The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

Opinion | Pitt taught me to stand up against injustice, then sent police to beat my classmates

A+protester+records+an+interaction+between+police+and+protesters+at+the+Palestine+Solidarity+Encampment+on+Sunday+night.%0A
Bhaskar Chakrabarti | Staff Photographer
A protester records an interaction between police and protesters at the Palestine Solidarity Encampment on Sunday night.

Here is a list of things I’ve learned in my three years at Pitt.

1. During my first-year orientation, I was told the Pitt Police and University officials are here to protect and support me. I was told to add the police phone number to my contacts.

2. In the first-year course “Anti-Black Racism: History, Ideology, and Resistance,” I was told via the Canvas site that “Various institutions, including universities, have sought to address anti-Black racism and inequities within their own organizations. The University of Pittsburgh has chosen to use this course to bring awareness and develop knowledge around anti-Black racism for its students.” I was offered further reading on how to be anti-racist, about the history of colonialism and about how, as Keisha N. Blain writes in one of the articles linked in the course, “The Fight Against Racism Has Always Been Global.” 

3. I learned in introductory and intermediate nonfiction that every choice made when reporting a story matters. Words matter, context matters, what we choose to cover and not cover matters.

Chancellor Joan Gabel’s June 5 email characterized what appeared to be plywood as having, vividly, “what appeared to be the intent to ignite.” This is lovely prose that I encourage her to bookmark for a novel about a secret plot to overthrow a government. Speculation does not belong in an email from a university administrator to concerned affiliates — most of whom, at the time, had no other information about the situation.

The email stated that antisemitic graffiti was sprayed on the Frick Fine Arts building. The only photo that I saw circulating online shows graffiti that reads “Free Gaza,” and some students report that other graffiti read “Cops beat students” — as indeed they did — and “F— Israel.” While some find the last disturbing, calling it antisemitic falls into the weary trap of conflating criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism. Doing so worsens, rather than addresses, antisemitism. It also obscures the presumed point of the graffiti if it was indeed sprayed by someone protesting a state committing incredible violence against civilians. 

When asked to comment, a University spokesperson said, “For some, the graffiti sprayed on the Frick Fine Arts building might not meet the definition of antisemitism. For others, the graffiti was in proximity to other vandalism that included a weapon thrown through a building window, as well as concurrent demands for the cessation of Jewish student organizations and calls to end certain international definitions of antisemitism, which all created a context and the resulting description.”

Gabel is not a journalist, but her words arrive in every Pitt associate’s inbox, and she has an ethical responsibility to provide accurate and complete updates on happenings at the University. 

4. I learned from a lawyer in “Constitution and Civil Liberties” that students’ rights to free expression do not disappear when they step into class. Public universities, in particular, are taken to be forums of intense exchange and debate. Suppression of political speech receives the highest level of scrutiny at the legal level. But free speech is not just a legal protection — it’s a cultural value that we must protect.

Some of the most iconic nonviolent protests in history involved disrupting private property — lunch counters, the site of the Boston Tea Party, and yes, university halls. Defending free speech is not just for pleasant, scheduled, quiet picket protests on sidewalks. Attempts to characterize it this way, from the right and left alike, are dangerous. Almost all the protests we’ve seen at Pitt and around the country — of students attempting to engage in peaceful, earnest political protest on their own campuses — are in the exact spirit of free expression, yet they’re being characterized as inherently violent, antisemitic, dangerous and full of external interlopers. This portrayal then gets used to justify brutal violence.

The chancellor’s email closed by rather hollowly reiterating the University’s “commitment to free expression and critical inquiry.” It claimed that the protests “are attempts to destroy property at the historical core of our campus, as well as accompanying action that in no way elevates open inquiry or allows for peaceful advocacy.” Yet the University has shown perfunctory interest in open inquiry, demonstrated by its refusal to engage with the intent to seriously consider divestment and its deafening silence on the suffering of Palestine, even when it immediately condemned the events of Oct. 7. Seeing through the attempt to portray these political protests as a wanton desire to destroy property is comically easy.

When asked to comment, a University spokesperson said, “We are committed to free speech and civil discourse and how all this makes our students feel. We routinely meet with students on a variety of topics and issues including a recent discussion regarding the University’s investments. We do so within appropriate time, place and manner policies that exist to keep our community safe. Any suggestion that members of this administration have refused to meet and engage with students is completely false.”

5. From my “Rights and Human Rights” course, PHIL 1400, I learned that during the genocide in Rwanda, the U.S. and other nations consistently refused to use the “g-word” because it would oblige them to act under the genocide convention. 

I learned that the US and other nations, to quote from a handout by my professor summarizing the 2002 Pulitzer-winning book “’A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide” by Harvard professor Samantha Power, “tend to downplay the violence and claim that first-hand reports are exaggerated due to trauma. It is now clear from repeated cases that sustained first-hand claims of genocide are reliable and accurate.” History has shown that the genocide convention is usually invoked only after genocide occurs, at which point the perpetrators are “held accountable” and the world congratulates itself on its morality. 

I learned that the definition of genocide includes the murder with intent to destroy in whole or in part of a group and that Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer who created and advocated for the adoption of the term after World War II to an unwilling UN, believed that a group did not have to be physically eliminated to experience genocide.

He argued that the eight components of genocide were “the disintegration of political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.”

I learned, while writing my final paper, that in 1985, Israel began paving a parking lot over the Maman Allah Cemetery, where companions of the Prophet Muhammad and thousands of Islamic scholars were buried. 95% of its graves were exhumed to build the parking lot and — not satire — the Museum of Tolerance, yet to be completed. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the completed museum will address “hate, human dignity and responsibility, and promoting unity and respect among Jews and people of all faiths.”

What more can be said? My heart smarts at those professors and classmates who were incredulous in class that history allowed incredible violence and hatred again and again but who now speak about Palestine in hushed tones or not at all. 

Monday’s University response makes me ashamed to be associated with Pitt, as does its silence on Gaza all these months. This university is willing to chill student free expression and shell out thousands of dollars toward a violent police force that beats its own students bloody seemingly in the name of protecting the Cathedral grass from bald spots. Yet it will not say “Palestine.” It’s simpler to maintain a facade of academic neutrality as thousands of children near death by starvation and their parents and siblings lose their limbs and lives.

Why is it so incredible to believe that students feel deep empathy for people being murdered and living under occupation and seek actual redress? Why is it controversial that no university should have any investments in any entities remotely connected to any military? Why is it not standard policy for public universities to make their endowment portfolios public?

I urge Pitt administrators to have the courage to join the ranks of universities turning toward Palestinian liberation. Pitt, your education has taught me again and again that the world shouldn’t be this way. Palestine will be free, and unwillingness to be part of that process will forever be an example taught in your classrooms of complicity. Go sit in on your own lessons.

Livia Daggett is a senior majoring in English writing and politics-philosophy. You can write to her at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Livia Daggett, Assistant Copy Chief
Livia Daggett is a junior double majoring in politics-philosophy and nonfiction writing. She loves that this is the only job where you get paid exclusively for nitpicking. You can find her petting other people’s cats and agonizing over whether to go to law school. Email her at  with places to get a yummy meal in Pittsburgh for less than $10 or complaints in solidarity about the AP policy on Oxford commas—one day, we’ll all wear them down together.