US professor praised for Gaza student protest backing

Police officers clash with pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) on May 15, 2024 in Irvine, California. (Photo by Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images)

A professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has garnered praise across social media, following her rousing speech during her arrest by police forces at a pro-Palestine demonstration and solidarity encampment

The professor, who was later identified as Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, UCI’s associate professor of African American Studies, was among three faculty members arrested during the police raid. 

This comes as police forces on Wednesday appeared to take back control of a lecture hall from pro-Palestine protesters who for several hours occupied a UCI building, according to a university spokesperson. 

Several law-enforcement agencies from Orange County, including Irvine police, responded to a university request for assistance, a spokesperson for the police said. 

Willoughby-Herard, who was seen joining the protests in solidarity with the student demonstrations, was filmed by media outlets as she was later detained by police officers.

In an interview with US local TV station ABC7, the UCI professor emphasised her condemnation of the actions against student activists. 

“These young people are going to be ones that have to pay the price for these horrible decisions,” Willoughby-Herard told ABC7.  

“These police officers out here today lost thousands of students’ scholarships. Thousands of students who go to school that have books, that have housing. But instead, our Chancellor, who is a very cruel man, decided to send thousands of dollars’ worth of state funding paid for by the taxpayers into the trash.”

Willoughby-Herard stated the reason that she stood alongside students in protests for Gaza was because Americans “cannot have a genocidal foreign policy in a democracy.”

Asked by an ABC7 reporter about whether her arrest has prompted concerns over the fate of her employment, Willoughby-Herard replied: “What job do I have if the students don’t have a future?”

The UCI associate professor’s interview garnered traction on social media, prompting a wave of online attacks by right-wing accounts on social media platform X. 

However, others have also come to Willoughby-Herard’s defence, praising the professor’s efforts in backing student activism and pro-Palestine solidarity.  

Additionally, critics have denounced what they claim is “gendered racism” afflicted against the academic. 

“My heart is breaking. Dr. Tiffany Jean Willoughby-Herard is truly the best of us. Shame on UCI for leaving this queer Black woman unprotected,” Author and educator Jenn M. Jackson wrote in a post on X.  

In a follow up post, Jackson added that ongoing college campus protests at California’s universities such as UCI, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)and University of Southern California (USC) should serve as a “reminder to everyone that racism, repression, and empire are no less pronounced in the West.”

“This idea that California is a bastion of freedom should be well laid to rest now,” they added. 

Justin Zimmerman, an assistant professor of American Politics at University of Albany, said that he was “pissed off” by the UCI professor’s treatment.  

“This is one of my mentors and I’m very pissed off. She’s principled, thoughtful , and deserves far better than her institution allowing cops to arrest her and the other faculty/students at UCI,” he wrote on X. 

Dr. Willoughby-Herard was approached for comment and did not respond before publication. 

The demonstration at Irvine, about 40 miles (65 km) south of Los Angeles, is the latest in a series of campus protests across the United States over the war in Gaza.

Activists have called for a ceasefire and the protection of civilian lives while demanding universities divest from Israeli interests. 

Agencies contributed to this report

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