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SJP Protest interrupts Honors Day Convocation

Screenshot 2024-05-09 153040

Photo by Auguste Bernick//The Olaf Messenger 

Photo caption: SJP members protesting President Susan Rundell Singer’s Honors Day Convocation speech 

Updated on 05/09/2024


Members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chanted “divest or we’ll be back” at an April 30 rally after dropping off letters at President Susan Rundell Singer’s office — a promise they kept. During the Honors Day Convocation on May 3, a time to celebrate student academic success, SJP members stood up to protest at the start of Rundell Singer’s speech. 


Marching up to the front of Boe Memorial Chapel while chanting, they shouted various phrases such as “Admin, admin you can’t hide, you’re complicit in genocide” and “Not another nickel, not another dime.” After some time, a few audience members joined in the chanting, while a few left the ceremony. 


As the protestors walked out, Rundell Singer restarted her speech, but was drowned out by an SJP member shouting about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and saying that the protest would continue outside. As they left, some audience members stood up to clap for the protestors. Two professors, some of the several who were wearing keffiyehs, stood up at their spot on the stage behind Rundell Singer to clap and cheer. 


Before Rundell Singer continued with her speech, she acknowledged the protestors and said, “Thank you. St. Olaf College fully supports free expression, and now it is time to move forward and recognize our outstanding students.”


Though the convocation resumed as normal, the protestors could be heard from inside the chapel. On the steps of Boe Memorial Chapel, the protest continued and grew to around 85 participants as students walking by joined. 


“We want to deliver our voice. The email from President [Rundell] Singer and the CFO was shameful. It was away from reality,” an anonymous protestor said in an interview with The Olaf Messenger. “The CFO said we are only investing 0.5 percent [of the school’s endowment in Israeli companies], which translates to millions of dollars that goes to fund genocide in Israel, so we’re asking for divestment to make our voice loud and clear. There should be disruption. We cannot live our lives like this while there are people being killed and murdered with our money.” 


The student chose to remain anonymous due to concern over potential disciplinary action.


From inside Boe, Public Safety officers guarded the doors, not allowing those outside to come in and keeping the doors of Boe locked.  


“It’s shameful to see that St. Olaf is funding the genocide in Gaza,” the protestor said in a speech to the crowd of ralliers. “It’s shameful that it claims to be an inclusive and globally engaged community nourished by the Lutheran values, and while we are here to honor students of a hardworking community of scholars, no universities are left in Gaza. It’s shameful that St. Olaf continues to invest in Oracle.” 


Addressing the growing crowd, a member of SJP announced that the goal of the protest was to get the attention of administration and faculty, and to not target students and other guests.


At the end of the event, Public Safety directed audience members to leave via the Boe Chapel tunnel connecting to Buntrock Commons. When Rundell Singer, Provost Marci Sortor, and faculty left via the doors of Boe, they were met with the protestors’ chants. Immediately, Rundell Singer and Sortor were led back inside where they were directed to the Norway Room. 


The protest continued for another 20 minutes, and some professors stood with the crowd or nearby. 


In an interview with The Olaf Messenger, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Jake Grossman, who was present at the protest following the convocation, said, “I believe it is really important for students to practice the skills they need to be effective activists and changemakers. I want to support students who are doing that.”


On Monday, May 6, Rundell Singer sent an email to the campus community in regards to a meeting with a group of students discussing their concerns with the College’s involvement with the war in Gaza, stating, “It was helpful to hear each other’s perspectives and discuss ways to carefully consider moving forward.” 


Addressing students’ concerns with the College’s partnership with Oracle, she said that “[St. Olaf] does not implicitly or overtly endorse their political or social positions” and that Oracle is “the best service and support possible [that allows the College] to manage finances in a way that keeps costs to students down.” 


When addressing students’ freedom to protest and speech, Rundell Singer said that St. Olaf protects these rights, but disruption of college events and activities is “prohibited and will result in disciplinary consequences.” 


As Rundell Singer opens the door to dialogue with students in regards to the College’s future involvement and investment in pro-Israel companies, the question of whether or not St. Olaf will divest from Israel remains unanswered. 


Previously the article stated the names of the students, but due to concerns over potential disciplinary action, The Olaf Messenger has chosen to remove their names.

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