Sit-in nears three-week mark

Saller and Martinez yet to address demands

Nov. 9, 2023, 2:31 a.m.

Alisha Magalhães Service ’26 never imagined she would forgo the comfort of her dorm room for a sleeping bag in White Plaza. But for the past two weeks, she’s done just that.

Service still attends some of her classes, leaving the sit-in when they roll around. In the evenings, she showers at the clubhouse after rugby practice and picks up clothes from home before returning to the sit-in. With winter fast approaching, she climbs into a thick sleeping bag with extra blankets before doing it all again the next day. 

Service’s dad supports her participation, though her mom is scared for her safety. But Service says she’ll stay outside until the group’s demands are met.

“I wanted to fill a supportive role,” she said. To her, it’s worth it “if substituting in offers some people a reprieve, because they shouldn’t have to justify their humanity to others.”

Service is just one of around 20 students who have joined what they call the “Sit-In to Stop Genocide,” an effort to put pressure on Stanford administration to provide resources to Palestinian students and divest from Israel, among other demands. 

The sit-in started after Israel escalated its bombing campaign against Gaza in response to a surprise assault on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed 1,400 Israeli civilians and took over 240 hostages.

Israeli launched airstrikes and a ground invasion that has killed over 10,000 Palestinians — including more than 3,600 children — as of Wednesday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, based on sources in Hamas-controlled Gaza. A group of U.N. special rapporteurs on human rights called for a cease-fire last week and raised concerns that the Palestinian people are at “grave risk of genocide.”

The protest has drawn students from a range of backgrounds who have varying levels of commitment. Some had already attended demonstrations on campus. Others joined after hearing about the sit-in from friends or email lists. Some like Service sleep there each night while others only stay during the day, rotating so students can keep up with classes and return to their dorms for showers.

Prior to the sit-in, Service had not been a member of any pro-Palestine groups on campus. But when a friend texted her that there was a tent up for a sit-in in White Plaza, she wanted to show her support. She said the fight against occupation is deeply personal to her, as a student of Angolan descent.

As of Wednesday, the sit-in has reached its 19-day mark, making it the longest sit-in at Stanford since the month-long sit-in during the mid-1980s “Out of South Africa” protests. 

Sit-in nears three-week mark
The front of the sit-in is cluttered with signs from various communities calling for Free Palestine. (Photo: SARAH RAZA/The Stanford Daily)

Draper Dayton ’25, a sit-in participant, said President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez met with Palestinian students on Monday but did not meet specifically with members of the sit-in or discuss demands.

Though the group has differing ideas for when the protest should end, the sit-in founder said they would be open to discussing the end of the sit-in if they could meet with Saller and Martinez, or if Stanford provided resources specific to Palestinian students. Participants characterized this as their most achievable demand. The University did not respond to questions on how they foresaw the sit-in ending. 

The University has been tight-lipped about whether they are considering the demands of the sit-in participants. They face pressure from students, alumni and donors of myriad perspectives.

How it began

The sit-in began as the idea of one student, who over his time at Stanford had seen a number of protests that failed to result in University action.

“I thought the shock factor of having tents up in White Plaza would send a strong signal that this is a cause many people deeply care about,” said the master’s student who founded the sit-in, and who requested anonymity due to threats to his physical safety.

He bought a couple tents from Walmart, one for himself and another for anyone who might decide to join. After he publicly announced plans for the sit-in at the Oct. 20 rally, several people joined, none of whom he previously knew. 

They stayed up until 5 a.m. that night, sharing the reasons that brought them together. Supporters lent tents to the sit-in, and students living on the Row donated unused mattresses and tarps.

On a makeshift cardboard sign, participants outlined four demands for the Stanford administration: condemn Israeli war crimes, provide resources to Palestinian and diaspora students, create an investigative committee to correct research projects contributing to the subjugation of Palestinians and commit to the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement against Israel. 

“What we’re asking for is not too much,” said Dayton, a Jewish student who joined the sit-in the first night. “In fact, it might be too little.”

Calls to divest from Israel have been made at Stanford in the past, but without much result: In 2015, the Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution to divest from companies complicit in human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine.

Martinez first met with members of the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community to address safety concerns raised by students the week after the Hamas attack. Farah Tantawy ’26, a sit-in participant, said it does not feel like there has been much progress since. 

University spokesperson Dee Mostofi wrote that the “president and provost have been talking with multiple groups in our community to hear their needs and concerns.”

The day to day

The sprawling encampment has grown to half a dozen tents, with blankets laid on the ground to provide other sleeping arrangements at night. A front-facing table carries stacks of Palestinian literature and flyers for passersby to take. Inside, tables double as dining spaces and study areas. Nearly 60 students have become involved with the sit-in in some capacity, even if they don’t spend the night.

Sit-in nears three-week mark
Students at the sit-in sleep in one of half a dozen tents, some of which were donated to the sit-in by supporters. Food is supplied by supporters and students living in co-ops on the Row. (Photo: SARAH RAZA/The Stanford Daily)

Supporters, co-ops and farmers market vendors donate leftover food. Movies about the Palestinian cause are projected onto a draped white sheet. Personal devices, a space heater and a mini-fridge are powered by a web of power strips.

The atmosphere at the sit-in is not unlike any other student space on campus: they work on essays and p-sets, and Service and the others debate what makes mango sticky rice sticky. 

Despite the positive atmosphere, it’s difficult for participants to forget the gravity of the situation that brought them together. Students who sleep at the sit-in say they’re sleep-deprived, and some find it difficult to keep up with coursework amid rising tensions, both on campus and abroad.

While sit-in participants sat around the inner table on a sunny afternoon, a student interrupted a conversation to deliver news from the war.

“More airstrikes just hit Gaza,” she said, referencing a retaliatory attack by Israel on Oct. 27 

A somber silence settled over the group, but the morale lifted once again. In heavy moments, they support each other with hugs or offers of food — Service famously shares slices of her daily mandarin oranges. 

Students said that the worsening crisis can make them feel helpless. But they focus their cause on Stanford — despite cold nights, criticism from passersby and University pressure to end the overnight portion of the sit-in, they still feel hope.

For Aidan Delgass ’25, the sit-in offered a space to be in community with other anti-Zionist Jews.

“We just all come from this common ground that we don’t want the genocide to continue,” Delgass said. He’s been at the sit-in daily since the second day. 

Delgass said the sit-in encourages diverse viewpoints and doesn’t propose a singular solution to the Israel-Palestine question, which prevents ideological divisions that typically pose a challenge for advocacy groups.

Interacting with campus

The protestors aim to hold productive conversations with both each other and the dozens of community members who come by each day, though not all passersby have similar intentions: Some view the pro-Palestine sit-in as a distraction from the Oct. 7 atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Others take issue with language like “from the river to the sea,” a long-held Palestinian call for liberation that some characterize as antisemitic.

A rotating group of students answer questions at the public-facing table from well-intentioned, curious passersby. The students try not to engage with those who they feel come in bad faith or want to argue.

Sit-in nears three-week mark
Handouts and literature on the sit-in’s table for passersby to take on Friday, Oct. 27. (Photo: SARAH RAZA/The Stanford Daily)

Elai Ben-Gal ’27, an Israeli student, stopped by the sit-in multiple times. But the first time he had a real conversation was on Oct. 27. Ben-Gal and a Palestinian student spoke for over an hour. Though neither changed their stances, they agreed on three points: the loss of civilian life is morally reprehensible, a two-state solution could offer a path to peace and terrorism is wrong.

A student worked on her foreign language exercises at the front-facing table amid the debate between Ben-Gal and the Palestinian student above her, a common scene as sit-in participants try to keep up with coursework. 

Although discussions of the Israel-Gaza conflict are frequently heated, some passersby are especially vitriolic: A video reviewed by The Daily showed a woman yelling at students at the sit-in for several minutes. She asked them to condemn Hamas and to explain how it was possible for there to be a genocide if “two million Palestinians are still living in Gaza.” When students asked her to speak respectfully and abide by their norms, she responded with “I don’t care about your fucking rules.”

Demonstrators said the threat of recording, and possible doxxing, is emotionally taxing. 

“Y’all — that man is recording us,” one participant, who declined to participate in an interview, murmured quietly to others as she pointed out someone standing several yards away with a phone aimed at the group. The students donned face masks and pulled up their hoods to hide their faces, lest a video appears online and leaks their identities. 

Meetings with administration

In a meeting last week with the student organizers, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Dean of Students Mona Hicks asked the sit-in to end the overnight encampments due to student safety concerns. 

The sit-in founder said administrators warned them that if they did not vacate by Democracy Day, they would face disciplinary action, though the action was not specified.

Sit-in participants feared that disciplinary action could have severe consequences, particularly for international students studying on a visa. Brubaker-Cole and Hicks have since retracted their request and there are “no plans for disciplinary action for the sit-in at White Plaza,” Mostofi wrote.

On Friday, the sit-in sent a mass email asking students to defend them to the University administration. Later that day, the administration withdrew the request for students to vacate, which was “communicated to one of the student organizers on Friday,” Mostofi wrote.

“The vice provost and dean offered to work with the students on ways in which they can continue to be present in White Plaza and to express their views during daylight hours without camping,” Mostofi wrote. 

Tantawy said that other administrators explicitly said Saller and Martinez would not meet with them and hear their demands until the sit-in ends. 

“I felt like there was a moment when we were finally getting through, especially on demand number two,” to provide resources for Palestinian students, Tantawy said. “But after the recent uptick [of hate crime reports], it doesn’t feel like there’s been any change. Campus is fundamentally the same.” 

Saller and Martinez met with Palestinian students on Monday, but not specifically about the sit-in, Tantawy said. The University did not respond to questions on whether Saller and Martinez intended to meet with sit-in participants or organizers.

Until a meeting is granted, sit-in protestors are prepared to stay out in White Plaza “as long as it takes” for the University administration to budge on their stance. After two weeks, Service feels disillusioned by campus climate, but she said she will continue sleeping outside so long as it is productive for their cause and for Palestinian students.

“I believe Stanford as an institution has the means to change, but it needs to be willing to do so,” she said. “The sit-in will help them move in the proper direction.”

A previous version of this article misattributed a quote. The Daily regrets this error.

Sarah Raza '23 M.A. '24 is a Vol. 264 News Managing Editor. During Vol. 263, she was a Desk Editor for the University Desk. She hails from Michigan. Contact Sarah at sraza 'at'

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