Vigil For Palestine Results in Harrassment, Calls to Action

Vigil For Palestine Results in Harrassment, Calls to Action


The initial print (1-29-2024) and digital (12-23-2023) publications of this article contained a factual inaccuracy. The three Palestinian students from Trinity University in Burlington, VT who were shot survived the shooting, though were hospitalized. The Independent incorrectly reported them as being murdered, but it has been corrected as of 2-1-2024.


In response to the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group, Hamas; NEIU’s section of Justice 4 Palestine (J4P) recently held a vigil to commemorate the thousands of Palestinian lives lost at the hands of this conflict. Poetry was read, candles were lit and heavy emotions were shared amongst the roughly 70-person crowd on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.

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The NEIU community wrote several names on this poster board, which also shared information of those that have died. – Ryland Roberts

At the vigil, Executive Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Shireen Roshanravan, Vice President and Dean of Students for Student Affairs, Dr. Terry Mena, and Director of the Angelina Pedroso Center, Dr. DeWitt Scott were all present but when asked for a statement, dispersed and declined to comment in any capacity.

Though an overwhelmingly uplifting event, and despite internal instruction to refrain from engaging with any anti-Palestinian forces, as the vigil was moved from the courtyard outside the Student Union into the Union itself, the organizers and volunteers of this event – many of them members of the NEIU Muslim Student Association (MSA) – were harrassed.

According to the J4P Instagram post, after the MSA potluck that followed the Vigil, a short, older white man approached the organizers as they transported the posters indoors. This post had several images that ended with videos of the man fleeing the point of conflict; he approached members of the group who wore hijabs and made violent, racist comments that do not bear repeating. He asked them if they had “guns” and “bombs” before attempting to physically assault one of the women who was wearing a hijab.

Full image of Vigil poster board-Ryland Roberts


After the incident, a police report was filed. According to J4P, NEIU Police were already aware of this man’s existence as he is speculated to be “a community member who frequents the campus,” and not a student.

The police report filed by NEIU students with NEIU police confirmed that the man was known to police. According to the report, “The unknown male is known… to loiter on campus.”

According to a supplemental police report, NEIU police responded to a report of an “unknown individual” in the Student Union on Dec. 5, 2023. After conversation with the individual, police believed that he was the same person who harassed the MSA students, according to the report. The supplemental report, filed on Dec, 19, 2023 ends by saying, “This supplemental report is being created to document the subsequent investigation’s findings, leading to an identification and ban, which will be put in place.”

Though the police had been informed and the report filed, this did not provide the relief these organizers had hoped for. J4P’s Instagram post ends with a statement saying, “It was a scary, frustrating, and distressing experience. It was important to have on record. Because unfortunately, if there’s no record, these things “didn’t occur”… We need more dialogue about recourse regarding racism & harassment on campus.”

Image of NEIU Community member with two handmade signs – Ryland Roberts

This sentiment was echoed by a group of four members (two freshmen, and two juniors) of the MSA who wished to remain anonymous given their fear of retaliation and on-campus harassment. When speaking to them as the vigil wound down, they were initially apprehensive to answer questions but eventually would return of their own volition to add additional comments.

They expressed their happiness for the general support shown at the vigil but were reluctant to applaud NEIU’s participation in the event. As one student said, “It’s not a war between Israel and Hamas, it’s a genocide.” While another said, “I don’t like that NEIU doesn’t use the word Palestine when talking about this issue.” And another posed a question to NEIU, “If this is how you act, are you really being accommodating to us?”

Solidifying their justification for this fear, they evoked a few examples from national and international news. The three Palestinian students who were murdered in Vermont late last month, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdel Hamid and Tahseen Ahmed, the 6-year-old Chicago resident, Wadea Al Fayoume, who was killed in a hate crime perpetrated by his landlord in October of this year, and the litany of misinformation being disseminated by the US government since the inception of this conflict, were all brought into focus by these four impassioned students.

Yaya Ramirez, head of Justice for Palestine, giving a speech during the vigil – Ryland Roberts

In a separate follow-up, J4P head organizer, Yaya Ramirez, expressed her desire to continue organizing and demanding change on and off campus as this is an issue that does not seem to be letting up any time soon.

When asked about NEIU’s response to the issue in Palestine, she said, “Overall, the response has really just been silence.” And in regards to faculty discussion, she said, “There’s a lot of talk behind doors that I’m vaguely aware of but don’t know the specifics on…I think that what the Faculty Union could do is write a statement of solidarity. But they have not done that.” 

Adding, she said, “I think there’s a solid group of faculty members who are wanting the university to be more outspoken and to take a stance for Palestine, and they’re being pushed to the side.” She also alludes to the fact that it may be disincentivizing students or faculty to participate or show their support in these spaces, for fear of consequence.

Ramirez said, “I worry and I am sure other students here on campus worry how their activism or their general support for Palestine may lead to these kinds of responses that we’re seeing across the country…they are being punished, being harassed, being doxxed.” 

In imagining what could be future steps for the NEIU body as a whole she said, “It’s such a difficult dynamic because I think the students want to see the school take the initiative, be the leaders. But if they’re not going to do it, then it sort of falls on the students to rise up and be louder and the faculty.”

Ramirez also encouraged the faculty members who support the struggles for Palestinian liberation and for movements here on campus to stand up and voice their opinions; “They’re only telling me the small bits of conversations that they’ve had within the union and other administrators…I think they need to, publicly come out and say, like, we’re being repressed here too.”

When asked how she envisioned the evolution of this movement going forward she said, “The first step is really coming together and learning from one another…this impacts so many different areas, not just politics…like free speech on campus and the repression and silence of voices across the United States.”

White canvas with Palestine colors (red, black and green) with following sentence: "Just as a mother would not harm her baby, the indigenous will not bomb, burn, and poison their land."
Ryland Roberts

In regards to the harassment following the vigil and NEIU’s response, she said, “Because of what happened to me and other students, just last week, what can the university do to talk about racism and harassment on campus…It is happening on campus and so if the university is not gonna really talk about racism and the climate that we’re in right now, then I think that’s the work of the students to bring up and to have faculty support them in that work.”

Ramirez did express positivity and said, “I hope that people take the time to educate themselves and really look within,” before asking the question, “What are you willing to stand up for?”

Near the end of the event, supporters all lined up to commemorate the Palestinian martyrs by inscribing their names on the vigil – many of them children – there was a palpable air of hope. The beautiful speeches and poems that were read rang throughout Village Square, and the faint whisper of a chant could be heard, “Gaza Gaza, don’t you cry, Palestine Will Never Die.”

There are more events and demonstrations slated for the winter break and for the Spring semester. Keep an eye out for these and other updates by following @justice4palestineneiu and @neiumsa on Instagram, and send all support or questions to [email protected].

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    Thomas G MolloJan 16, 2024 at 8:27 am

    I hope the NEIU Independent will feature more articles about and news coverage of the genocide in Palestine.

    The International Court of Justice hearings are of major historical significance and it’s unfortunate that more people aren’t aware of what is happening.

    The long history of Israel’s atrocities in Palestine needs to be understood by more Americans regardless of how much our government, the mainstream media and the Lobby work to keep us misinformed.

    Thank you for your interest and efforts!
    All best wishes,

    Tom Mollo

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