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Breaking news: SBU administration responds to student-led encampment

Rick Gatteau, Vice President for Student Affairs, speaks to local media regarding the ongoing demonstration at the Staller Steps. Gatteau explains the University’s plans and perspective on the situation. MARIAM GUIRGIS/THE STATESMAN

Stony Brook University administration responded to Sb4Palestine’s ongoing Gaza solidarity encampment on the Staller Steps, with statements from Vice President for Student Affairs Rick Gatteau and an email from President Maurie McInnis issued earlier this morning. 

Gatteau held a press conference with local media outlets at the Administration Building around 11 a.m., addressing questions about the University’s plans and perspective on the demonstration. 

He shared that while students are allowed to remain on the steps, as they are a public space on the University’s campus, other groups who have prior reservations for the space will take priority. 

“If a reservation has already been made, we will ask demonstrators to move to another location, and we will provide an alternative option,” President Maurie McInnis wrote in an email to the Stony Brook Campus Community before the press conference this morning. 

Gatteau confirmed that student groups have reservations for tomorrow and next week. 

On the schedule for tomorrow is the “Big Jewish Block Party,” hosted by Seawolves for Israel, Stony Brook Hillel, Jewish Student Association and the Sephardic Jewish Club. The event is planned from noon to 3 p.m., with a performance at 12:30 p.m., to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month. 

“There will be a time they will have to move,” Gatteau said. 

In an interview following the press conference, Gatteau shared that the student protestors were informed they will have to move for tomorrow’s event.

However, one of the student organizers, Zubair, shared the group was not yet aware of this. 

“This is the first I’m hearing,” Zubair, who requested his last name remain anonymous, said. “To my knowledge, I have not seen any form of contact from his team or from him about leaving the space tomorrow.”

Gatteau explained that if protestors are asked to move and refuse, his team would speak to students first before any action is taken. When asked if police would forcibly remove students if they failed to leave the steps after conversation with administrators, Gatteau responded, “We will follow our process of what makes sense at the time.”

MARIAM GUIRGIS/THE STATESMAN

McInnis also responded to the student protesters who have been asking for clarifications on the guidelines and rules of protest in her email with the following statement:

Demonstrations should not: (1) block access to or from buildings, (2) use amplified sound that disrupts university activities, (3) impede the use of space that has been reserved by another registered student club/organization or campus office, or (4) impose an ideological or political litmus test on those who seek to enter the space.”

But some students feel the email highlighted the wrong aspects of the protest. 

“We are disappointed that the University is focused more on the logistics of what we’re doing on campus and how we are behaving on campus and less so on what our demands are,”  Zubair said.

Earlier today, students expressed their interest in speaking with administrators about their demands, including dropping the charges against nine student protestors arrested on March 26. Other demands include financial transparency from the University, divestment from Israel and acknowledging the events occurring in Gaza as a genocide.

Gatteau highlighted that 12 protests were peacefully held on campus this year other than the student arrests, but made the distinction that on March 26, the rules were not followed.

But the protest organizers expressed that the rules are not their main priority.

“I want to center what’s happening because I want to center the genocide. I want to center our demands,” Zubair said. “I don’t care about the tents and the tarps and what’s the rule breaking it, what’s not. That’s not what’s important to us.”

Student organizers from Sb4Palestine already had one sit-down meeting in February with administrators, including McInnis and Gatteau, regarding their proposals about divestment. 

“I thought we had a good conversation,” Gatteau said in the press conference. “The president did follow up with a response that indicated the University does not participate in BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions] and will not divest from Israel.” 

But Zubair responded with a different perspective on the conversation.

“During the meeting, they kept saying we can’t talk about the proposals we made regarding how to actually implement certain divestments,” Zubair said. “When we presented them with research they said ‘Okay, well we’ll have my team look at this and then we’ll get back to you.’”

After the meeting, Zubair said organizers were sent an email from McInnis stating that none of the ideas presented would be possible because the University does not take a political stance and will not endorse BDS. 

Gatteau said if students ask to meet with administrators again, the University will schedule a time. 

 “I don’t think this is something that’s resolved in a single meeting,” Zubair said.“I think it’s fair to say that there’s more urgency to have further meetings.”

Students slept through rainfall on the steps overnight, marking over 30 hours of protest and demonstration. 

“I think it’s important for us to keep fighting,” Zubair said. “Stony Brook divested from South African apartheid, and the students who fought for that — they put up a good fight. We’re gonna put up a good fight as well.” 

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About the Contributors
Mariam Guirgis
Mariam Guirgis, Assistant News Editor
Mariam is an Assistant News Editor at The Statesman. She is a second-year journalism minoring in political science. When she's not editing news articles, she is deeply involved with her Church community, planning events and hanging out with friends.
Viola Flowers
Viola Flowers, Editor-in-Chief
Viola is the Editor-in-Chief of The Statesman and a third-year journalism student at Stony Brook University. She is currently an intern with NBC Dateline, formerly with NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. She has written for The Suffolk Times, Riverhead News-Review, Northforker magazine and local publications in her hometown of Waterbury, CT. Outside of The Statesman, Viola runs the blood drives on Stony Brook's campus and is a local dance teacher.
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  • R

    RGsuxMay 1, 2024 at 11:19 pm

    He sounds so nervous and scared. Trembling voice.

    Reply