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Pro-Palestine students arrested at California college

Arrests as California's Pomona College cracks down on pro-Palestinian activism
4 min read
Washington, DC
14 April, 2024
The students were arrested after trying to protect a "mock apartheid wall" which was about to be demolished by university authorities.
A growing number of US universities have been cracking down on pro-Palestinian student movements, including BDS. [Getty]

The arrest of around 20 students and suspension of several others at the prestigious Pomona College in southern California earlier this month is among the latest university administration crackdowns on pro-Palestinian student activism.

Like many campuses around the world, since the outbreak of Israel's war on Gaza around six months ago, Pomona, part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, has seen a surge in demonstrations in support of Palestinians.

The intensity of the protests have increased in recent days, as the war has passed the six-month mark, with more than 33,600 Palestinians in Gaza killed, mostly women and children. Hundreds more have been killed in the West Bank.

As the airstrikes and siege on Gaza continue, leading to mass internal displacement, there are growing reports of starvation, dehydration and preventable illnesses due to the breakdown of the enclave's healthcare system. Multiple human rights groups have described Israel's actions in Gaza as genocide.

Much of the Palestinian activism on university campuses is focused on advocating for the institutions' divestment from companies that support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and war on Gaza, as well as academic and cultural boycotts of Israeli institutions. Activists have said they have taken inspiration from divestment campaigns targeting South Africa's apartheid system.

The students' recent activism has included demands for the college to divest from Israeli weapons, creating a "mock apartheid wall" in a common area on campus, and then staging a sit-in at the president's office, leading to the recent arrests.

On the first Friday of April, the administration began taking down the apartheid wall. As word quickly spread, many students rushed over to protect what remained of their installation. 

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"I got a text from a friend saying they were removing the wall. I was with friends. We threw on our jackets and then ran to the mock apartheid wall. It was really devastating. A lot of my friends were shaking and sobbing," Kae Kidd, a final-year neuroscience student who was later arrested and suspended, told The New Arab.

"When I got there, I did what I could to protect the remainder of the wall. I saw them instructing workers to take the items. We rallied and chanted."

As the news spread of the wall's removal, around 80 more students gathered for two hours in protest. Afterwards, Kidd, along with several other students, entered Alexander Hall, which student protesters pointed out was named after the college's last president, who refused to divest from Apartheid South Africa.

Some of the students then took part in a sit-in for divestment at the office of Pomona's president, Gabrielle Starr, who told them they would be subject to suspension.

The students described the sit-in as peaceful, leaving a pathway open for the administrators to go about their business, though they could hear other students chanting outside. A student reporter was removed from the premises, which the protesters believe was to prevent documentation. 

The student protesters said the president's office then called the police. The New Arab contacted Pomona College for comment, but received no response at the time of publication.

"I knew we were the only ones who could keep each other safe. We were whispering our Miranda Rights to each other once we heard the sirens of police," said Kidd.

As someone whose mother is Jewish and father if Black, both of these identities have played a role in this student's advocacy Palestinian rights.


"The history of both of my peoples compels me to fight for divestment. BDS [boycott, divestment, sanctions] is rooted in anti-racist principles, borrowing from the success tactics against South African apartheid. As a Black person, I see my people at the forefront of any fight for justice," Kidd said.

There were around 20 students who were arrested and taken to jail, where they were held for more than four hours, some having sustained bruises, and were released late at night. Some out-of-state students were suspended from campus  without places to stay, though several students reported being hosted by professors.

"I'm completely aghast at the response from Pomona. I felt completely disgusted and frustrated that that the college refused to disclose where it was investing," Krasimir Staykov, a third-year student in American Studies, one of seven who were suspended, told TNA. 

"I felt clear in my purpose to be there. We continued to sit, even as we were threatened with suspension."