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The history of campus activism amid pro-Palestinian demonstrations

 May 6, 2024 at 11:23 AM PDT

S1: Hey there , San Diego , it's Andrew Bracken in for Jade Hindman. Police dismantled protest encampments on the UC San Diego campus Monday morning. We take a look at how the college protests of today compare with movements of the past. This is midday edition , connecting our communities through conversation. Welcome back to KPBS midday Edition. I'm Andrew Bracken in for Jade Hindman. We continue our conversation about protests on college campuses over the war in Gaza. We now talk about how they compare to other major student movements from the past , as well as the significance of college activism in our political landscape more broadly. On Friday , I spoke with Danny Widener , a professor of history at UC San Diego and director of their Institute of Arts and Humanities. I also spoke with Austin Fitzpatrick , professor of political sociology at the Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. I started by asking Danny what the protesters main demands are. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. Let me say first , in response to that , I think we have to be careful when we ask a question like that. Um , my father was in the civil Rights and Black Power movement , grew very tired of being asked in response to questions like , what do black people think about Vietnam , or about reproductive rights , or about James Baldwin ? I think we have millions of students who are involved in one way or another , and what's happening around the world and tens of thousands on US college campuses. So I think there's a wide variety of opinion and a lot of different claims and demands that we see. I think at the campus where I work , there have been some common demands , and immediate cease fire is one of those. The students certainly expect the administration want the administration to amplify those claims. Amnesty for students who may be facing disciplinary consequences or legal matters , and academic boycott and ultimately , divestment.

S1: And so you mentioned , you know , this idea of divestment. Can you explain a little bit more about what that is ? And , you know , it's not a new idea , right.

S2: No , no , it's certainly not a new idea. In fact , both the idea of a cultural , academic and sporting boycott and the idea of divestment come out of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and in the case of South Africa , began in the early 1960s. Even in the late 1950s , although it didn't become very prominent in the United States until the 1980s. Um , in this case , it refers to the student demand that the university , first of all , disclose and secondly , remove itself from predominantly investments in US companies that may have defense or other contacts with the Israeli state , um , US corporations that may have investments in the Israeli economy , and or Israeli companies that may be in various kinds of partnerships with elements of US universities. And essentially , the argument the students are making is that on private campuses , where tuition may link to endowments , they feel very strongly that their own tuition shouldn't be used to fund things that they find objectionable. In the University of California , where the funding mechanisms are slightly different , their concern is that things like our pension fund or the elements where we may devolve resources , are something that they should have a stake in , saying what they feel should be done with.

S1: And , Danny , you know , many analysts say that divestment may not actually do much to change Israel's behavior.

S2: And I think the first thing that has to be said about it is that when we think about social movements , sometimes we ask the wrong questions. When we jump right to this question of what will be the effectiveness , what will happen , what will it do ? It really misses the point. The point here is that , as with the South African struggle , which I was involved in as a very young person , and as with the civil Rights and Black Power eras , which , as I said , my parents were involved in what the students want is an end to the occupation. What divestment is for them is a way to look around and say , where is my most direct , immediate connection to the problem that I see in the world ? And if what happens here is divestment , then they will have made that goal realize. But if what happens here is that we're forced to have a conversation about this country and what our priorities are and what our resources are , are devoted to , then that's a different question , right ? So in terms of the ultimate long term effect , in something like South Africa , US sanctions and University of California divestment made a material impact. We had a lot of money involved in South Africa and we forced that money out. But the Cubans played a huge role in the liberation of South Africa on the battlefield in Angola and the South African people inside South Africa , where the primary ones who brought apartheid to an end.

S1: Austin , I want to I want to bring you in here now to the conversation. You study social movements , how they develop , how they work.

S3: And so that that line of scholarship over the last 50 or 60 years has as zeroed in on a couple of things that , in case after case movements , need to succeed. And one of them and I won't bore you with the list , but one of them is the swaying public opinion is convincing the public that right is on your side. And so this requires a sort of focus on tactics. This is why nonviolence is so important , because it helps bystanders , people who might not be affiliated with your cause , to recognize that your struggle is just it's so just you're willing to engage in sort of nonviolent collective action. And the second thing is for the public to sort of come alongside one's cause with sympathy is messaging a clear and coherent message. And so immediately we can start to see some tensions , because one of the things Danny emphasized was how complicated it is when you have different identities and different demands and different histories to come up with one clear message. So a clear focus on nonviolent tactics and a clear and coherent message. Why ? Because that's what helps this jump from its particular instance. Whatever the particular issue is , in this case , it's around the conflict. And on campuses jump from there to larger national politics.


S3: And there's two different answers. The first is that there are lots of different demands being made and in lots of different places , and then there are lots of different folks characterizing those demands. And so what we have not seen is a sort of a coalescing around we can think back to me two , which started with a hashtag , and it sort of coalesced a whole many different experiences , many different critiques , many different approaches to a solution around one kind of way of framing the issue. Same thing for Black Lives Matter. It really focused attention. And whether or not it captured the full spread and diversity of everyone's opinions about the problem , where the solution it focused public attention. And I think what we have yet to see in this movement is , or this series of protests are very young and perhaps may emerge into a larger movement , but in order to emerge into a larger movement , it's going to need to to sort of clarify what the demands are and frame up on something that resonates at the national level.


S2: We could talk about the deacons for Defense and Justice Robert F Williams. There were a lot of programs. There were a lot of people. And that movement never had a single voice. It never had a single demand. It never had a unified program. And we're just talking about the people who were in the nonviolent direct action world. So I think we we can't necessarily say that as a precondition of success. You need a singular demand or a singular format. Again , in the case of South Africa , what was happening at Polaroid was different than what was happening at UC Berkeley. And what was happening at UCLA was different than what was happening with the cultural boycott. I do agree that part of the challenge is making your struggle legible to people who may not always have a lot of familiarity with the part of the world that you care about. And I think in that case , for people who are longtime observers of the Palestinian struggle in the United States for recognition and for legitimacy , this is a unique moment. This is a moment that's very controversial. It's a moment where people are in the street. There's a lot of dissent. But for people who have been struggling around these issues for a long time , the depth of feeling and the widespread cognizance of what's going on is unparalleled. It's totally different than in 1987. It's totally different than in 2000. It's totally different than in 2009. And I think that's directly connected to some of the movements that Austin mentioned , particularly Black Lives Matter. And I think there's an organic connection between things like that and standing Rock and what we see today.

S1: What about some of the parallels that we can draw between this current movement and past ones ? What examples stand out to you there ? Yeah , I.

S2: Mean , I'm anxious to hear Austin's thoughts on this too. But for me , I think in terms of basic connections , what this movement has done , and it's very similar to what happened with Vietnam and what happened with South Africa , is it has asked American people to ask very uncomfortable questions about ourselves and our role in the world. The students see that we're building a pier to deliver aid to people whose homes were destroyed with American bombs , and it's hard , as a historian , not to hear the echo of the old Vietnam aphorism we had to destroy the village in order to save it. And so one , there's that connection , the connection between the notion that what happens in our country and what happens abroad is not a question of domestic and foreign policy. These things are connected. I think the other thing that the students see beyond these connections is they see resistance from the campus administration. That's a constant. The University of California opposed divestment from South Africa. It opposed divestment from fossil fuels. For a long time. It opposed the free speech movement. It was on the wrong side , without exception. And every one of these struggles at the beginning , and it was forced to come around by the students. So I think whatever happens and wherever we are six months from now or six years from now , it's the case , if you look backwards , that you see that the students force the university to go places it did not want to go , and I think that's a parallel that we can easily see today.

S1: Austin , I'd like to get your thoughts on some of these parallels that Danny was just talking about. How does this current movement compare to previous campus movements ? Yeah.

S3: This is a this is a great question. And one of the things I've the comparison I've seen drawn with the greatest frequency that I don't think is the best analogy is Vietnam. And so where we have , you know , sort of antiwar struggles in 1968 , running up against the Democratic National Convention. So there are some interesting parallels there in terms of how an anti-war protest runs up against , uh , sort of American politics. But I think Danny had it right in invoking the anti-apartheid struggle , not just because of some of the tactical choices around shantytown construction , in this case encampments in tents , and not just around the demand for divestment , but also because of the larger geopolitical terrain that those students struggles were situated within. And here's what I mean by that. It turns out that at the same time as the anti-apartheid movement , as we sort of tend to think of it , which is in the mid to late 80s , as is roots much farther back , as we tend to think about it , as manifesting on student on college campuses. That was this very moment that the Cold War was ending. The Soviet empire was falling , and the United States was deciding how it was going to handle its foreign policy portfolio , and it decided it was going to let go of a bad asset , which was this apartheid regime. And so essentially , the US government decided , well , you know , those weren't the best of friends anyway , perhaps. So I , I don't I don't know what they thought , but in fact that that really led to some changes. There's another parallel here in terms of the larger geopolitical landscape. And that's that the civil rights movement , which gets all sorts of attention at the national level , important and very well deserved attention , the national level. It was also playing out in a geopolitical struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union , and a whole bunch of post-colonial , newly post-colonial states. We're looking to see how they would align , and we're getting calls from the United States. They were getting calls from Washington , D.C. , and they were getting calls from Moscow and the calls from Moscow especially to sub-Saharan Africa said , would you would like to align with us or would you like to align with the United States ? And if you do , I have some tapes from Birmingham you might want to watch before you sign on the dotted line. And this sobered up a series of post-national governments to ask themselves critical questions about whose side the United States of America was on in a in a struggle for equity and equality. And so I'm not trying to detract in any way from the incredible work and dynamic mobilization and organization on the ground. I'm just also sort of zooming out and asking us to hold some attention for where this fits in that larger geopolitical environment. If students want to win , they would be tackling this at the level of their campuses and the levels of their administration and then start asking themselves , how does this resonate with larger geopolitical issues , and how is it we can use those issues to pressure the Biden administration to do the things that we actually want to move the needle on Danny's right , immediate ceasefire , and then on from there , those are the big , big demands and the ones that are hardest to do. And also , by the way , ones that university presidents have no control over. So I think that's what we're looking at is a series of , of protests , whether or not it turns into a movement , in a movement that's able to resonate at the national level. And so I think that's what I'm personally I'm watching for right now.

S1: Danny , I want to talk about some of the tactics we've seen from the protests.

S2: It provides a physical location for them to educate other students about an issue that too few of us know deeply , very much about. It forces the university to confront them as having a physical presence. So I think that's part of the issue of the encampments. Of course , the encampments were a function as well of the anti-apartheid movement , which shows a lot of , um , has a very inspirational element for students today. And let me say one thing about the anti-apartheid movement , in the context of what you've asked about the student tactics , one of the things that people should , I think , understand is that part of the lure of the anti-apartheid movement for young people today is that it was a movement that managed to persuade millions and millions of Americans of the rightness of its cause. And it didn't start out that way. South Africa was a Western , democratic white country , that the United States had quite good relations to. I can remember occupying the South African embassy as a high school student , and we were not in a majority among other American people. Right ? Even toward the end when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. And I think that the other thing that South Africa gives young people is it gives them a sense of victory. If you're a person under the age of 30 , you don't have a lot of successful political struggles that you can point. Who for inspiration , where regardless of the problems that persist after you can see , you can see a victorious result. You can see a hopeful end. You can see a dream of a better world. I think for young people who confront a lot of precarity in their lives and who have a lot of people telling them , this can't happen , this won't happen , this shouldn't happen. That's how the African lesson is a really powerful lesson. Let me say another thing then about the tactical part here. Our students have been uniformly nonviolent. There have been very few attempts to disrupt classes. There have been very few attempts to disrupt anything , like laboratories where important and sensitive and time sensitive work is taking place. The civil rights movement , they blocked stuff all the time. They invaded classrooms. They prevented private businesses from serving lunch to customers who were hungry. They demonstrated in inside of courthouses. The civil rights movement was way more , more aggressively disruptive. Cesar Chavez walked on the freeway to Sacramento , so obviously people couldn't drive. So what I would say first , because people are hearing a lot about chaos and violence and destruction and vandalism. And I would say our students have been extremely thoughtful about finding ways to open a conversation to demonstrate what they're interested in talking about in ways that actually allow these universities to function , even if the universities have to ask uncomfortable questions and they're being criminalized and punished as a result.


S3: The first is that power concedes nothing without demand. And I think that in the current discourse I'm seeing , there is a conflation of disruption and with violence and nonviolence. Is is is a strategy for intentionally , deliberately and at great cost , disrupting the status quo such that the status quo is no longer affordable to the people who benefit from it. And this tool can be used in any context. It's not a left wing thing , a right wing thing. It's not a pro change thing or an anti change thing. It's just a tool for driving social change. And so one thing I would love if listeners were able to get sort of out of this , it's that things can be incredibly disruptive and never touch on violence. And in fact , one of the key aspects of being disruptive , but nonviolent is that it invites the state and the powerful to to show their hand. This is what Martin Luther King Jr was so clever about , and it invites the state to show their hand. And in this case , administrators have shown their hand , I think , poorly by inviting police onto campuses. That's the first mistake. And then the police have then arrested people. That's the second mistake and have done it in a deeply undignified way. That's the third mistake. And so if and so this only makes administrators look draconic , and it only makes the police look like they can just be summoned by the powerful. And it only makes protesters look like their cause might be more just than an onlooker or bystander may have previously thought. So it just just take away. Here is is disruption is what protests are all about , especially ones that are nonviolent. And so just these are two separate things. And the second thing I want to say really quickly is , uh , the Danny mentioned a minute ago at the top of his last comments were these are these are spaces. Universities are spaces. People are claiming space. This idea of space is absolutely imperative to democracy. America is a project founded on rebellion against the old World. Its major human rights gains were are the product of social movements that were rebelling against an old order , the old slave order , for example. Right. And so this is kind of baked into America's DNA , this kind of disruptive disputation about what democracy means. And we should be doing it in love , and we should be doing it in places where we can do it. And if universities aren't that place , maybe we should have a national conversation about whether or not those is it a university or is it the town square , but those public places for debating where America should grow into the next century as a just and humane place are disappearing ? And so if it's not on campuses and it's not on the street , because essentially protesters have been cordoned off into smaller and smaller little free speech zones , then I think it's time to have a national conversation. And I'm saying this not about the left or the right , or about this particular issue or about campuses. I'm talking about how America can do the experimental disputation conversations about how it is , who does we want to be and how we want to grow into the future.

S1: I want to hear more of Danny's thoughts on on that right after the break. Coming up , we continue our conversation on the role colleges are playing in protests surrounding the war in Gaza.

S3: My sense , but speaking personally , is that universities are here to help us think new thoughts , have dangerous new ideas to to debate one another , to come up with , have data that contradicts the status quo.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Andrew Bracken in for Jade Hindman. We're talking about protests on college campuses over the war in Gaza and how they compare to student movements throughout history. I'm speaking with Danny Widener , professor of history at UC San Diego and director of their Institute of Arts and Humanities , as well as Austin Choi Fitzpatrick , professor of political sociology at the Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. Danny Austin touched on this a bit earlier. You know , we're seeing some movement from law enforcement in response to some of these encampments. I mean , do you see parallels to the past and sort of this law enforcement move we're seeing recently ? I think the.

S2: Police have gotten more violent more quickly than they did in previous eras of student protest. I don't think there's any question. I think it's a function of the panic that dissent seems to provoke today in a way that is very different. I think it's hard not to conclude that we've become a less open and a less tolerant and a less free society than we used to be , because I think we've gone too quickly to ask the police to solve problems which are not police problems to solve. And I know that KPBS , KPBS listeners are familiar with the issues around homelessness , around unhoused folks , around mentally ill folks , around substance abuse. We have a lot of problems in this city and in this country that we're solving with the police. And we see time and time again that it isn't working. The police have a very clear job in our society , and it isn't preventing students from talking to other students about issues that students find uncomfortable. And the more we bring police in to finish conversations in the way the police finish conversations , the less likely we are to get to a place collectively that meets the needs of all of the people who live in this country.

S3: I love this idea of bringing the police , this , this , this framing of we can't be bringing the police in to finish the conversation. I couldn't agree more with you on that , Danny. The question this raises another level out is like , what is the role of universities and if and my sense but speaking personally is that universities are here to help us think new thoughts , have dangerous new ideas to to debate one another , to come up with , to have data that contradicts the status quo. And I and I feel like what we're seeing now is the emergence of debate where people disagree. That's great that that should be what happens on university campuses. And I'm afraid this sort of response from most , but not all university administrators suggest that the thought might not have ever occurred to them that we were here to have a raucous debate about what the good life is , and that young people might have different ideas that would debate internally and debate with the different generation we need as a society. If we want to be an open society that evolves and changes with the times and gets better and better , we need to have those places for debate. I had argued earlier , I'd love if it was universities , but just to Danny's point , universities have suggested that when there is when it looks like that debate could turn bad for public relations , then the next step is to bring the police in to settle the debate.

S1: Austin , earlier you mentioned this idea , you know , of a town square and bringing up issue of what college campuses , you know , represent for our society. A lot of social movements throughout history started on college campuses.

S3: One thing we thought it might be , and it turns out we're a little bit wrong , is social media. We thought , this is a really great way to connect folks who are who are not connected to one another , people with identities. You're the only person in your small town with your identity. You can get online and find somebody that has solidarity with you. And it turns out that's true. But this has been true in ways that have helped our society and have actually heard it quite , quite deeply. And so I think one answer used to be the new public square is the internet. And it turns out that social media , sort of driven by advertising platforms , is as an advertising platform is not the answer. So then we get to your question , which is where should those where should those places be ? And I think we're in the middle of trying to figure that out. I think there's a hunger like never before to connect in real life , not through apps and not facilitated by algorithms , but to connect in real life in real , meaningful ways about real things , even if we don't agree with one another. And I think we're seeing some of that appetite on our campuses and sort of and I would say , like warts and all. I mean , I'm not saying it's clean. I'm not saying it's pretty , but good luck arguing about politics is not clean and pretty. This isn't supposed to be clean and pretty , but it's supposed to be life giving , relationship affirming , and and help us to , like , have better and more constructive debates where we disagree. I'm not talking about Utopia or Kumbaya , or if only we could all have this one place where we all agree. No , we should have this place where we can meet each other with a shared sense that we have the similar stakes and then hash it out and I. Universities should be that place. Which is why I'm so disheartened by the way that administrators have responded to these these debates.

S1: Danny , you had a thought.

S2: Yeah , I wanted to just I just wanted to echo and amplify something that Austin said , that young people are not afraid. They're courageous. They have questions and they demand answers. But the other thing is that young people have time to think. It hasn't escaped the notice of many people in the media and around the country that some of the places where we see the most furious protests are at elite universities. This was true in the 1960s as well. It's true now for a different reason than it was true then. It's true now because if you're a student at Cal State , Cal State , San Marcos , or at San Diego Mesa College or Yamaka , the odds are you're working so many jobs and you're spending so much time on the freeway that you literally cannot spend the night at an encampment because you work from 11 to 7. The life of young people in this society has become more and more precarious. They can't find housing , can't find decent jobs with dignity. These elite universities are some of the only places where the students still have barely , because we have food pantries too. Barely enough space to get their heads above water and to look around , take a breath and ask some questions. That's why it's extraordinary to see these protests spread to places like Portland State , Cal State San Marcos , Cal State , Humboldt. That really shows something that didn't happen in the Vietnam era , necessarily , until far later , until after 1069 , 70 , 71 , in some cases , five , six , seven years after mass protests started against that particular war. So I think it's very interesting because , as with a lot of things in the kind of digital age , we see a compression of the timeline , things are going much faster. That took longer to build up before. And I think that provides both opportunities for young people and also some challenges as well.

S1: Austin , I wanted to ask you about something you know , we're seeing in the media about these so-called bad actors at some of these protests , people not associated with the campus is taking part.

S3: I think that where there are these bad actor elements as you as you described it , I think it really mucks up the underlying sort of energy that we could be spending , reporting on how there's a solidarity , a real communities of care. These are not all folks that that have traditionally all believed one thing who are who are now in these encampments , these are people having conversations they may not have ever had on an issue that is perhaps new to them and has helped them to think and see things in new ways. And I say that regardless of whether you agree with their claims , there's like really interesting stuff that's happening in these spaces and all that. It takes is for a bad actor or two to come in there and to really mess things up. Now the question is , what are those ratios ? I don't know , I think once we start seeing folks who have been arrested , which I'm against these arrests , but once folks are released and I think we'll have actual data on if you've got 100 arrests , how many of those people were students at student IDs ? And so I'm not advocating we do an audit of of who's who by arresting. But I think there really is an open question about what the ratios are in terms of outside of outsiders versus versus students. But I think there's not a lot of debate that these have been overwhelmingly nonviolent protests that have several salient claims that they're making to the administration and beyond.


S2: And if we could only police those outside people , our local people would return to passivity is a fundamental missed truth that is used every time a social movement arrives. If you google outside agitators and the civil rights movement , you can. The sun will go down and the sun will come up and you'll still be reading. So I agree again with Austin's point. When people come onto campus to attack our students , then we shouldn't call them bad actors. We should call them criminals and people who commit assault on our students. What I think is being said more often than that is that there are presences from outside , be they other faculty , be they activists , be they community members who somehow don't belong in the conversation because it's a university conversation. And I think that there's an element of that that is correct. There's also an element where I work at a public university that the people of the state of California pay for. Somewhat , and I think that it's important that community people are allowed to be present and allowed to participate in the intellectual life that we're a part of. So it's not about checking people's identifications and preventing anybody who isn't a student from being able to be on the campus. Right. The point is to be able to gauge people's intentions. And honestly , the people who have the best radar for that are the students themselves. The students can tell very quickly what spirit people come to that camp and in those encampments with. And so , honestly , again , with all of these questions , the more that students are asked directly by the administration , by the faculty , by the media , what do you think ? What do you make of this situation ? The more likely we are to resolve what we see in ways that are peaceful and in ways that advance us toward greater justice and away from what seems to be spiraling toward a set of really dangerous outcomes.

S3: If I if I could hop in there real quickly , one of the effects of , let's just say robust , robust debate and , and let's say other , you know , citizens who are not students coming onto campus and this , this larger sort of set of opportunities that Danny's flagging. One of the things this does is enters into a complicated media environment at a very complicated political moment for the United States. We're coming up towards an election. And so one of the things I've got my eye on is this question about what challenges on campuses , not the politics of the thing in terms of the claims around the conflicts or about divestment or etc. but this idea of unrest , and I just want to say that there are significant political forces interested in amplifying the idea that campuses are dangerous places. They're full of dangerous ideas , they're places where students are unsafe. And there are times when anti-Semitism is real. So my point isn't that there are no concerns anywhere. But these concerns enter a larger ecosystem where conservatives , in particular the Republican Party , has said we need a law in order candidate , because look at what happens if you let certain , you know , folks of a particular political persuasion run a campus. This is what happens. And I'm not. And so this is a challenge for administrators as well , because this is not just a challenge of what's happening on a particular campus , but how it looks at the national stage. And I just want to I'm going to end , you know , I'll stop there. But the national context , I think we can't overlook.

S1: So , Danny , before we go , we wanted to get your final thoughts. Any any final words there.

S2: I think my final words would be just to convey my admiration for all of the people who are standing up and speaking up for things they believe very deeply in , and to reinforce what Austin said , that part of the point of living in this country isn't to get everybody else to agree with you , or to only support things you agree with. It's to allow and to understand that other people have different perspectives , and that those perspectives may be unpopular. Many of the things that we have come around to understand , like black people , are equal to white people , like women should have basic rights , like you shouldn't smack your kids or throw your garbage out of your car window. Once. We're very controversial ideas , and I think that we're seeing a very controversial idea that I eventually hope will be commonly understood in this country , which is that Palestinian people are people , they have rights , and they should be heard , just like every group in this society should be heard.

S1: Austin , how about you ? Any final thoughts from you ? You know this.

S3: This conversation has me reflecting on the role of universities in in democracy. And I think as we come up on the 2024 election , a lot of these the challenges of staying on campuses will be catnip for for the right universities. Thwart free speech , on one hand is the argument and there's other argument that they hothouse dangerous ideas and they're and they're hotbeds of dissent and anti-Americanism and disruptive activity. And then looking up , looking toward the 2024 election , there's some painful realities for the left and the right. Like , I think next year we're going to have the first set of college students applying to go to college when some of the most expensive schools cost more than $100,000 a year to attend. That's a that's a that's a big question. Who can afford that ? Who are elite and expensive universities for what happens to all of that debt ? And are we making good on the promise that we're making to young people as we invite them into this civic and national project ? And I think universities are going to have to answer that question is the same time they're they're answering questions about how they let police onto how their first step in a conversation , as Danny put it , was calling the police. How is we're going to have to square that as a national conversation ? It's not about whether or not Brown did it better. I think they did. Which presidents probably should be , should be sent packing. But what is the role of the university in public life ? They should be safe and expansive places to respect and debate other people's opinion. Is not because we agree with them , but because they agree on the larger national project that our fights serve. And I think that I that's why I'm at a university. That's why I love the place that I work and I really want over the next year , for us to think about the way that this institution universities can , can hold that space for democracy.

S1: I've been speaking with Austin Fitzpatrick , professor of political sociology at the Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego , Austin. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you so much. I've also been joined by Danny Widener , professor of history at UC San Diego. Danny , thanks to you.

S2: And thanks to you for taking the time to speak with us.

S1: That's our show for today. Thanks for joining us. I'm Andrew Bracken in for Jade Hyneman. Have a great day , and we'll catch you next time.

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A pro-Palestinian protester waves the flag of Palestine at the UC San Diego Gaza solidarity encampment, May 5, 2024.
Matthew Bowler
A pro-Palestinian protester waves the flag of Palestine at the UC San Diego Gaza solidarity encampment, May 5, 2024.

Across the country, protestors have set up campus encampments, organized rallies, and staged boycotts in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

On Midday Edition Monday, we zoom out and discuss the significance of the national wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and how they compare to major student movements throughout history.

Midday Edition also observed the role of college activism in the nation's political landscape more broadly.


  • Daniel Widener, UC San Diego professor of history and director of the UC San Diego Institute of Arts and Humanities
  • Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, professor of political sociology at the University of San Diego Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies