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Why these college students say they aren't participating in protests

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Protests on college campuses over Israel's war in Gaza have been in the national spotlight for weeks, with some erupting into violence. At many other universities, there has been far less controversy, with students and professors mostly going about business as usual. Kirk Carapezza from member station GBH talked to students at Boston's largest public university and has this report.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: The University of Massachusetts Boston here in Dorchester sits just miles away from Harvard, MIT and Tufts University, private colleges where pro-Palestinian students have set up encampments. There's no liberated zone here. Most of the 12,000 students here work and commute. Only about 9% live on campus, like Noah Siegel-Stone, a Jewish student who's originally from Hawaii.

NOAH SIEGEL-STONE: The fact that people are here just to further academics makes it a little bit less of a socially engaged campus then, say, some of the Ivies or some of the private elite universities that we've seen have - getting this publicity.

CARAPEZZA: Junior Naomi Bethune lives off campus and works as a swim instructor. She's invested in what's happening, but says it's hard to plan and execute protests.

NAOMI BETHUNE: ...Let alone encampments. That actually requires people who are, like, in the area in, like, a more consistent way, I think. And it's also a really massive university. Even now, like, during finals, it can be especially difficult to get a lot of people to kind of come together in solidarity.

CARAPEZZA: That doesn't mean that there's no notice of what's happening in Gaza. There have been teach-ins by some groups, like the University Students for Justice in Palestine chapter.

(APPLAUSE)

CARAPEZZA: About 50 people attended this teach-in, led by political science professor Leila Farsakh.

LEILA FARSAKH: Our students are trying to grapple with what's happening right now, why is this war taking place. And we're trying to explain that there's a history to this conflict, and people sometimes do not know it, and they just fix on snippets.

CARAPEZZA: One of the students attending is senior Nadeen El-Zeftawy, who's graduating in a few days. She says her classmates are paying attention.

NADEEN EL-ZEFTAWY: Maybe we're not camped out at the moment. We're still engaged with the encampment.

CARAPEZZA: The daughter of Egyptian immigrants, El-Zeftawy is Muslim. She lives off campus and works as a babysitter to help pay for college. She says she and her friends donate items to campus encampments elsewhere.

EL-ZEFTAWY: It's kind of a more sustainable way for us, like, students who are working but still really do care about it to stay involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF SILVERWARE CLATTERING)

CARAPEZZA: Over at the university's food court, Noah Siegel-Stone is grabbing a bite between his job and evening classes. A political science major, he supports a cease-fire, but he's critical of the tone of the teach-ins on campus, like one he attended on the history of antisemitism.

SIEGEL-STONE: And it felt like they were really downplaying the implications and the very real damage that it has done to Jewish students.

CARAPEZZA: Siegel-Stone says he believes university leaders aren't providing a real platform for open dialogue.

The administration just wants the problem to go away.

SIEGEL-STONE: Yeah. They are more focused on sweeping it under the rug than actually handling it and having a mature discourse about it.

CARAPEZZA: That's a charge university chancellor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco denies.

MARCELO SUAREZ-OROZCO: Freedom of speech is to be respected, especially for us in a public university. Our students have a moral compass. They want to learn. They're moved by what's unfolding.

CARAPEZZA: So far, while there have been some protests here, students haven't organized any encampments, and with graduation around the corner, many say they don't plan to. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kirk Carapezza
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