Cesar Serrano and Sumaya Awad were among the Williams College students who built the wall that crosses a heavily used sidewalk in Williamstown. The wall is
Cesar Serrano and Sumaya Awad were among the Williams College students who built the wall that crosses a heavily used sidewalk in Williamstown. The wall is to demonstrate the barriers people face between lands in the world. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

WILLIAMSTOWN -- In New England, walls are what hold up the roof and keep out the cold.

But in other parts of the world, walls separate friends, families, loved ones and communities -- while inhibiting economic opportunities and stigmatizing entire ethnicities -- in the name of ideology.

A group of students at Williams College wanted their fellow students to have a small taste of the traumatic impact walls are having on people in the Palestinian territories and on people living with the border wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

So about 35 of them got together and put up a 48-foot long wall of wood across the lawn in front of Paresky Center near Spring Street. The wall crosses a well-used sidewalk.

The students put it up at 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

"We wanted people, when they wake up and go to class, to find this wall blocking their way, blocking their accessibility, blocking their privilege," said Williams sophomore Sumaya Awad, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

One side of the wall was painted to resemble the Palestinian wall, with graffiti and posters depicting that struggle.

"This is a replica of a portion of the Israeli wall," one inscription reads. "The Israeli wall is 2,492,160 feet long."

The other side is painted and decorated with posters celebrating the migrant lifestyle and calling for justice in U.S. immigration policy.


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"It sort of mirrors our joint struggle in facing border issues like oppression, discrimination and the militarization of our communities," Awad said. "It challenges preconceived notions of two seemingly isolated struggles."

Cesar Serrano, a sophomore at Williams and a member of VISTA, said the hope is to draw attention to the oppression of Latinos seeking economic opportunity in the U.S.

"We want people to know about the demonization of people migrating as a result of economic hardship throughout Latin America and the criminalization of them once they get here," Serrano said. "It is also a memorial to people who lost their lives trying to cross the border."

One inscription on that side of the wall reads, "Undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic."

"This is a way to remind people of the families that have been torn apart by deportation and death," Awad said.

The two-sided wall also illustrates the similarity of the struggles on opposite sides of the planet.

"We're fighting a similar struggle, the same struggle," Sorrano said.

Students put up the wall without permission from the college. Awad said there was some concern on the part of the administration for the safety of people in case the wall were blown over, but the students will take the wall down Friday at 4 p.m., in another symbolic gesture, along with a discussion of the issues.

"We'll talk about how together we will hopefully find a way to tear down the walls," Awad said.

James Kolesar, a spokesman for Williams College, said political statements are part of life at Williams and most other schools.

"It raises important issues and generates dialogue," he said.

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
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On Twitter: @BE_SStafford