Tufts students pass referendum demanding university end the deadly exchange

Editor’s Note: The following press release was issued on December 19, 2020 by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine. Mondoweiss occasionally publishes press releases and statements from organizations in an effort to draw attention to overlooked issues.

Somerville, MA (December 19, 2020) — In a student-wide referendum on November 24th, 2020 led by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Tufts student body voted overwhelmingly to End the Deadly Exchange at Tufts. The ‘Deadly Exchange’ refers to US Police Departments’ participation in trips taken to Israel in which high ranking officials train with the Israeli military, police, and security forces to exchange ‘worst practices.’

Tufts SJP was the first student group to adopt this national campaign led by Jewish Voice for Peace on a college campus. The campaign began after a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Tufts former police chief, Kevin Maguire, went on a “counter-terrorism” training trip to Israel. The trip’s itinerary is publicly available and includes visits to sites of documented human rights abuses and systemic racial profiling, and is emblematic of a wider pattern of militarization and racialized policing of TUPD, as documented in a 2017 article in the Tufts Observer. As they await the University’s response to their referendum, Students for Justice in Palestine hopes that the success of their campaign will energize more students in universities across the country to take up this campaign.

The language of the referendum voted on by students read: “Do you support Tufts University administration 1) apologizing for sending the former Tufts police chief to an intensive week-long course led by senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israeli Defense Force, 2) prohibiting TUPD officers from attending programs based on military strategies and/or similar international trips in the future, and 3) refining the vetting process to prevent prior program attendees from being hired, not including veterans who may have been stationed or trained abroad during their service?”

Over the course of the last year, Tufts SJP has built a broad coalition of more than 40 student groups that are all committed to ending the Deadly Exchange and building safety through solidarity on their campus. This coalition includes: Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine, Action for Sexual Assault Prevention, Alt-J (Alternative Jews) at Tufts, Association of Multi-Racial People at Tufts, Black Student Union, BlackOut Step Team, Cape Verdean Students Association, Caribbean Students Organization, Comic Relief, ENVY Tufts All Female Step Team, Eritrean and Ethiopian Students Association, Filipinx Student Union, First Gen Collective, Jewish Voice for Peace at Tufts, Left Unity Project, Lord Bard Players, Melisma, Muslim Student Association, Pan-Afrikan Alliance, Society of Latinx Engineers and Scientists, South Asian Political Action Community, Sunrise Tufts, The Ladies of Essence, Tufts Association of Latin American Students, Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment, Tufts Asian Student Coalition, Tufts Association of South Asians, Tufts Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha, Tufts Climate Action, Tufts Cores, Tufts Cricket Club, Tufts Encendido, Tufts Labor Coalition, Tufts Middle Eastern Dance, Tufts Pulse Leadership, Tufts Student Coalition for Anti-Racism, Tufts S-Factor, Tufts Thai Students Association, and United for Immigrant Justice.

Each of these student groups has united through the common interest in a safer, demilitarized campus. Additionally, this campaign opened a conversation connecting struggles for justice in the US to those in Palestine. This is especially powerful because of the way that Palestine is often avoided in academic spaces because it is considered too controversial. 

Despite opposition from rightwing groups the End the Deadly Exchange Coalition managed to mobilize a diverse cross section of the student body to pass their referendum. 

The University has yet to respond to students’ demands to listen to their voices as represented by this vote and to offer more protection for student activists facing attacks from outside agitators.

“As TUPD becomes more militarized, the safety of students – and especially students of color – becomes more endangered. On these trips, officers can internalize racist rhetoric that could allow them to subconsciously view BIPOC students as threats. This creates a dangerous environment for students, emphasizing why we need to prevent any more militarization trips from happening and have an apology for the trip that already occurred.” –Julia Asfour A21, member of Tufts SJP

In reference to their collaboration with a student group on campus called Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment (TREE) on their referendum which also passed calling on Tufts to divest its endowment from corporations that profit off of private prisons, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine commented, “Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine recognizes that our struggles against military occupation and police violence are directly tied to struggles against mass incarceration and criminalization. At the core of both of our campaigns is the demand to reimagine what safety looks like without the presence of harm-producing institutions that dehumanize so many individuals, especially Black, Indigenous, people of color from the US to Palestine.”

Tufts SJP urges the University to listen to student voices and follow through on their promise of providing a safe campus for all. 

#EndTheDeadlyExchange #Deadly Exchange #DeadlyExchangeTufts #SafetyThroughSolidarity

More quotes:

“As a queer and trans individual, the militarization of TUPD scares me for the queer community at Tufts, especially BIPOC queer and trans folks. Historically, police violence and incarceration have impacted our community disproportionately and TUPD’s participation in trainings with a foreign military and Tufts’ investments in corporations that profit off of prisons only put us at greater risk of violence.” –Anthony A23, member of Tufts SJP

“The Tufts administration cannot militarize their police under the guise of counterterrorism. One of the main objectives of our referendum is to hold Tufts accountable for compromising the safety of its students, especially POC students, by sending the TUPD chief to Israel on a military training trip.” –Julia A21, member of Tufts SJP

“By prohibiting TUPD officers from attending programs based on military strategies and/or similar trips in the future, and ensuring it isn’t hiring participants of such trips,  the Tufts administration can begin to take actual steps to end its its complacency in regards to racist and discriminatory policing tactics and listen to and respect BIPOC voices on this campus.”  –Julia A21, member of Tufts SJP

“We believe that this referendum has the potential to lead to institutional change, which is pivotal in protecting the safety of all students on this campus. The past six months have shown us exactly how dangerous militarized policing is, and we believe that Tufts campus should be a space of safety for all of its students.  A referendum is the most effective avenue to achieve change as it is a reflection of the collective beliefs of the Tufts student body.”  –Julia A21, member of Tufts SJP

“State-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people is a global system of oppression, and its many forms—from police brutality, to surveillance, to incarceration rates— manifest from Tufts to Palestine. This campaign and coalition has allowed us to build student power against these forces of oppression.”  –Leila A22, member of Tufts SJP
“With this campaign and coalition we are bringing together a community of Black, Brown, queer, trans, Palestinian, Jewish and other students who are invested in fighting for each other’s safety and know that it will never come from increasing the power of the U.S. and Isreali police and military.”  –Lex A22, member of Tufts SJP

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