Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) announced last week a proposed ballot referendum calling on the university to stop sending campus police officers on military training trips abroad.
The referendum, which the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate discussed at its March 2 meeting, is part of SJP’s broader campaign to “#EndTheDeadlyExchange,” which seeks to end military training trips for the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) and all other police militarization on campus. Over 15 student organizations have endorsed the referendum.
“We won’t be silent when the administration engages in policies or behavior that threatens the safety of students on campus,” SJP member Julia Asfour, a junior, said.
According to SJP member Molly Tunis, the group initiated its campaign to #EndTheDeadlyExchange after it learned that Kevin Maguire, former executive director of public safety and former chief of TUPD, attended a training trip with the Israeli military in December 2017. She said that both the referendum and the campaign represent an opportunity to hold the university accountable for what SJP views as the militarization of TUPD.
“I think it’s easy for [the administration] to pretend that people don’t care about this and that it is just in the past,” Tunis, a senior, said. “And I think it’s really important to show how many students in the present are still really scared by what happened.”
The Daily reported in 2018 that Maguire, along with other Boston-area police chiefs and federal officers, attended an Anti-Defamation League-funded counterterrorism seminar in Israel in December 2017. These seminars were criticized by activists both for attempting to influence the officers who attend to favor the Israeli government and because some the trainings have been conducted by Shin Bet, which has been accused of using torture tactics.
Since launching its campaign to #EndTheDeadlyExchange a year ago, SJP has hosted a variety of educational events ranging from Deadly Exchange-themed peer one-on-one meetings to a “#Drag the Deadly Exchange” drag show, according to Tunis.
Additionally, SJP launched a seven-day action last semester calling attention to various elements of the police exchange programs between the United States and Israel. The action, which started on Nov. 13 and continued through Nov. 19, reflected a sample itinerary of a typical military training trip. SJP recreated a West Bank checkpoint, for example, to highlight traveling restrictions imposed on Palestinians at such checkpoints.
According to SJP member Casper, the group decided to pursue a referendum instead of only a TCU Senate resolution calling on the university to end all military training trips for campus police in order to engage more deeply with the student body on the issue.
“We want to exert pressure on the administration, and part of that involves engaging with students so that all of them know about this issue,” Casper, a first-year, said. “We’re demonstrating to the university that we really do have the support on campus.”
SJP’s referendum will only be put on the presidential ballot in April if the group attains 300 signatures in the week following the official submission of the proposal to TCU Senate, according to previous reporting by the Daily.
As of press time, SJP submitted all the necessary signatures for turning its proposal into a referendum, which are now being reviewed by the TCU Judiciary in order to ensure that they were collected in good faith. If approved, the referendum question will appear on the ballot for TCU Senate’s presidential elections in April.
If the group fails to meet the signature requirement, TCU Senate will vote on the referendum as it would any other resolution, and it would not be included on the presidential ballot as a referendum question.
On the other hand, if SJP’s proposal is indeed placed on the ballot as a referendum question, one-sixth of the Tufts student body would need to vote in order for the referendum to pass. The referendum will fail if less than one-sixth of the student body votes or a majority of the voters vote against the referendum.
SJP hopes to pursue the objectives outlined in its campaign to #EndTheDeadlyExchange as the semester continues, including getting the university to hold a town hall on the lack of transparency surrounding TUPD activities that is open to the entire Tufts community, according to Tunis. As for now, however, Tunis said that SJP is largely focused on achieving the goals within the referendum.
“[This referendum] is about reimagining what safety looks like because, for so many people on this campus, it doesn’t look like policing—especially militarized policing,” Tunis said.
SJP’s referendum also calls for Tufts to formally apologize for sending Maguire on the trip to Israel. However, since the Daily’s investigation, the university has defended Maguire’s participation on the basis of preparing local and university police departments for potential terror attacks.
Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations, said that the trip in question was not a military training program, nor was it intended to serve as an endorsement of any particular policy or policing strategy. According to Collins, the counterterrorism seminar was instead attended by executives from law enforcement agencies throughout New England for the sole purpose of learning about the latest methods in preventing and preparing for emergency situations.
While he said that the university respects the independence of the referendum process and will await its outcome, Collins rejected any claims that Tufts campus police officers were becoming militarized and upheld TUPD’s and the Office of Emergency Management’s commitment to providing a safe environment for students, faculty and staff.
“We strongly disagree with any characterization that the Tufts University Police department is ‘militarized,’” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “To the contrary, the University and TUPD are on the record as being opposed to militarization, have made community policing a priority for many years, and have policies and training in place that emphasize that everyone – regardless of background – must be treated with dignity and respect.”