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Israel

Gaza Protests at Colleges Open a Generational Divide

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: WSJ:
November 28, 2023 at 08:48
tudents at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst protested outside of the chancellor’s office last month. JESSICA RINALDI/THE BOSTON GLOBE/GETTY IMAGES
tudents at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst protested outside of the chancellor’s office last month. JESSICA RINALDI/THE BOSTON GLOBE/GETTY IMAGES

Young activists often see the world as split between the oppressed and their oppressors—and their views are markedly different than those of older Americans.

Three years ago, Erin Mullen arrived at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst exhausted by the pandemic and without any appetite for political demonstrations. Last month she sat in a holding cell in an Amherst jail with her hands cuffed behind her back, one of 57 students arrested while protesting the conflict in Gaza.

Mullen is white, her parents were raised Catholic and she grew up in an upper middle class Boston suburb. Her political awakening—along with those of tens of thousands of her generation now enrolled at college—is fueling a surge of campus unrest not seen since the Vietnam War.  

A wave of pro-Palestinian protests have swept college campuses, leading to heightened tensions, counterprotests and, in some cases, violence. The conflict has also exposed a generational divide, with many older Americans surprised at the protests’ scope and intensity. 

Mullen and other pro-Palestinian college demonstrators say their activism is rooted in a deeply held conviction that the world is divided between the oppressed and their oppressors. 

That view frames the suffering of an array of populations, they say, including low-income families being evicted from their homes, Black and brown people who encounter brutal treatment by the police, migrants turned away from safe haven at the border and, in the current conflict, Palestinians struggling to wrest control of territory from the Israelis. 

“Gaza is not a two-sided war,” said Mullen, who is 21. “What is happening is the resistance of the oppressed against their oppressor.”

The protesters’ sympathy for Hamas, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group, sometimes astonishes and rankles bystanders. Roughly half of Americans 18 to 24 years old think Hamas’s October attack was justified by grievances of the Palestinians, according to a Harvard Harris Poll. Just 9% of people aged 65 and older feel the same. 

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