Sit-in protest speaks up for two education professors

Students and faculty say the University of Arizona is censoring free speech in the classroom
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 7:25 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A sit-in protest at the University of Arizona aimed to return two professors to the classroom. The professors facilitated discussions about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but the protesters said the college’s action against them calls attention to a larger problem at the university.

Students spoke in defense of the two professors on Monday but they and the workers’ union say this is a fight for freedom of speech in the classroom.

“It is unjust,” Piper Trujillo, a junior in early childhood education, said as she spoke among many others sitting in the lobby of the University of Arizona College of Education.

“I think that learning about world events, including the Israel-Palestine conflict, is incredibly important to our education because we need to be able to respond to children who ask us questions in the classroom about this,” said Sophie Chapman, a senior in early childhood education who was sitting in protest.

Chapman and a fellow senior in the program, Samantha Paredes, were protesting to defend Dr. Rebecca Lopez and Rebecca Zapien, who are two professors in their college on paid leave after facilitating discussions about Israel’s siege on Gaza following the Hamas terror attack on Israel. Some students were offended by the discussion, recorded it and posted it online.

“The conversation was proposed as why should we as educators care about this issue that’s going on in the world and how do we move forward and support students that are affected or hear about it or want to ask questions, what’s going to be our response as teachers because we are actively in the classroom right now as students,” Paredes said.

College of Education Dean Robert Berry spoke to the protesters but the teachers remained on leave, and protestors continued to sit. They said that professors in other colleges have faced similar circumstances for holding discussions on other topics, such as transgender issues, and consider it censorship by the university.

“It’s wrong and it’s unjust and students need to say something and speak up and administration needs to as well,” Paredes said.

The students said the classes have moved online and while they still expect to get credit, they question the value of the education after this point.

The protesters planned to return to the college on Tuesday morning.

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