On Wednesday afternoon, over 350 Claremont Colleges students walked out of classes to demand that the 7Cs divest from companies and manufacturers that support the Israeli government, citing the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The demonstration and delegation effort was part of a nationwide student walkout calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of historically Palestinian land and U.S. support of what many international groups recognize as Israeli apartheid.
Wednesday’s walkout was the most recent student action of many protests, teach-ins, vigils and panels at the Claremont Colleges since Oct. 7, when Palestinian armed group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing approximately 1,300. The Oct. 7 onslaught was one of the largest militant resistance efforts from a Palestinian group since the origin of Israeli military occupation in the West Bank in 1967. As of Oct. 26, Gaza’s Ministry of Health estimates that over 7,000 have been killed by retaliatory attacks by Israel Defense Forces since Oct. 7.
Less than 30 minutes before the walkout was scheduled to begin, Pomona College President Gabi Starr sent an email to students reminding them that they “must adhere to [Pomona’s] student code and demonstration policy at all times,” and that campus safety staff would now be present during protests “to help ensure the safety of all.”
7C community members have called out Starr for her lack of recognition toward and support of Palestinian students. A 5C student who participated in the walkout said they felt dispirited by Claremont administrators’ responses, or lack thereof, to the grief of Palestinian students.
“We’ve seen no [administrative] acknowledgement of the 75 years of apartheid which have been happening in Palestine, which is incredibly disheartening and honestly racist, the way that white lives are being valued more than brown lives,” the student, who requested anonymity for safety and doxxing concerns, said.
Wednesday’s walkout began at 1:30 p.m. when students left their classes to gather on Bowling Green Lawn at Scripps College, participating in protest chants such as “Stop the killings stop the hate / Israel is an apartheid state,” “Hey students, come outside / Claremont pays for genocide,” and “Gaza Gaza head held high / Palestine will never die.” Many wore masks to protect their identities. Several onlookers took photographs and recordings of protestors.
“The protest was peaceful, it was respectful, it was a joyous moment of community and advocacy for people who are being marginalized and whose voices have been overlooked for so long and whose humanity has been continuously stripped from them in the media,” the anonymous student said.
Around 2:15 p.m., students walked through Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) campus to Pomona’s Alexander Hall, where hundreds of students stood outside administrative offices. One unidentified student leader spoke directly to Pomona’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer Jeff Roth about protesters’ demands. They asked Roth to disclose whether Pomona was investing their endowment in any companies that fund Israel and to divest from those companies if so. The speaker said that students would escalate action if Pomona failed to disclose investments by Friday.
“Until disclosure, we have every reason to believe that our tuition money is being used to support this internationally recognized apartheid regime and the war crimes of the Israeli State,” the student stated. “We are here because Pomona is complicit with the mass slaughter of an entire people, with the ethnic cleansing and the forced displacement of Palestinians.”
The protest dispersed after closing protest chants on Pomona’s Marston Quad just before 3:00 p.m.
Mark Kendall, Pomona’s chief communications officer, told TSL via email that the institution’s endowment investment policies are set by the Board of Trustees. Kendall referred TSL to Pomona’s audited financial statements for more information on monetary disclosure.
“The pooled funds include international equities, and the investment policies do not single out any country or region with nation-based investment restrictions,” Kendall said. “Donations for current use (such as the annual fund) are not invested alongside the endowment. Tuition and fees also are separate from the endowment and are used solely to support college operations.”
The protester’s request was the latest instance of the BDS movement at the 5Cs, which has taken over some academic and student government discourse at Pitzer College and Pomona, to administrative pushback.
Hours after President Starr’s email in the early afternoon and the completion of the student delegation at Alexander Hall, Pomona students received another email outlining changes in policies for event promotion/advertising, speech and events. The email was sent jointly by Pomona’s Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Avis E. Hinkson and Associate Dean of Students & Dean of Campus Life Josh Eisenberg.
Amid last week’s return from fall break, over 150 7C students arranged a vigil for Palestine on Friday at Pomona’s Smith Campus Center (SCC). The vigil was followed by a teach-in, informing students on the historical context of the Free Palestine movement.
During the vigil, student representatives from different affinity groups and social justice organizations read out messages in solidarity with Palestine. Before the teach-in, some event organizers also handed out information packets to attendees, which highlighted the event’s thesis.
“In order to understand the Palestinian struggle, you must understand it through a framework that captures the historical processes that produced our current conditions,” the pamphlets read. “That framework is ‘settler-colonialism.’ In its current manifestation, this settler colonialism is enforced or sustained through systems of occupation and apartheid. This in turn requires us to understand the Palestinian struggle as one of national liberation.”
After listening to a line-up of speakers, the vigil attendees decorated the SCC fountain with flowers, stuffed animals and letters in support of Palestinians affected by the violence, including a message mourning “insurgents who have died for the liberation of Palestine.”
Some students disagreed with parts of the vigil’s messaging. Riaan Dhankhar PO ’25 spent time working for the House Foreign Affairs Committee on policies around Israel and wanted to look at differences between student and policymaker perspectives on current issues. He cited compassion for Palestinian people and hopes for a ceasefire as his primary reasons for attending the vigil, and said he was disappointed by the nature of the event.
Dhankhar said he felt that some student speakers at the vigil leaned in to propaganda. While he thinks there is “a lot of merit” to calling what is happening in Palestine a genocide, he believes student groups in Claremont should focus on directly helping Palestinians in this moment rather than utilizing combative anti-apartheid rhetoric.
“Everyone in this situation is going through hell. This is the darkest moment in Israeli history since 1967, but it’s also what Palestinians view as the third Intifada, or as the second Nakba,” Dhankhar said. “That I think is getting lost because everyone is so mad and so vigilant and so interested in pointing fingers, that the need for aid and help and the moment to actually mourn the loss and actually have a real vigil has been lost.”
After the teach-in, students and organizers marched around the SCC. Their chants included “Resistance is justified when people are occupied!” and “From Palestine to Mexico / All these walls have got to go.”
The march continued through the campuses to its destination at Commencement Plaza during Pitzer President Strom Thacker’s inauguration. Around 50 students protested Thacker’s Oct. 13 response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.
Thacker’s statement was his second response to the attack, with the first on Oct. 9 receiving criticism for neutrality.
Wearing all black and silently holding signs raising awareness for the Free Palestine movement, protestors maintained a stark visual for everyone on stage for the remainder of the ceremony.
One student demonstrator, who requested to remain anonymous for safety concerns, felt the need to protest because of Pitzer’s response to the situation.
“As a Palestinian student, I’m deeply hurt that we continue to talk about this genocide as a conflict when a population is being ethnically cleansed, there’s no place for justification. Of course, we must mourn all lives lost, but we cannot dismiss the source of the violence which is settler colonialism and genocide. And Pitzer has a responsibility in addressing the truth as it is,” they said.
The student expressed gratitude for the demonstrations happening for Palestine, in contrast to what they felt was silence on the part of the college administrators.
“While it has been heartwarming to see students teaching other students and faculty just having open conversations about this, it’s also been really disappointing to see that the very leaders of this place are the ones that are either choosing to be silent, or to take a neutral stance on genocide.”
Another student demonstrating at the inauguration, who requested to remain anonymous for the same concerns, cited Pitzer’s need to divest from funding to Israel.
“I think at this school, President Thacker and all of us have a really big responsibility to do what we can to prevent the genocide that is being funded by our tax dollars as an institution we have ties to the State of Israel,” they said. “And I think it’s important that we bring awareness to the genocide that’s happening and we emphasize how important it is for Pitzer College to divest from apartheid Israel, and to stand with Palestinians.”
Five days after these events, the vigil at the SCC was taken down by Pomona facilities staff on Tuesday morning.
Claremont students and faculty have also created platforms to share both research and personal experiences with conflict and occupation in Israel and Palestine. On Wednesday evening in Pitzer’s Benson auditorium, four students and three professors from CMC and Pitzer participated in a panel highlighting an 11-day solidarity tour in Palestine they participated in this summer.
A Pitzer student on the study tour, Jordan PZ ’23, talked about the impactful and joyful time he spent with Palestinian students at Birzeit University in the West Bank during the trip.
“It just felt like college students hanging out and joking around just like we would in Claremont,” he said. “This seems sort of banal, but it is profound because most of us who are Americans are taught to dehumanize Palestinians.”
One of the panelists, Pitzer Associate Professor of English and World Literature Amanda Lagji, spoke to her positionality and perspective on the Palestinian solidarity study tour.
“I’ll mention just briefly how I’ve taken what I’ve learned from the trip back to Pitzer into the classroom,” Lagji said. “My work is not simply to integrate Palestinian voices into my syllabi, not only to understand Palestine’s occupation as settler colonialism, but also to address the perception that to speak about Palestine is impossible.”
Other events that took place this week include a panel at Hahn Hall at Pomona on Monday, “Conflation of Antisemitism with Criticism of the Israeli Government: Unpacking a Campus, Domestic, & International Problem” and a Thursday Community Lunch at the Pomona Womxn’s Union “Standing in Solidarity with Palestine” co-hosted by Claremont SJP and Claremont Jewish Voices for Peace. Today, Claremont Hillel is sponsoring a weekly Lunch and Learn at CMC: “Israel and Us: A Faculty Moderated Discussion.”
Maxine Davey, Ben Lauren and Enoch Kim contributed reporting.
This article has been updated Oct. 27 at 11:00 a.m. to include the perspectives students who demonstrated at Pitzer’s inauguration last Friday.
TSL also removed a statement that previously misrepresented student involvement at the vigil. TSL regrets this error.