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Statement on Campus Arrests

Dear Emersonians:

As we begin a new week, I wanted to share some reflections on the past few days and where we are today as a campus community.

In my relatively short time at Emerson, I have come to deeply value our community’s strong and passionate views, even when they are sometimes hard to hear. I respect and support how our students, faculty, and staff embody those values in their actions. It takes immense bravery to speak out and act in support of a cause. As an institution, the College may not take positions on global conflicts, but our overarching goal is for Emerson to be unyielding in our support for our students’ education and their ability to find and express their voices.

Last week, 118 protesters were arrested in Boylston Place Alley, where an encampment was established, like at many other campuses across the nation, to draw attention to the tragic loss of life of Palestinians in Gaza. As a community, whatever our position on the conflict, we should respect their right to raise their collective voices while also acknowledging the disruptions created by their encampment occupying a public right-of-way.

Because we are committed to our students’ right to protest, Emerson made every possible effort to avoid confrontation between the police and the protesters at the encampment. Prior to the law enforcement action, the College advocated with the City and Boston Police Department for several days to delay the removal of the encampment. When it became clear the City intended to clear the tents from the alley, we actively encouraged the protestors to remove them to prevent arrest. We also strongly and directly advocated for the police to peacefully remove tents without making arrests.   

We know that the events of that night were, and are, emotionally overwhelming for our entire community, especially for the students present at the protest and the staff and faculty who were on site to provide support. Emerson has continued to be supportive in multiple ways – sending staff to all the precincts and posting bail for arrested students, canceling and modifying classes so our community could process what had occurred, and providing additional care and support for our community to heal. 

The College will not bring any campus disciplinary charges against the protestors and will encourage the district attorney not to pursue charges related to encampment violations. We will also provide housing support to students required to stay in town for court appearances following the closing of their dorms. 

But these are only initial steps toward healing and growth.     

As leaders of Emerson College, we are responsible for creating a safe environment for our entire community. This responsibility includes physical and emotional safety and assuring that our public and private spaces are free from harassment or intimidation, including Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Emersonians from all backgrounds and beliefs must always feel welcome and safe at our College, and we must all share the responsibility of enforcing this core value without exception or excuse. 

The College has done its best to keep all community members safe every day during these challenging times, but we recognize that we must do more. Our leadership team is committed to redoubling our efforts, engaging and respecting all voices across our community, and actively listening and learning how to move forward together. 

Though we are nearing the end of the academic year, our commitments to free expression, safety, and an inclusive community will remain top priorities for our leadership team far beyond this semester. We ask you to join us now and in the future to learn from the events of recent days and weeks to help us build the safe, passionate, and unified community that we all desire and deserve.

Jay Bernhardt

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