Rally attendees gradually gathering at 4:30 p.m. on the front lawn May 3. The rally had a large turnout, with students joining from Lehigh, Lafayette College and Moravian University. (Nicole Hackett / B&W Staff)

SPAC hosts Palestine Solidarity Week


The Student Political Action Coalition hosted a week dedicated to standing in solidarity with Palestine from April 29 through May 3. 

Taking place on the front lawn, a different event was held each day of the week. This included an art build, an interfaith vigil and film screening, tabling, a cultural potluck and a culminating rally. 

Ciaran Buitrago, ‘25, a director of the Student Political Action Coalition, said the main reason these events were held was to motivate people to take action and stop the genocide in Gaza.

The May 3 rally had a large turnout, with students joining from Lehigh, Lafayette College and Moravian University. The Student Political Action Coalition also brought together community members from organizations like the Lehigh Valley Palestine Coalition. 

Dylan McFarland, ‘25, a media liaison for the Student Political Action Coalition, said they only started planning the week’s agenda the Sunday before. 

“We want to take a stand with (other campuses),” McFarland said. “But also, since admin was working with us at the time, or at least claimed to be, we did not want to escalate at the moment.”

According to Axios, more than 120 encampments have taken place across U.S. campuses, with more than 2,700 students being arrested at pro-Palestine protests at over 54 colleges. 

Tommy Parisi, ‘25, a member of SPAC, said starting an encampment depends on community support and the number of people willing to participate. 

“It’s definitely an option on the table, but that’s also up to Lehigh administration,” Parisi said. “It depends on if Lehigh administration is willing to negotiate with us or not.”

Papers titled “Why We’re Here” were passed around to attendees at the rally. The paper explained why they were assembling, listing requests the group wants to be met by Lehigh and other schools in the area. 

The requests included: calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, the disclosure of financial investments made by universities in the area from all companies and institutions that profit from Israel, that Lehigh and Lafayette College divest from Israel and that Lehigh uphold their right to freedom of speech.

Buitrago gave one of the opening speeches. He mentioned the mass grave of 400 people discovered at Nasser Hospital nearly two weeks ago.

“Children and elderly people, many of them with their hands zip-tied behind their back, with gunshot wounds in the back of their heads,” Buitrago said. “They were slaughtered execution-style, in hospital gowns with wristbands, indicating they were injured and healing.”

During the rally, Parisi also spoke to the crowd. He said he believes students have the voice and power to make a change. 

“America, its institutions, through monetary and other means, supports Israel’s military, supports their government,” Parisi said. “So I think that connection is vital to understanding how we can have the power to change things. I think if more people understood that, they’d be more willing to take action.”

Rally attendees marching down West Packer Avenue May 3. The march started on the front lawn, down to East Morton Street and up Webster Street. (Nicole Hackett / B&W Staff)

Attendees walked together from the front lawn to East Morton Street, turning up onto Webster Street to take occupation of West Packer Avenue. 

West Packer Avenue was closed for approximately two hours while chants broke out and many more speeches were delivered to the crowd.

Buitrago said many people don’t accurately see their point of view.  

“A lot of people are trying to falsely characterize this movement as pro-terrorist or antisemitic,” Buitrago said. “In reality, we are a diverse coalition of people advocating for peace, justice and liberation. We condemn antisemitism and host numerous Jewish speakers at all of our rallies, so anyone calling us antisemitic is trying to mislead you.” 

McFarland said he thinks some students’ response to the movement is antithetical to the college experience.

“You’re Lehigh students, you’re at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, act like it when you’re called upon to be a part of a debate,” McFarland said. 

He said it’s OK people may disagree with anything they say, but disagreements should be met genuinely and productively. 

“That feedback is valuable and they deserve a seat at the table, but it needs to be in good faith,” McFarland said.

A recent study from the National Association of College and University Business Officers showed the 688 colleges and university endowments they studied managed approximately $840 billion in assets total. 

Many student protesters across the country want their schools to eliminate investments in businesses and institutions that support Israel or industries in Israel. 

That said, most schools, including Lehigh, do not disclose where their financial investments lie.  

“It’s very unfair to the campus community that we don’t know what our money is being invested in,” McFarland said. 

Buitrago said he and a few other club members had dinner at President Joseph Helble’s house April 22 where they presented their requests directly to some administration. 

“You can’t just condemn one side of the conflict, that’s biased,” Buitrago said. “They seem the most receptive on that point.” 

He said the club also had another meeting May 2 with Dr. Donald Outing, the vice president for Equity and Community. Buitrago said he thinks more pressure will mean more progress. 

“We’re not terrorists, we’re not Hamas supporters,” Buitrago said. “What Hamas did on October 7 was heartbreaking. We just think the same standards that people apply to Hamas should also be applied to the IDF.”  

A rally attendee making a speech on West Packer Avenue May 3. West Packer Avenue was closed to traffic for approximately two hours. (Nicole Hackett / B&W Staff)

Some student groups have reached divestment agreements with their universities. For example, Brown University reached a deal with the Brown Divest Coalition, a student group dedicated to justice for Palestine, on April 30.   

An-Nisa Amatul-Maqtadir is a full-time organizer who most recently partnered with Lehigh Valley Palestine Coalition and MyLB Speaks Palestine. She said she attended to stand for Palestine and support students. 

“I fully believe in the student movement because in history, we know for every time students were fighting the government or upper authority, it was for a good cause,” she said.

Amatul-Maqtadir said there is always pushback in one way or another. She said there were some passive-aggressive comments made on social media following the last day of the solidarity week. 

“Someone came up and said, ‘You guys can’t do this,’” Amatul-Maqtadir said. “But we know our rights, we make sure that we inform them that we know our rights, and as Lehigh Valley members that protest, we make sure we tell the students what their rights are.”

Following the rally, everyone moved back to the front lawn. 

“We wanted to come up here and just have them (students) relax and sit down and be proud of what they did,” Amatul-Maqtadir said. 

McFarland said the club is worried about losing momentum over the summer. He encourages interested people to seek organizations in their hometowns and attend pop-up rallies to meet people. 

“It’s about connecting people, making connections,” McFarland said. “If you know someone in your hometown who is interested, link them with us because we are a global movement and we can always use more connections.”

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  1. New Amsterdam Vodka on

    If you’re going to accuse someone of genocide you’d better come up with a better source to cite than Al Jazeera.

    Also, the endowment is not “your” money, students. It’s the money from donors thats paying for some of your fellow protesters tuitions.

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