Little progress after Smith College president meets with student occupiers

Supporters gather outside College Hall at Smith College as Students for Justice in Palestine continue their sit-in Saturday for a fourth day in protest over the college’s investments in weapons manufacturers.

Supporters gather outside College Hall at Smith College as Students for Justice in Palestine continue their sit-in Saturday for a fourth day in protest over the college’s investments in weapons manufacturers. CONTRIBUTED/RENE THEBERGE

Supporters gather outside College Hall at Smith College as Students for Justice in Palestine continue their sit-in Saturday for a fourth day in protest over the college’s investments in weapons manufacturers.

Supporters gather outside College Hall at Smith College as Students for Justice in Palestine continue their sit-in Saturday for a fourth day in protest over the college’s investments in weapons manufacturers. CONTRIBUTED/RENE THEBERGE

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 03-31-2024 12:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Student activists reported Sunday that more than 50 of them remained inside College Hall on their fifth day occupying the Smith College administration building to demand the college divest from weapons manufacturers profiting from Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Occupiers said President Sarah Willie-LeBreton, along with Alex Keller, the interim dean, met with them Saturday afternoon. She said she wouldn’t agree to the students’ demands, but would convey their request that the board of trustees’ Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility hold an emergency meeting to act on their demands.

The activists agreed to meet with the administrators even though they rejected student occupiers’ request for a legal observer and recorder to be present. Spokesperson Roz Beile said Sunday there was “a lot of back and forth,” with Willie-LeBreton pushing back on all the students’ demands. The president wants the students out of College Hall, she said.

Students on Sunday were awaiting an update via email on the president’s discussions with the investment committee.

“I’m particularly disappointed by the president and the dean’s response to our demands, especially their unwillingness to cooperate with our demand to have a legal counsel for us present during negotiations,” student Rinal Dahhan said in a statement. “I can only hope that we leave College Hall fully divested from war.”

Smith’s board of trustees previously rejected a divestment petition from Students for Justice in Palestine, describing the endowment’s investment in military contractors and weapons manufacturers as “negligible and entirely indirect.”

Students vowed that the occupation would continue until the college divests from these assets.

Community members have continued to show up to rally in support for the students. 

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“I’m so grateful to everyone on the outside for their support, which we would not be able to survive in here without,” Dahhan said.