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More than 100 Harvard Law School affiliates gathered in a crowded Caspersen Student Center lounge Thursday afternoon for a silent vigil to mourn Palestinians killed in the Israel-Hamas war. After the vigil, they rallied outside Wasserstein Hall in support of Palestine and against alleged suppression of free speech on campus.
The demonstrations were part of a “Day of Action” by Law Students for a Free Palestine, a newly formed national group of law students from more than 30 schools. The group also held events at several other law schools, including the University of Virginia, the University of Southern California, and New York University.
At the time of the event, access to Caspersen Student Center and Wasserstein Hall was restricted to only Law School affiliates. In addition to usual Harvard ID scanners, Harvard University Police Department officers and Securitas guards were stationed in and around the building.
The demonstrations came just one day after students phone banking for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza were told by administrators to leave the very same lounge — sparking free speech concerns from students.
As a result, organizers from Law Students for Palestine expressed concerns that the school would “crack down” on the vigil. But Corinne Shanahan, a law student in attendance, said HLS Dean of Students Stephen L. Ball agreed at the event that they were not violating school policy.
HLS spokesperson Jeff Neal did not comment on whether the events today violated the school’s rules.
Affiliates participating in the vigil remained in silence for 11 minutes while they covered their mouths with black tape. At the end, they took the tape off — which attendees said symbolized that they could not be silenced — as they proceeded to rally outside Wasserstein Hall.
During the rally, a series of speakers condemned violence against Palestinians in Gaza as well as what they referred to as a lack of free speech on these issues. There were also approximately a dozen counterprotesters in attendance who held up signs with pictures of Israeli hostages who were taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 invasion.
Both demonstrations were peaceful and did not engage with each other.
One pro-Palestine student speaker alleged that free speech rights on the topic of Palestine were being suppressed.
“Our universities and workplaces work overtime to silence the slogans, protests, and voices uniting to stop this genocide,” they said.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on criticisms of Harvard’s administration. Neal, the HLS spokesperson, similarly did not comment on these criticisms.
Another speaker at the rally — who spoke on behalf of the rank-and-file members of the Harvard Graduate Student Union who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement — said those in attendance are currently witnessing a “moral failure of the mainstream media and University administration.”
“We’re here to call out the moral rot as evidenced by their refusal to speak out and stand up against genocide,” they added.
Last week, HGSU-UAW voted to adopt national union statements endorsing the BDS movement — which calls for a boycott of Israeli businesses and an end to international support for Israel in protest of the country’s treatment of Palestinians — and calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
After the rally, dozens of attendees marched to Harvard Yard, where students affiliated with Harvard Jews for Palestine — an unrecognized College student group advocating for a ceasefire — were occupying University Hall. The HLS affiliates carried a banner listing the names of Palestinians who have died as a result of the conflict.
Israa M. Alzamli, a law student who helped organize Law Students for a Free Palestine, said the “Day of Action” across various law schools and the group’s formation were motivated by a desire to “have one strong, unified voice and show each other support during this crazy McCarthyism that’s happening for anyone who’s speaking about Palestine.”
“People want to speak. People want to be public,” she said. “And people aren’t afraid, and they’re not going to be silenced, and so I think that was really why and how the group came together so fast.”
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