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A collection of tents with students on the campus of Columbia shows that the protests continue

A second iteration of Columbia University’s encampment, pictured here on Apr. 23, arose after the NYPD shut down the first one.

Stephanie Keith / Getty Images

Since Columbia University shut down an encampment last week where pro-Palestinian protesters were demonstrating for divestment from companies with ties to Israel, students on other campuses have set up their own encampments, making similar demands.

At more than a dozen institutions across the country, students have set up tents and sleeping bags on central quads or thoroughfares, where they are spending nights, hosting teach-ins, reciting prayers, and waving signs and Palestinian flags, in an effort to get administrators to hear out their demands.

In some cases, proximity seems to have fueled the spread of encampments; students at three private institutions in the Boston area—Emerson College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University—all pitched tents this week.

Institutional responses have varied; police arrested protesters at Yale University and Columbia, where President Minouche Shafik authorized officers to tear down the encampment. At New York University, 120 people, including faculty and students, were arrested outside the Stern School of Business after professors encircled a small encampment Monday night in an effort to protect student protesters from arrest.

Elsewhere, administrators have taken different steps, choosing to stay out of the way in an effort to keep the peace on campus. Officials at the University of California, Berkeley, for example, told Inside Higher Ed that they had chosen not to intrude on an encampment that emerged Monday despite the fact that it violates certain university policies.

Some of the protests come just ahead of finals week and graduation, with universities like Berkeley saying their main goal at this time is to ensure students can successfully finish the semester.

Historical Occupations

Students say their motives in erecting encampments are twofold: to support the more than 100 students who were arrested for protesting at Columbia and—more importantly—to revitalize and escalate their existing campus movements in support of the people of Gaza.

Members of the Columbia chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which has been suspended since the fall, asked protesters to focus on the larger cause rather than last week’s arrests, writing on X, “This is about solidarity with Gaza & Palestinian Liberation over anything else. Use us as an example [of how] to escalate but we should not be the focus, it’s about Palestine.”

Protesters at Washington University in St. Louis said their administration and campus police shut down their attempt to build an encampment even before it got off the ground. One student said they had hoped a tent city would demonstrate their dedication to doing whatever it took to achieve their main goal: pushing the institution to divest financially from Boeing, an aerospace and arms manufacturer.

“We can do a march and one hour later it’s dispersed and no one’s there,” said Sonal Churiwal, a sophomore. But an encampment shows “that we care and we’re willing to move our entire lives outside for a day, or however long we can, and really commit to this, because we know any inconvenience we’re facing is just a sliver of what Palestinians under occupation, under genocide, are facing.”

Elaine Carey, a dean at Oakland University who has researched student movements, noted that encampment-style protests are not particularly common on college campuses. Historically, sit-ins and occupations of campus buildings have been more popular; in 1968, Columbia students protesting the Vietnam War took over five university buildings, resulting in more than 700 arrests.

Students rally against the Vietnam War at Columbia in 1968.

Students rally against the Vietnam War at Columbia in April 1968.

Barton Silverman/New York Times Co. via Getty Images

The most famous recent protest to involve a long-term encampment was probably Occupy Wall Street, Carey said, in which young people protesting corporate greed camped out in lower Manhattan for two months in 2011—when most of today’s college freshmen were about six years old.

John Thelin, professor emeritus of higher education and public policy at the University of Kentucky, noted that today’s encampments—like the war protests of the late 1960s—are restricted to a relatively small number of campuses, most of which have a rich history of activism.

But he also said that, in the past, protest movements caught on at campuses in other parts of the country.

“What had been [happening] at elitist, coastal universities … spread to a much larger geographic network” after the Kent State massacre, he said. “One of the slogans that came out of that was, ‘if you look at the entire nation, including the Midwest and the South, the 60s really happened in the 70s.’”

Carey said that repressing student protests often boosts support for them; at Columbia, for instance, students erected a second, larger encampment following last Thursday’s arrests.

Uptown, Downtown

Arial view of encampment at NYU

An aerial view of the encampment at NYU before it was taken down.

Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Two other Manhattan colleges became the sites of pro-Palestinian encampments on Monday: New York University and The New School. About 50 students set up tents on Gould Plaza outside NYU’s Stern School of Business in what the university called an unauthorized demonstration. Among other demands, protesters called for the institution to divest its endowment from weapons manufacturers and companies with ties to Israel, to end its relationship with Tel Aviv University and to close NYU’s Tel Aviv campus.

Campus safety officers attempted to contain the protest, but people ended up breaking through barriers that had been erected.

“This development dramatically changed the situation,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman wrote in a statement. “We witnessed disorderly, disruptive, and antagonizing behavior that has interfered with the safety and security of our community, and that demonstrated how quickly a demonstration can get out of control or people can get hurt. At one point, we explained to the protesters that they needed to disband in an hour, and there would be no adverse consequences.”

When people refused to leave, the university “requested assistance” from the New York Police Department.

According to the NYPD, officers arrested 120 people, most for trespassing; four individuals were charged with other crimes, including resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Local news reported that police used pepper spray to disperse protesters who were trying to prevent police vehicles from driving away; the NYPD did not respond to a question from Inside Higher Ed asking for confirmation.

Meanwhile, The New School released a press release Monday stating that its president, Donna Shalala, had participated in a constructive conversation with students after they set up tents in the lobby of the University Center building. Protesters agreed to move in exchange for meeting with university leaders to discuss divestment. However, posts on the Instagram page of the university’s SJP chapter said that “negotiations with admin have been terminated” and that students in the lobby had been threatened with suspension. Posts uploaded late Tuesday afternoon showed students still occupying the lobby.

In response to an inquiry about this development, a New School spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed by email: “We continue to work with our students to resolve this matter and have not implemented disciplinary measures at this time.” ​​The institution’s SJP did not respond to a request for comment.

Shutdown in Missouri

Pro-Palestinian students at Washington University in St. Louis said they intended to erect an encampment on April 20 as a way to escalate pressure on the university to divest from Boeing, which protesters hope will include disinviting Boeing from career events and ending research partnerships with the company. Earlier this month, officials threatened to crack down on protesters after a demonstration during an admitted students event.

“It was during our alumni weekend … and we organized an art build and then a rally leading up to starting an encampment,” said Aspen Schisler, a WUSTL student. “We weren’t disrupting anything, we weren’t obstructing foot traffic, but as soon as we started putting up tents, there were three separate police departments that showed up.”

Video footage shows one police officer telling students that it they don’t leave the area, they “may be arrested or subject to other police action” that “could include force, which may inflict pain or result in serious injury.”

The group then moved to another location, where they sat on the grass making banners and art, according to student Sonal Churiwal. Again, they were told to move, Churiwal said, noting that she has been trying to figure out which campus rules the group was violating. She said administrators pointed her toward broad policies, but failed to clarify which specific clauses were broken.

Julie Hail Flory, vice chancellor for marketing and communications at WUSTL, wrote in a statement to Inside Higher Ed that the protesters were breaking policy by setting up tents and refusing to leave the space after they were asked to.

“We fully support free expression and will continue to allow demonstrations, as long as they follow our policies,” she said.

Public Institutions Join the Fray

Students at a number of public universities have also started encampments, according to social media. Among them: the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Minnesota.

While many of the encampments spurred warnings from administrators, only one has so far led to arrests. Shortly after demonstrators at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities set up an encampment Tuesday morning, they were “issued a dispersal notice,” according to social media posts by the university’s Students for Democratic Society group. When they refused to leave, eight students and a staff member were arrested for trespassing; they were later released on bail. Students have since re-established the encampment.

At the University of Michigan, the Palestinian advocacy organization Students Allied for Freedom and Equality posted on Instagram Monday that it would be taking over the Diag, the central quad on campus. Students set up dozens of tents and have occupied the space continuously since early Monday, hosting various events including a rally, a film screening and a blackout poetry session, where demonstrators edited statements from administrators with Sharpies to create poems. On Tuesday afternoon, the group posted that police had surrounded the area and called on fellow students to come to the encampment for a teach-in.

Colleen Mastony, assistant vice president for public affairs, said the university is “monitoring the situation.”

“Students are able to engage in peaceful protest in many places on campus and, at the same time, the university has a responsibility to maintain an environment that is conducive to learning and academic success,” she wrote in a statement shared with Inside Higher Ed. “No one has the right to substantially disrupt university activities or to violate laws or university policies. We are working to minimize disruptions to university operations—most especially with classes ending tomorrow and the study period beginning before finals. Safety is always a key priority and, as such, we have increased security on campus.”

When members of the UNC Chapel Hill chapter of SJP set up tents, blankets and chairs outside the campus’s South Building last Friday, administrators told them that erecting the tents violated university policy.

“In an attempt to avoid their tents from being seized, students put their tents on chairs as to ‘comply’ with administration. When police and UNC facility crew came to forcibly remove the tents, protesters collectively lifted up their tents and marched around the quad,” the group wrote on X.

Protesters eventually took down the encampment later that afternoon, after university personnel “took steps to remove” the tents, a university spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed via email. In response to questions about possible student conduct violations, the spokesperson wrote: “Reports of violations of University policy can result in processes that engage the student Code of Conduct. Federal privacy laws prevent disclosure about conduct cases.”

Similarly, students at UNC-Charlotte attempted to set up encampments on Sunday and Monday but were told they could not pitch tents without prior permission from the university, Social Justice for South West Asia and North Africa (SJ4SWANA), a local advocacy organization that helped organize the protest, told Inside Higher Ed via Instagram direct messages. On Tuesday, they left the tents at home but brought sleeping bags and blankets, which they believed fell within the bounds of the university’s code of conduct. SJ4SWANA said administrators continue to ask that they end their demonstration.

UNC–Charlotte did not respond to a request for comment.

West Coast Arrests

The encampment at UC Berkeley

Students set up an encampment at UC Berkeley on Monday.

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images

Demonstrations have sprung up at two institutions in California, garnering very different reactions. At California State Polytechnic Institute, Humboldt, protesters occupied Siemens Hall and have barricaded the entrances, the university said in a statement. Three protesters have been arrested and the campus is shut down, with class moved online at least until Wednesday. According to the university, protesters broke fire safety rules by locking doors and blocking entrances and elevators, creating a dangerous situation.

At the University of California, Berkeley, however, things have remained relatively calm since students set up camp on Monday. According to Dan Mogulof, a university spokesperson, with finals three weeks away, the institution’s main objective is to ensure students are able to study and focus on their academics. While students are in violation of some of Berkeley’s rules regarding time, place and manner of protest, he said, the institution has not deemed it necessary to shut down the encampment or dole out sanctions.

“We’re dealing with this the way the university has dealt with every nonviolent political protest in the past around this issue and any other. As per guidelines from the University of California’s Office of the President, law enforcement is a very last resort,” he said.

On Instagram, Berkeley’s Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine group shared a post explaining why they decided to launch an encampment.

“As students of this university, we have no choice but to take action as UC Berkeley stays silent about our people’s genocide and remains complicit in the mass murder of Palestinians,” they wrote.

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