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Some tuition-paying parents are angry over crackdowns on student protestors

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Colleges nationwide are cracking down on student protests against the war in Gaza, even resorting to police intervention and threats of suspension. From GBH in Boston, Kirk Carapezza reports on another wave of dissenters - frustrated, tuition-paying parents.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Forty dozen people dead.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) And you're suspending us instead.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) And you're suspending us instead.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: Days after MIT threatened to suspend students participating in a three-week-old encampment here in Cambridge, protesters blocked the entrance to this garage, disrupting campus life. Then 12 hours later, in the middle of the night, police arrested 10 remaining activists here on this campus quad, clearing tents and signs, tables and chairs.

MARIA: The show of force at MIT's demolition of the student encampment was nothing short of disgusting.

CARAPEZZA: Maria is the mother of one of the protesters at MIT who kept her posted by text. She refuses to say what she fears could happen if she gave her full name. But she says the university went too far.

MARIA: These are our future intellectual leaders of this country. And yet when they speak out, the administration's response is to crush them into silence and to ruin their lives and to cost their families money. It's just not right.

CARAPEZZA: In a statement, MIT president, Sally Kornbluth, describes a very different scene. Kornbluth says the arrests were a last resort. Activists were given four separate warnings and points out none of them resisted arrest. Some of the parents of protesters across the country paying hefty tuition bills are disappointed by colleges' handling of largely peaceful protests. But other parents, like Leonid Fridman, the stepfather of an MIT junior, think the encampments should have been shut down sooner because he feels the anti-Zionist messages of the protesters had merged into antisemitism.

LEONID FRIDMAN: That becomes really not a protest against a government or a policy. It becomes a protest against aspirations of a whole people.

CARAPEZZA: Fridman says he worries about his stepdaughter's physical and mental safety on campus.

FRIDMAN: She and other fellow students feel that they can't just be students. They have no choice but to become activists. They were pulled into something that attacks them as people, and that's unsafe.

CARAPEZZA: The parents of pro-Palestinian protesters, though, say colleges are missing an educational opportunity to show patience and tolerance. And now, some of them are organizing themselves.

HALA AMER: It's extremely frustrating and very shocking.

CARAPEZZA: That's Hala Amer, the mother of a student who participated in a protest at George Washington University before police broke it up. She's leading a petition signed by more than 120 other parents demanding change at GW.

Your son wasn't suspended, and he wasn't arrested. But you still felt compelled to start this petition calling for the president and the provost to resign. Why?

AMER: Because I believe in the cause, Kirk, that children - and we are as well - are horrified to have our money invested in companies that are part of war crime. And we don't want to be complicit.

CARAPEZZA: Israel says it's doing all it can to spare civilians and blames Hamas for hiding among the civilian population. While the war rages on thousands of miles away, Amer and other protesters' parents say the college experience in the U.S. has become very transactional, too focused on grades and a degree. And they want administrators to create communities that value free speech and open debate. At Harvard, the encampment ended peacefully after administrators issued suspension notices. Visiting Professor Brian Rosenberg says academic sanctions often work because of parental pressure.

BRIAN ROSENBERG: I think so - grades, GPA and college credentials and parents who are not really happy about having paid tens of thousands of dollars for a semester of college that just went out the window.

CARAPEZZA: While these protests have captured media attention, the reality is that most students didn't participate. Surveys show most families are just worried about students graduating and getting jobs. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza in Cambridge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kirk Carapezza
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