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Students at University of Denver build encampment as pro-Palestinian protests continue across the country

Hours after students started setting up camp, the office of the chancellor released a "new interim policy" on demonstrations, protests and free speech
Posted: 1:08 PM, May 09, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-10 16:45:11-04
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DENVER — Students at DU on Thursday joined a growing list of encampments going up on campuses across the nation as protesters call on university officials to break financial and academic ties with Israel over its war in Gaza.

Members of DU for Palestine began occupying the campus outside the university’s administrative building on Carnegie Green earlier Thursday, two weeks after dozens of student at Denver’s Auraria Campus started setting up camp to protest Israel’s continued offensive in Gaza.

DU for Palestine’s demands are not so different from those made by the Colorado Palestine Coalition (CPC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

The group is calling for DU to disclose all of its investments; divest from all companies invested in and responsible “for the illegal occupation, apartheid, and genocide of Palestinians”; boycott Israel economically and academically; release a public statement “that acknowledges the ongoing genocide of Palestinians, calls for an immediate ceasefire, and supports an end to the illegal occupation”; and protect free speech on campus.

What Pro-Palestine student demonstrators seek on Denver’s Auraria Campus

In a news release, DU for Palestine spokesperson Ash Reid quoted an organizer of the encampment, saying Chancellor Dr. Jeremy Haefner had sent “repeated emails emphasizing neutrality that the institution’s actions have directly contradicted.”

While a letter from Chancellor Haefner, dated Oct. 17, 2023, states the university as an institution, "must remain neutral on geopolitical issues" as it encouraged university officials to not "make formal statements in support or dissent on geopolitical issues because they can unintentionally stifle the free expression of our community members," another letter from the chancellor about a month later stated that while the institution "strives to maintain neutrality to support the free speech of the community, .... sometimes we must respond when speech challenges our core values," referring to a demonstration that had occurred the week before in which some student protesters had allegedly labeled the attack on Israel as a "heroic resistance."

"I fervently believe we must keep the bounds of neutrality to the greatest extent possible to protect the freedom of expression, thought pluralism, and academic freedom that is foundational to our role in society, yet speak up ourselves when we feel something has taken place that does not align to our community values," Haefner wrote in that communication.

The organizer of the student movement was also quoted as saying, “Students on campus feel unsafe and frustrated with the University’s silence regarding the Israeli military’s massacres of Palestinians, while maintaining direct connections with Israeli universities.”

Denver7 reached out to the group for clarification on those statements and received the following statement:

DU has a study abroad program in Israel. DU also has connected students to internship programs with Lockheed Martin. DU has chosen to keep details of many investments under wraps, which is the precise reason we are demanding that the university discloses this information to the students who fund the existence of the institution. While many of DU's direct investments are hidden from students and the public, we do know that DU has roughly $24 million invested in the oil and gas industries.

Calls for divestment may be easier to make than they are to accomplish, according to The Conversation, which reported that calls from pro-Palestinian protesters on university officials to disclose their investments and divest from Israel may not be legally feasible and may be hard to accomplish due to their economic complexity.

DU issues new interim policy in response to the encampment

In response to the encampment, the Office of the Chancellor sent a statement late Thursday in which they revealed they had created a new interim policy that touches on protests, demonstrations and free speech.

"Any acts of protest or dissent by DU students, faculty, and staff must never cause physical harm nor block any individual’s ability to come and go freely in and out of buildings. If a protest interferes with our ability to conduct classes or operate as an institution or if it violates our discrimination and harassment policy, it will no longer be protected by our policy. We hope it goes without saying that discrimination and harassment are not forms of protest; they are violations of our policy," according to the document released later Thursday.

When it comes to encampments, the new policy states:

"Simply put, encampments require more institutional resources to protect the health and safety of the protesters and the wider DU community. Health, safety, sanitation, and disruption to the university operations will determine the long-term feasibility for encampments to endure. Indoor camping is never allowed, as it disrupts our ability to teach and conduct operations."

It adds, "With this said, the use of spaces for overnight activities—including sleeping in open spaces and setting up temporary living spaces—warrants special attention relative to safety and well-being for all involved—including those who choose not to participate and still need and want to access university services."

The spokesperson for the Office of the Chancellor said in a news release announcing the changes to the policy that they will allow the encampment to continue between Mary Reed and Anderson Academic Commons, but that calls for "genocide or acts of violence, antisemitism, or Islamophobia" will not be permitted. The same goes for protesters who are not part of the DU community.

The statement further warns protesters from trying to occupy buildings, disrupt campus activities or learning, or "otherwise violate University policies" as this will lead to disciplinary action. Lastly, it states that the encampments may be dismantled "if they are creating disruptions to the learning environment or normal business operations, threatening the safety of the campus community, or violating policy or law."

Protests across college campuses continue

Tensions have continued to increase in standoffs between protesters and police on campuses across the U.S. — and increasingly, in Europethree weeks into a movement launched by a protest at Columbia University.

Since April 18, just over 2,800 people have been arrested on the campuses of 50 colleges and universities, according to figures based on Associated Press reporting and statements from universities and law enforcement agencies.

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Pro-Palestinian protesters in Denver threaten to disrupt commencement ceremonies

Jeff Anastasio
3:33 PM, May 07, 2024

The growing protests are a result of Israel’s response following a surprise attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, in which militants killed 1,139 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to destroy Hamas for the attack, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them children and women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden told CNN he would not supply offensive weapons that Israel could use to invade the southern city of Rafah where more than a 1 million Palestinians have been forced to relocate as they seek shelter from Israel's continuous offensive.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said Biden's remarks would not stop Israel from continuing its offensive in the packed city, indicating it might proceed with an invasion of Rafah against the wishes of the United States.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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