Photo by Paul Xing ’26.
Julia Garrison and Gianna Hayes also contributed integral reporting for this story.
Sounds of low chatter echoed through the Kauke Arch at around 10:45 a.m. as a small group of community members taped signs and Palestinian flags to the walls of the Arch, played music off a small speaker and braved the cold weather with blankets and large jackets. About 10 community members gathered in the 15 minutes before the Jan. 31 event: a sit-in at the Arch in support of a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas War. The event was planned in reaction to a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ordered that Israel must prevent acts of genocide during Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas.
Erum Haider, assistant professor of political science, environmental studies and southeast Asian studies was the first to welcome community members to the event, holding a sign that read “CEASEFIRE NOW.” About 20 were gathered in the Arch by 11 a.m., with more piling in as the hour went on, sparking small group conversations from students, faculty, staff and friends of the Wooster community.
Co Clark ’25, one of the student organizers, hoped the event would spur more discussion and activism at Wooster regarding the Palestinian territories. “Besides a couple of lone organizers it’s been really hard to get some … momentum going. So, we’re hoping that this could build the framework for future actions,” Clark said.
“Our signs are in our hands. Our opinions are on the wall. This is what we’re concerned about,” said Haider. She was one of four faculty members who signed off on an email addressed to the entire community announcing the event, an email that was quickly and quietly revoked by administrators. It was later confirmed by President Anne McCall at a faculty meeting on Monday, Feb. 5 that she was the administrator who advised for the email to be revoked from inboxes.
Although McCall admitted to being the administrator who called for the email to be revoked, she did make a brief appearance at the sit-in on Wednesday.
“I don’t share my personal opinions on campus because I represent the College, and the College is nonpartisan,” McCall said when questioned about her attendance at the event. “But I do have a position that people should be able to come together and talk about and advocate things they care about.”
The email announcement was sent to the campus community the day before the sit-in by Laura Burch, professor of French and francophone studies. The email stated: “on behalf of a small collective of faculty, students, and community members, we invite you to stand with the decision of the International Court of Justice in calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.” Undersigned on the email were the professors organizing the event: Haider, Mareike Herrmann, professor and department chair of German and Russian studies and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies Beth Derderian.
Just minutes after being sent out at 8:33 a.m., the email was deleted from inboxes. Lin Hillis, vice president for human resources and interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion, sent an email to Burch two hours after deletion explaining the policies surrounding the use of ZWD lists ––– the lists of students, staff and faculty used to send campus-wide emails ––– which Burch had used to send the original announcement to the campus community. Burch asked if this meant that the email violated the College’s policies.
“At that point, I hadn’t realized that they had scrubbed the email,” Burch said, referring to Hillis’s response to Burch’s inquiry where she did not explicitly state whether or not the original email had violated a policy or that it had been taken down. Hillis instead once again referred to the ZWD list policy and stated that student groups must contact the Dean of Students Office before sending campus-wide emails.
Burch responded by saying that, as a member of the faculty, she had the right to send the email out through the ZWD lists. She also copied officers of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for the College on the email chain.
An additional email from Information Technology (IT) was sent to faculty on Monday, Feb. 5 reiterating the ZWD policy, although the policy quote focused on the barring of students from ZWD lists, explaining that while “Faculty and staff can mail to ‘zwd’ distribution lists … College resources such as ZWD lists should be used for official College business only.”
Aside from the policy concerning ZWD lists, McCall noted, in an interview at the sit-in, that there is a “second policy about partisan politics. So, it’s not a question of whether you can organize or not, or do things or not, it’s the instruments that you can use for it.” None of the email correspondences from Hillis to Burch included policies regarding partisan politics.
“We were a little bit shocked because we were just sending an announcement and we were not asking anyone to take sides. We wanted to invite people for conversations on this issue,” Hermann explained in response to the email’s deletion.
“I think we’re in a climate of fear. I think this is not just for The College of Wooster,” Haider said, connecting the email’s deletion to a wider context of protest in higher education.
Burch said that the email’s deletion, no matter the reason, “takes attention away from the real issue, which is genocide. It’s like an effort to keep us from talking, from gathering with each other, and talking about what’s going on in the world.”
Joan Friedman, professor of religious studies and chair of the history department, was also uncertain about the nature of the email’s deletion from inboxes, originally assuming that the email was redacted due to an inaccuracy regarding the email’s characterization of the ICJ ruling.
“There was a lot of misunderstanding. The original email was factually inaccurate,” she said, referring to the part of the email incorrectly stating that the ICJ ruling called for an immediate cease-fire. “When it was taken down, I thought, in my naivete, that it was because the sender had recalled it to correct the factual errors,” Friedman said.
Friedman not only was one of the professors included in the writing process for the original email, but also appeared at the event and spoke to attendees. At the event, Friedman noted the factual error in the initial email, as well as highlighting the need to advocate for and incorporate information about people currently being held hostage by Hamas into messaging being distributed and put up on the walls of the Arch.
In response, the event escalated into debates as others began to share their own personal connections to the conflict, including Alona Abufarha ’24, a Palestinian student.
“This is all unnecessary. None of this is necessary. It has never been necessary either. My mother should be able to be at home right now and all my parents would be at home,” she said of the war during a portion of her speech to attendees. She spoke to attendees about a recent raid within a hospital in the West Bank where Israeli forces dressed as civilian women and medics and killed three Palestinian militants.
After a number of speakers shared their opinions on the conflict and discussed the importance of a cease-fire to them, the event was brought back to its initial state of talking amongst small groups. The gathering ended around 2 p.m., but some lone posters still hung in the Arch until the next day.
On the same day as the event, an open letter from Jewish alumni and students began to circulate, followed by a general open letter from members of the campus community a day later. The letters were organized and posted to actionnetwork.org by alumni Adam Hinden ’22, Noah Levy ’22 and Erik Livingston ’22.
“I don’t think that any administrator on this campus wants to suppress pro-Palestine speech,” Friedman explained in an interview the Monday after the event. “I just haven’t had the bandwidth to try to organize [or to] get with my colleagues to organize some kind of ongoing way for students to talk about this,” Friedman explained further in an interview, clarifying her role within the conversation at the sit-in. She said she would have approached the situation differently in hindsight.
Both letters argued that the deletion of the original announcement email from Burch was a “blatant violation of the campus community’s rights to free speech, assembly, and petition for redress.” Hinden said that the letters will be sent to President McCall on Friday, Feb. 9. The general open letter currently has over 350 signatures from students, alumni and faculty at the time of publication.