After Mass Arrests, UCLA Faculty Protest at Hammer Museum Gala

LOS ANGELES — Over 50 faculty members of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) gathered outside the Hammer Museum on Saturday evening, May 4, ahead of the institution’s annual gala, to call for amnesty for students and colleagues arrested during the police siege of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment last week. As guests arrived at the Westwood and Wilshire Boulevard entrance, faculty chanted, held signs, and made noise with whistles and bells, demanding the resignation of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, a member of the Hammer’s board of directors. 

As black luxury SUVs dropped off guests, faculty held signs that read “Shame on Chancellor Block” and chanted, “No fancy gala while children die in Gaza.”

Over the last two weeks, approximately 2,000 people have been arrested at college campuses across the United States, where students set up lawn encampments to protest Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza and call for their schools to divest from companies tied to Israeli military interests. On Tuesday night, April 30, the UCLA encampment was attacked by counter-protesters for hours without intervention in what one campus mental health center volunteer described as a “war zone.” Los Angeles Police Department officers in riot gear used stun grenades to break up the encampment in the early hours of Thursday morning.

“I’m horrified that our administration allowed our students to be brutalized,” Nancy Marie Mithlo, a professor of Gender Studies and American Indian Studies at UCLA, told Hyperallergic. “For me, we’re trying to safeguard what higher education is all about. To be able to research, to study, to write, to disagree, and to know how to have civic discourse, and I think our students in the encampment were doing all of those things.”

“Instead of offering the students anything reasonable or to meet any demands, they watched the students be violently beaten on Tuesday night and then called the cops and retraumatized the same students on Wednesday night,” said Jonathan Grossman, who teaches English in the Department of Humanities. “The students were peaceful. I watched them for weeks while I was teaching — their protests were peaceful.”

Greg Leazer, a professor in the Department of Information Studies, told Hyperallergic he didn’t witness any hate speech and if he had, he would hope they’d be investigated and issued code of conduct citations, not met with police violence.

Neither Chancellor Block nor UC President Michael Drake were seen arriving at the gala during the protest.

At 6:20pm, two young boys on Bird scooters glided past the protest and yelled insults at faculty and returned 30 minutes later to hurl a loaded hot dog at the crowd, which was blocked by a protest sign.

Many drivers who passed by at the busy intersection, which is less than a mile from campus, honked or waved in support of the protesters. Three different gala attendees honked and gave the crowd thumbs up in approval as they entered the Hammer parking garage. A man in a white BMW SUV screamed, “Shame on you! You all belong in prison!” 

Around 7:15pm, the driver of another BMW SUV stepped out of his car and held up a keffiyeh-style graduation sash that read “PALESTINE,” holding up traffic for at least five minutes. Soon after, a Hammer Museum event staffer draped in a keffiyeh and lanyard walked past the crowd with a clipboard while raising a fist as the crowd cheered. A car filled with smiling UCLA students drove by with keffiyehs out their windows.

The Hammer Museum is one of three arts institutions affiliated with the School of the Arts and Architecture at UCLA. A Hammer employee who requested anonymity told Hyperallergic that museum staff have attempted to put pressure on administration and sent a letter to Director Ann Philbin calling for them to support the faculty and students at UCLA on May 2.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment about the Saturday night protest, Hammer Museum spokesperson Scott Tennent said, “The Hammer supports the right to free speech and freedom of expression. We made space for the protesters and allowed their voices to be heard, and took measures to ensure their safety as well as the safety of staff, guests, and pedestrians in the area.” The spokesperson declined to comment on the staff letter.

Maite Zubiaurre, a professor of European Languages and Transcultural Studies in Spanish and Portuguese who was present at the protest, told Hyperallergic that she believed “Chancellor Block must resign in shame.”

“What I saw in the encampment were precisely the values that we teach them: peace, fighting for social justice — and they were violently punished for it,” Zubiaurre said.

“Our students need us more than ever,” Zubiaurre said.

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