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Tulane senior reflects on lessons learned reporting on campus protests

Hannah Levitan, a senior at Tulane University, sits with her classmate and colleague Lindsay Ruhl, right, at the school newspaper's office on Nov. 13, 2024.
Aubri Juhasz
Hannah Levitan, a senior at Tulane University, sits with her classmate and colleague Lindsay Ruhl, right, at the school newspaper's office on Nov. 13, 2024.

With her graduation just days away, a student reporter at Tulane University reflects on a semester that ended in war protests and a college experience that began with a global pandemic.


This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

MATT BLOOM, HOST: College graduations across the country have been disrupted this month as students continue to protest Israel’s war in Gaza. In Louisiana, Xavier University canceled its commencement speaker, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, after nearly 1,800 people signed a petition asking she be removed. And Tulane University, the site of a recent pro-Palestinian encampment, has upped security measures for its graduation this weekend.

To get a sense of how students are feeling, WWNO and WRKF’s Aubri Juhasz spoke with a senior at Tulane about her experience as a student and reporter for the school’s newspaper, The Tulane Hullabaloo.

AUBRI JUHASZ, BYLINE: I first spoke with Hannah Levitan in the fall, shortly after Hamas attacked Israel and the Israeli army began its war in Gaza.

The conflict sparked an immediate response at Tulane, where about a third of students, including Levitan, identify as Jewish. There were early protests in support of the Palestinian people. Counter-protestors also gathered. As a student reporter, Levitan tried to talk to as many people involved as possible.

HANNAH LEVITAN: There are people who are standing on the pro-Israel side, like, against Hamas or against antisemitism, or they're standing on the pro-Israel side because they support Netanyahu. And you don't know unless you speak with them.

Protests intensified again late last month. Pro-Palestinian protestors set up an encampment on Tulane’s campus, pitching tents on a big grass lawn off of St. Charles. Like similar demonstrations across the country, they demanded Tulane disclose their financial ties to Israel and divest.

Armed state police cleared the encampment less than 48 hours later at the university’s request. School officials argue it was necessary to restore order and safety. But many feel the use of force was unnecessary.

I recently sat down again with Levitan to discuss where things stand, and get a sense of how she’s feeling ahead of her own graduation this month.

Hannah, thanks for being here.

LEVITAN: Thank you for having me.

JUHASZ: How has it been on campus since police cleared the encampment?

LEVITAN: Well, I mean, there is still police presence on campus. I actually haven’t taken my graduation pictures yet. Now there’s two tents of police officers sitting right next to the big Tulane University sign. So you could definitely say that tensions are high on campus.

I think people including professors and faculty members are frustrated as well with the way the administration handled things, regardless of which side you support.

JUHASZ: How have students reacted to the university’s response?

LEVITAN: I think that it’s been a mixture of emotions, and I’ve definitely heard of people losing friends, people signing different open letters, and depending on which open letter you sign, somebody sees that and, you know, you’re no longer friends with them.

It’s kind of crazy. And I think another big problem is that there wasn’t really any kind of dialogue between the Tulane administration and protestors. I think that’s something that’s incredibly important.

JUHASZ: Right. So, Tulane officials say the majority of the people at the encampment were not affiliated with Tulane. They suspended some students who were involved. They also say some protesters used antisemitic chants. On the other side, protestors, some of whom are Jewish, say they were peaceful, were not using antisemitic language and posed no threat.

You were there. What did you see? How would you characterize what was going on at the encampment?

LEVITAN: To be honest, it was pretty hard to see the encampments, because there were a lot of barricades that were built up by the time I had gotten there the first day. Members of my team were already there, news editors, and we were trying to figure out how to best cover this because, you know, we understand this is a delicate situation.

At the same time, this is real life. This is happening right now, and we have parents and students and community members who wanted to see what was going on and couldn’t be there.

So we started a live stream. From what I saw and what I personally experienced wearing a Tulane Hullabaloo blue shirt and a Jewish star was harassment. And it was not from students per say.

I saw, you know, some of my friends on both sides. Some people I knew inside the encampments and some people I knew as counter protesters, and it’s hard being in the middle, literally.

JUHASZ: When we spoke in the fall, you had hoped that the Tulane Hullabaloo’s reporting, especially the podcast you helped start where you were trying to put a variety of voices back-to-back, would help bring students and other folks into more of this middle space where they could listen to one another about the conflict in the Middle East.

Do you feel like that has happened at all or does it feel even more divisive than it did a couple of months ago?

LEVITAN: It feels way more divisive. Way more divisive. I mean, that’s a combination of students becoming more entrenched in their views, locked to their phones. I had to delete Instagram for the last week because I’m confused. And I’m a history major.

I think the problem is that when I was at those protests, people on both sides were yelling, “You’re on the wrong side of history.” I took off my Jewish star at one point because I was being yelled at by both sides, like, “Why are you over there? You should be over here.”

Hannah Levitan, foreground, listens to an episode of the student newspaper's new podcast "Breaking Waves" with her colleague Lindsay Ruhl at their office on Nov. 13, 2024.
Aubri Juhasz
Hannah Levitan, foreground, listens to an episode of the Tulane Hullabaloo's new podcast with her colleague Lindsay Ruhl at the paper's office on Nov. 13, 2024.

JUHASZ: Folks who are opposed to the protests think that because you’re Jewish, that you should be on their side. And I’d imagine people who are there for the Palestinian people may feel like you are biased, even if they have no evidence of that.

LEVITAN: Correct. That is something that my colleagues and I attempted to remedy in creating a podcast that allowed for anonymity. And since we’ve had several students come into our actual newsroom and give us tips. That is kind of reviving the old journalism model.

I think that’s something that’s scary going into journalism, but also at the same time, having people feel more comfortable coming to you since you’ve created this space for anonymity, you get more stories out.

JUHASZ: Your class, the class of 2024, has seen so much upheaval since you arrived for your freshman year in 2020. The pandemic, Hurricane Ida, now the impact of war protests on campus. How should we remember your class and all you’ve been through?

LEVITAN: I guess for my class, it feels cyclical. It is cyclical. And I guess that’s what you get when your college career begins in one of America’s more eventful, historical years. And now it’s ending in a similar position.

At the same time, we’re students and we don’t really, I don’t really want to talk about myself and then get criticized for making it about me. But you know what? We’re college students. We’re trying our best. We’re learning about the world around us.

JUHASZ: And yourselves.

LEVITAN: And ourselves. So, it just kind of feels the same, for me at least.

JUHASZ: Hannah Levitan is a senior at Tulane University and the digital director for its student newspaper The Tulane Hullabaloo. She graduates this Saturday. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

LEVITAN: Thank you, Aubri.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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