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Lexington community members stand in solidarity with Gaza at rally on UK’s campus

Ala Hassan and Kareem Hassan hold Palestinian flags during a solidarity rally for Gaza on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, outside of the William T. Young Library at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

Pro-Palestine protestors gathered on Wednesday evening at a solidarity rally for Gaza outside the William T. Young Library at the University of Kentucky.

The crowd of over 300 people included students, alumni and community members.

According to Aljazeera, the retaliation efforts from Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack has resulted in the loss of over 35,000 Palestinian lives. The crowd was protesting these acts of violence.

“We are a coalition of UK undergraduates, graduates, alumni and community members who are coming together because we believe in a common cause for Palestine and we’re wanting to see UK and our greater community do something,” the coalition’s media liaison Ben Bandy said.

Before the rally began, Dean of Students at the University of Kentucky Trisha Clement-Montgomery handed out cards from the university that said, “As a public university, we must uphold free speech rights — no matter the perspective — while ensuring safety.” 

Also listed on the card were regulations demonstrations must follow on campus. 

Senior Transylvania University student Jenna Shalash chants during a solidarity rally for Gaza on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, outside of the William T. Young Library at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

The cards read, “Demonstrations may not:

  • Disrupt classes or use amplified sound
  • Block building entrances
  • Include threats, violence or incite unlawful activity
  • Involve prohibited items (found in AR 9:1)

UK sophomore Asha said that it’s a shame that these cards are telling them “Don’t make your disruption disruptive.” Asha declined to give their last name out of concern for their safety.

There were many organizations present at the protest, including Operation Olive Branch which is a decentralized initiative that provides aid to refugees in Gaza, according to Zem, an activist with the group. The initiative started as a spreadsheet to vet GoFundMe campaigns and grew to include 100 volunteers working to provide various forms of assistance to families in Gaza. 

At the beginning of the rally, Kareem Hassan with local civic group Lex4Palestine told the crowd on a megaphone that the media liaison can be found wearing a black ribbon on their arm. The green ribbon signified the police liaison and the red ribbon signified the head of medical. 

“Our goal is to uphold our academic oath of preserving humanity and knowledge. We are here not just in solidarity for our Palestinian brothers and sisters but we are all in solidarity with our other universities and our other academic peers showing that we will stand up with them when things get tough,” Kareem Hassan said during the opening remarks. 

Two faculty members who asked to remain anonymous shared why they were present at the rally. 

“I am here because I want to be supporting Palestinian activists, student activists, and this is not only an issue that is happening far away. We have seen around the country how encampments and peaceful student and faculty protesters get violently arrested, shoved and wrestled to the ground and now that UK students are doing this, I think it is partly as my job as a faculty member to also show up and stand beside them,” one faculty member said.

Another faculty member said that they think it’s important for the campus community to remember that this is a university and that academic freedom is essential. 

“I think as faculty, we have a responsibility to our students to ensure that they can engage in the civic process peacefully in a way that ensures their safety and their ability to engage in an intellectual and civic exercise,” another faculty member said. 

UK senior and Muslim Student Association President Iman Hassan spoke at the rally and referenced her opinion piece that the Kernel published in April.

UK senior Iman Hassan during a solidarity rally for Gaza on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, outside of the William T. Young Library at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

Iman Hassan said that UK must take urgent action to address the safety and belonging concerns of Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students. She emphasized the need for tangible action, including acknowledging past wrongs, engaging in face-to-face conversations and taking decisive action to ensure the safety and belonging of all members of the community.

“While proactive measures were missed, it is not too late to react, to listen and to take decisive action for the future of our university. If you’re wondering why we are here today, we are here to demand your immediate attention,” Iman Hassan said. 

UK senior Alyssa Rigney and member of the UKY Coalition for Palestine spoke at the rally and read a list of demands that they have for the university.

The demands Rigney read are as follows: 

  1. We demand that the University of Kentucky disclose and divest its financial investments and ties to Israel and to US corporations complicit in the genocide of Palestinians. 
  2. We call for the University of Kentucky to cease all collaboration with and boycott Israeli academic institutions — who are deeply embedded in Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation — in line with the guidelines outlined by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. 
  3. We condemn the university’s collaboration with Kentucky state and Lexington police, and we demand that they be banned from our campus to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.
  4. We demand that the University of Kentucky honor its academic oath and take concrete actions to support the rights of Palestinian students and professors, starting with the condemnation of Israeli scholasticide in Palestine, which has included the destruction of every university in Gaza and the targeted killing of students and academics.
  5. We demand that the University of Kentucky ensure all students’ right to academic freedom and peaceful demonstration and oppose discriminatory disciplinary and surveillance practices, especially those that target students on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.
  6. We demand that President Capilouto make a statement regarding the ongoing US-backed Israeli genocide happening in Gaza and show support for the Palestinian community on campus.
  7. We demand open and transparent communication regarding the actions taken to address our demands, including face-to-face conversations, as current students, alumni, and members of the community.

The last speaker, Ala Hassan, shared closing remarks before opening the space for prayer.

“We have seen what our government is doing. We have seen the complacency … we say no more. We are the voice of America, we are the voice for Palestine … and we will never be silenced again,” Ala Hassan said. “We are not going away.”

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  • C

    Case QuarterMay 10, 2024 at 2:32 am

    The demands made are ones that are not within the purvue of the University. Take your concerns to the Federal Government.

  • D

    Dana Pico, Class of '77May 2, 2024 at 1:01 pm

    I believe that the protesters supporting the Palestinians and Hamas are wholly wrong, and I support Israel completely. But freedom of speech and the right of peaceable assembly were apparently honored in this rally, and I also support their right to say what they wish.