In 1985, I was part of a group of hundreds of students at Tufts University who took over Ballou Hall, the main administration building, to protest the school’s investments in companies doing business in South Africa. For three days, they refused to allow food and water into the building. The protest ended peacefully shortly afterwards. Tufts divested its holdings in South Africa in 1989.

 At the same time, down in New Haven, our peers at Yale had built a shantytown on Beinecke Plaza to represent conditions for Black South Africans under apartheid. Then, police dismantled it and arrested students. But in a turn of events that surprised observers at the time, then Yale President Bart Giamatti and the Yale Corporation allowed the shantytowns to be rebuilt and the protest continued for several years with support from off-campus community leaders, though Yale never fully divested from its investments in the apartheid state.

Last night, I joined many faculty at Beinecke Plaza to show support for the students protesting the war in Gaza. This morning, President Peter Salovey sent in the police to arrest his own students for trespassing on their own campus. Similar to the events in the mid-1980s, President Salovey made a choice. All I can hope now is that he, like Bart Giamatti ’60 GRD ’64 before him, sees the folly of his ways and reconsiders his actions.

Protest on campus is part of higher education, despite what some of my own colleagues would like to think. It is preparation for citizenship and active participation in democracy; it is learning about moral choices that face us as adults; it is about bearing witness and about putting our own bodies on the line and not remaining silent in the face of injustice.

Whatever your opinions are on what is happening in the Middle East, shutting down peaceful protests is the wrong answer. And what I saw last night on Beinecke Plaza were peaceful students and onlookers, adhering to free passage on the site among passersby as per university regulations. I was joined by a diverse group of other professors there, across a spectrum of backgrounds, faiths and beliefs.

While some would like to claim that these protests were antisemitic and threatening, we saw no such thing during our time there. We can all agree that antisemitism is vile and needs to be challenged wherever it raises its ugly head. But it’s also important to realize that these assaults on higher education happening in the United States, led by people like Chris Rufo and Harvard alumna and adherent of “great replacement” conspiracy theories — as in “Jews will not replace us” — Elise Stefanik, have been weaponizing the deep feelings aroused by events in Gaza and Israel as a central tactic.

As my Yale colleague Naftali Kaminski has said, none of this is in good faith. It’s about attacks on diversity and inclusion on campuses, to suppress certain political views, using charges of antisemitism as a wedge. As Jason Stanley, another colleague here at Yale, has warned, these attacks on higher education are part of the right-wing, authoritarian playbook, which is not making our lives safer or bringing more peace and justice to the world. President Salovey and the Yale Corporation’s actions play right into their hands.

As Yale’s Tim Snyder has said: “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.” Shutting down protests is giving the American right a head-start right here in New Haven. We’re in dangerous times. “Obeying in advance,” as Snyder cautions against, is not something we want to teach our students.

Yale has a proud history of dissent — from student protesters across the generations, to leaders like Yale President Kingman Brewster ’41 and University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin ’49 DIV ’56 who opposed the Vietnam War and who opened the university’s gates for protesters to host teach-ins, receive medical care and distribute food while the Black Panthers were on trial in New Haven.

What happened yesterday morning was cowardly. It speaks to a cravenness, an appeasement of powerful conservative voices and a willingness by leaders — like our own President and Columbia’s Nemat (Minouche) Shafik — to throw their own students and faculty under the bus to try to quell larger political attacks on colleges and universities. As with Columbia President Shafik, we will learn that in bending over backwards to try to mollify our critics, we just embolden them. They will only be satisfied by full capitulation and consent.

GREGG GONSALVES received his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Yale. A member of the Berkeley College Class of 2011 and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Class of 2017, he is an associate professor at Yale School of Public Health and adjunct associate professor at Yale Law School. He is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. Contact him at

Gregg Gonsalves is an associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and an associate professor (adjunct) at Yale Law School. He also co-directs the Global Health Justice Partnership — a collaboration of YSPH and YLS working at the interface of public health and social justice, clinical medicine and human rights. Before coming to Yale College in 2008, he worked on HIV/AIDS both in the United States and around the world. He is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow.