student response to the war:

On October 16th, 2023, UMBC Hillel and Chabad on Campus, the two major organizations representing Jewish and Israeli students on campus, organized a Vigil of Unity for Israel on campus to mourn those who were killed and pray for peace. 

The Anti-Imperialism Alliance (AIA) group and student organizations like SJP have organized sit-ins at Starbucks and walkouts and protests throughout campus, criticizing UMBC’s response to the war and their ties with “​​Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and other weapons contractors and military agencies that recruit our peers to build weapons used in massacring innocents.” 

Students also demanded for a Palestinian flag to be put up in Commons Mainstreet along with other global flags.

On October 26th, 2023, UMBC Hillel condemned the demonstrations on Instagram, claiming that they were allegedly “demonstrations of support for Hamas.” According to Hillel, “there cannot be any justification for the spreading of false information and baseless accusations about Israel, the erasure of Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish homeland, or the use of anti-Semitic rhetoric here on campus.”

On February 6th, UMBC SJP drafted a divestment resolution for the SGA, garnering the support of thirty student organizations. A month later, SGA set up a hearing for the proposal, giving students the chance to testify either in favor of or against the resolution.

Hearing day: 

The vote, held on March 5th in Meyerhoff 030, drew a staggering turnout. The lecture hall, which regularly accommodates students for Introductory Chemistry courses, was crowded like an exam day. Students climbed the steps, clutching Palestinian flags and wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian scarf worn as a symbol of resistance. 

For students like Precious, a Junior Chemical Engineering major, this was a milestone event in participating in student governance and holding UMBC accountable. 

“UMBC promises a lot of things to us; they don’t really fulfill them and I’m here so that we can start putting more action towards words,” she said. 

Some faculty members also came out to show their support. Raimi Quiton, a Clinical Associate Professor in Psychology at UMBC, was seated beside the students she would otherwise be teaching. 

“I support human rights and I think there is a need to address the genocide occurring in Gaza,” she explained. “I’m here to support all the students and families who have been impacted. A number of my students have been affected and it just breaks my heart.” 

While a lot of students present were in favor of the resolution, a number of students in opposition to the proposal also showed up carrying the Israeli flag on their backs. The Retriever asked the students in opposition for a comment on the vote, but were declined one.

The hearing opened with an introduction of the proposal by its co-sponsors and SGA Executive Branch members, Megan Thomas and Nusrat Tusi. The proposal asked UMBC to “academically and economically boycott, divest, and discontinue relationships with businesses, governments, institutions, universities, and other entities or organizations that violate or are complicit in the violation of Palestinian’s human rights.”

The resolution also demanded that UMBC “actively protect Palestinian students and their allies as they advocate for justice for the Palestinian people.”  

Members of SJP provided further context for the resolution, emphasizing their aim to remove the presence of “entities that are directly contributing to Palestinian genocide” on campus, namely Starbucks, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Sabra Hummus

SJP also spoke about the threats, hate messages and doxxing their members faced online, including messages calling for “deportation of international students.” Additionally, they claimed that Campus Police intimidated them during a demonstration at Starbucks, allegedly saying something along the lines of, “play stupid games, win stupid prizes,” in relation to their sit-in.

Following the appeal, SGA Senator Eli Gendelman inquired about replacing the organizations that the proposed resolution asks UMBC to divest from. 

A member from SJP responded claiming UMBC administration verbally agreed to replace items like Sabra Hummus with hummus made on campus. The members suggested replacing Starbucks with local coffee shops and stated that it is UMBC’s responsibility to provide “ample research and employment opportunities” instead of internships and employment at defense companies.

After a short round of questioning, the space was opened up for testimonies. 

Testimonies for the resolution:

Over twenty undergraduates and student representatives from various campus organizations like the South Asian Student Association (SASA), UMBC Sisterhood and more gave testimonies denouncing the war happening in Gaza while advocating for UMBC to divest. 

For a member of SASA, a group that routinely organizes cultural events, celebrating her heritage while Palestinian culture is being “ruthlessly eradicated” seems to her “unsettling.” She advocated for a boycott, explaining that “for some it’s a Coca-Cola bottle or a Starbucks drink, but to others, it is years of oppression and thousands of Palestinians whose blood has been spilled.” 

When SGA treasurer Sadia Alwi inquired about the effects the war has had on Muslim students on campus, a representative from Muslim Student Association (MSA) explained, “Our student body has been affected by the genocide. [After October 7th] nobody wanted to hear about regular topics including those about prayers. Everyone wanted to talk about Palestine.” 

A Palestinian student expressed her strong “discomfort” at giving her tuition money to organizations that “helped to kill” members of her family who were killed by an “IDF airstrike on their apartment complex.” She declared, “I would no longer be forcibly complicit in the genocide of innocent civilians.” 

The testimonies continued with stories from Gaza and ended with applause from the students present in support of the resolution.

Testimonies against the resolution:

The testimonies in opposition to the resolution opened to a quieter environment. The crowd silenced as the five students against the resolution made their way down the stage. 

A student against the resolution emphasized his presence there, despite the risk of “social ostracization” he may face. He also claimed that while everyone deserves peace and safety, the issue is ultimately a “very morally gray conflict that is being painted black and white.” 

He questioned the intentions of SJP’s proposal, citing a post they made on October 7th that supported “the people of Palestine as they rise to demand freedom and liberation,” as a “pro-Hamas post”. The post claimed that the events unfolding were “a natural consequence” of the “ongoing siege of Gaza” and “system of apartheid.” 

An SGA senator asked whether branding members of SJP as “Hamas sympathizers” might put their safety in jeopardy. The student reiterated that SJP’s statement allegedly supported “terrorism,” adding, “[he was] not concerned because when you make a statement, you’re responsible for your own actions.” 

These statements led to several students shouting their disapproval as the speaker of SGA attempted to quell the growing tensions.

Another student claimed that the resolution “does not support Palestinians; the resolution is exclusively anti-Israeli in nature.” She denounced the “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” slogan explaining that while it may be a call for “peace and freedom,” it originally called for “the destruction of the entire state of Israel, the only Jewish country in the world.”

According to the student, if the SGA passed the resolution, “the only thing it will accomplish is the further alienation of Jewish students on campus.”

Final decisions and aftermath: 

The testimonies ended with a discord of reactions. These heightened emotions were further elevated by SGA’s decision to adjourn the gathering for ninety minutes to conduct a “private executive session”.

In the interim, students in favor of the resolution demonstrated outside the Meyerhoff building, encouraging more testimonies from students. 

Around nine p.m., students shuffled back to the hall where SGA held a closed ballot election and quickly passed the resolution JR 01-2324, with eleven votes in favor and three against. 

SJP members thanked students for showing “the courage to come out and speak in this environment,” noting that it demonstrated the importance of this issue in student sentiment. They also expressed concern about the opposition testimonies and accusations leveled against them, describing them as “unfounded and completely based on speculation.”

In a statement to The Retriever, Musa Jafri, President of SGA explained that “the next steps are to bring it forward to both the University Steering Committee as well as President Shears-Ashby and explain both what the resolution is and why SGA has passed it” 

The vote’s approval also meant that “UMBC representatives at the University System of Maryland Student Council can and will vote in favor of the divestment resolution that is being proposed to them.” 

On March 6th, UMBC Hillel also issued a statement on Instagram addressing the resolution and their disappointment with SGA’s decision, claiming that it “enables further targeting of Jewish and Israeli communities on campus.” The statement alleged that some students at the hearing chanted “offensive slogans,” and “laughed” during the “description of sexual assault”. Hillel demanded UMBC take immediate measures to “ensure the safety and security of Jewish students.”

The Retriever reached out to Hillel for a comment but were declined one.

Shortly after the hearing, President Valerie Sheares-Ashby and members of the senior leadership team issued the Community Expectations statement, which condemned “disruptive student behavior” at the SGA hearing and “anti-Semitic posters in violation of university posting policy.”  The senior leadership team also reiterated UMBC’s policy on discrimination and equal opportunity and introduced workshops for student leaders to “foster greater understanding of the First Amendment-protected freedom of speech.” 

The Retriever reached out to the office of the President asking for clarity on some statements regarding the “anti-semitic postings” that the statement addresses. 

Kacey Hammel, Chief of Staff to the President, responded to the questions stating, “The violations of the posting policy related to the procedures for posting and the placement of posters, rather than specific language or messages on them.”

In relation to the alleged anti-Semitic messages, Hammel stated that the Office of Equity and Civil Rights received “two reports of Swastikas being drawn in locations on campus.” However, she adds that “responsible individuals were not able to be identified.”

The Retriever inquired about the impact of the joint resolution, as well as the calls and concerns raised by students on both sides of the issue. Hammel clarified that the “administration has not yet been presented with the joint resolution.” and they refrain from making a comment until SGA presents the resolution to them. 

Finally, she added: “The university continues to support the rights of free expression and academic freedom. The message on community expectations was meant to serve as a reminder of our commitment to care for one another and foster an inclusive and safe environment for all students, faculty, and staff.”

Ash Shehzad is a Junior Psychology Major and Editor-In-Chief at The Retriever.

Contact Ash at