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One student protestor has been barred pending discplinary hearing

Next to the bus stop at the center of campus, on a concrete slab in front of the recently erected Las Positas College marquee, a young woman basked in midday sun and drew watermelons with chalk. 

It wasn’t about fruit.

It was a show of solidarity. A call to action. A plea to end genocide. Watermelons have become synonymous with support for Palestine, as the fruit’s colors resemble the nation’s, and its image has proven to skirt attempts to censor messages featuring the Palestinian flag.

Three days out from Summer vacation, a group of twelve Las Positas students, alumni, and community members gathered on campus Tuesday, May 21, to protest Israel’s military campaign in Palestine and LPC’s alleged involvement in it. 

Protesters met in an open space adjacent to building 1600 shortly after noon. They came donning face masks and keffiyehs — a traditional Palestinian headdress. They held signs reading “LPC, Let Gaza Live,” “LPC DIVEST NOW,” and “Not in Our Name.” On the ground, they left messages like “Stop the Genocide” and “All Eyes on Rafah” in chalk. 

Between 1 and 3 p.m., the group made multiple laps around campus, hitting high-traffic areas like the quad and venturing inside the 1600 and 2400 buildings. Carrying a cloth banner that read “Over 30,000 Killed,” they chanted Pro-Palestine slogans and marched. Among the most heard:

“Free, free Palestine!” 

“Disclose! Divest. We will not stop! We will not rest!” 

At two points during the rally, an organizer and LPC alum who declined to give a real name but goes by the pseudonym Decay, read from a flier attributed to the Instagram account @escalatetrivalley. When Decay read, marching stopped. The group surrounded its chant leader and propped up their signs. Here and there, a student – likely cognitively confined to finals week tunnel vision — momentarily stopped.

The accusation heard around campus: Las Positas College and its governing district are investing in the genocide of Palestinians.

‘RALLY FOR GAZA’ protestors accused Las Positas of helping fund Israel’s actions in Gaza based on the school’s connections to the Lawrence Livermore National Lab and its investment firm BlackRock. (Photo by Olivia Fitts/ The Express)

One student organizer has been making this accusation publicly in a variety of ways since December — some two months after Israel suffered a terrorist attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the organization that has maintained control of the Gaza Strip for 17 years. Multiple sources told The Express this student had been temporarily barred from campus amid a disciplinary hearing. 

What started as a small effort to provide comprehensive outreach, has evolved into LPC becoming the latest in a surge of American colleges with students protesting their school’s connections to Israel – specifically, its military arm, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

Israel’s response to the attack by Hamas — whose Oct. 7 assault claimed the lives of nearly 1,200 Israelis, according to Israeli officials — has been a military offensive in Gaza and, more recently, Rafah. Palestinian health authorities claim Israel is responsible for the deaths of more than 35,000 Palestinians.

“Las Positas is entangled with people who design weapons,” said one student, who requested anonymity while being interviewed near a garden outside the 1800 building. “That’s Lawrence Livermore National Labs. They create Dense Inert Metal Explosives that have been dropped in Palestine. Also, the Chabot-Las Positas District invests in BlackRock and (thus) Lockheed Martin. As the invasions in Rafah and the violence in Palestine continues, we should be doing everything we can to disentangle ourselves. It’s completely legitimate to use every tool that we have to do that.” 

The allegations that Las Positas is helping fund the Israeli military, and thus funding the nation’s actions against Palestine, stem from the school’s relationship with the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) and the investment company BlackRock. 

Las Positas is involved with the lab by virtue of its Engineering Technology Program: a four-way partnership between LPC, LLNL, the Tri-Valley Career Center, and Growth Sector, intended to provide opportunities for the career development of STEM-concentrated students. 

The BlackRock connection is less direct. The investment service is the world’s largest asset manager, and a 7.4% stakeholder in the shares of Lockheed Martin, an American weapons manufacturer. With Lockheed Martin being among America’s most significant arms producers – and the U.S. being Israel’s most significant arms supplier – its weapons, the protestors posit, play a hugely consequential role in the mass destruction in Palestine. 

As of July 2022, the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District’s Retirement Board of Authority was invested in BlackRock. The return is a trust fund for current and former district employees. LPC President Dyrell Foster, who also sits on the Board of Authority, spoke on the matter at a student forum just shy of two months ago. 

“The authority for investments falls with our Chancellor and our Board of Trustees,” Foster said at the March 27 forum, in room 2401. “As a part of the (Retirement Board of Authority), we get regular reports on our investment portfolios. So, in my role on the committee, I’m hoping to be thoughtful about what our investments are. To have the lens of ensuring that our investments reflect the values and missions of our institution.”

Foster’s maintained that thoughtful disposition since. On the 21st, he was exiting his upstairs office in the Student Services and Administration building as usual: casually, blissfully even. Flashing, as he does, that signature smile to any passing student. Except, the young adults approaching him now – in the keffiyehs and face masks – weren’t returning it. And in all fairness, at the sight of the protesters, he hadn’t flashed it either. 

When approached by demonstrators, Foster “acknowledged our presence, acknowledged the fact that he was aware of (a) student organizer being disciplined, and didn’t comment beyond that,” Decay said. 

Decay informed the school’s President that “we’re not open to negotiations at this time, and that we’re not making any specific demands. We’re doing a show of support, and asking that moving forward, they don’t discipline students for (protesting).”

The aforementioned student, who requested anonymity, is facing disciplinary action from Dean Joel Gagdon. The discipline follows an undisclosed activity taken by said student approximately two weeks ago. Student officials declined comment, per school policy.

Decay spoke on the student’s action: “(The student) is engaged in what they’re describing as a disruptive activity done in response to months of ineffective peaceful protest. As a result, they’re barred from campus during finals week, and threatened with arrest if they come back on campus.” 

The besieged student, under the condition of anonymity, offered their own perspective: “So, (two weeks ago) we did an action in an attempt to stop the functioning of this school. The result of that was disciplinary action for me. I was identified amongst the group.”  

Disruption felt like a logical response for the anonymous student. For them, it’s a matter of principle. “You can’t have both,” they told The Express, referring to the school’s capacity to both, “invest in weapons manufacturers, have close relations with people who drop weapons in Palestine, and also believe that the functioning of your school needs to remain as the Genocidal onslaught continues in Gaza.”

Other protestors at Tuesday’s rally claimed the student is being targeted by school administrators. Decay said their fellow organizer was unjustly singled out. 

Dean Gagdon, who was with Foster in the Student Services and Administration building when the two declined comment, was seen fast-walking after the student at 12:40 pm. He was calling their name, pacing with the intensity of a dad at the grocery store. By all accounts, the student got out of dodge. 

Two and a half hours later the Livermore Police Department had two trucks at the college. The cops and campus security likewise turned down a chance to speak on the record, per school and police policy.

The student’s disciplinary hearing started on Tuesday and is likely to close by Friday.

Decay summarized the rally’s execution: “We’re not hurting anyone, we’re not damaging property, we’re not impeding anyone’s movement of traffic. I don’t think this is scaleable to genocide.” 

Top photo: Students check into the 2023 Honors Symposium at Stanford University.  (Photo by Rain Hepting / The Express)

Olivia Fitts is the News Editor and Opinions Editor for The Express. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @OLIVIAFITTS2. 

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