University of Chicago clears a pro-Palestinian demonstration as MIT confronts a new encampment

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Posted at 6:09 AM, May 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-07 08:09:33-04

CHICAGO (AP) — Police cleared a pro-Palestinian tent encampment at the University of Chicago on Tuesday as tension ratcheted up in standoffs with demonstrators at other college campuses around the U.S. — and increasingly, in Europe.

Nearly three weeks into a movement launched by a protest at Columbia University, the Rhode Island School of Design held talks with protesters occupying a building, and MIT dealt with a new encampment on a site that was cleared but immediately retaken by demonstrators.

The confrontations come as campuses try a range of strategies, from appeasement to threats of disciplinary action, to resolve the protests against the Israel-Hamas war and clear the way for commencements.

At the University of Chicago, protesters numbering in the several hundreds had gathered in an area known as the Quad for at least eight days. Campus administrators warned them Friday to leave the area or face removal. Police in riot gear blocked access to the Quad on Tuesday as law enforcement dismantled the encampment.

At MIT, protesters were given a Monday afternoon deadline to voluntarily leave or face suspension. Many left, according to an MIT spokesperson, who said protesters breached fencing after the arrival of demonstrators from outside the university. On Monday night, dozens of protesters remained at the encampment in a calmer atmosphere, listening to speakers and chanting before taking a pizza break.

Sam Ihns, a graduate student at MIT studying mechanical engineering and a member of MIT Jews for a Ceasefire, said that the group has been at the encampment for two weeks and that they were calling for an end to the killing in Gaza.

“Specifically, our encampment is protesting MIT’s direct research ties to the Israeli Ministry of Defense,” he said.

No arrests had been made as of Monday night, according to the MIT spokesperson.

At the Rhode Island School of Design, where students started occupying a building Monday, a spokesperson said that the school affirms students’ rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly and that it supports all members of its community. The RISD president and provost were on site meeting with the demonstrators, the spokesperson said.

The student protests have spread to Europe, where they are gaining momentum. Police arrested about 125 activists early Tuesday as they broke up a pro-Palestinian camp at the University of Amsterdam. Students also have held protests or set up camps in Finland, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Britain.

Many protesters want their schools to divest from companies that do business with Israel or otherwise contribute to the war effort. Others simply want to call attention to the deaths in Gaza and for the war to end.

Demonstrations at New York City's Columbia University, where the protest movement began about three weeks ago, have roiled its campus. Officials on Monday canceled its large main ceremony but said students will be able to celebrate at a series of smaller, school-based ceremonies this week and next.

Columbia had already canceled in-person classes. More than 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s green or occupied an academic building were arrested in recent weeks.

Similar encampments sprouted up elsewhere, leading universities to struggle with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining safe and inclusive campuses.

The University of Southern California earlier canceled its main graduation ceremony. Students abandoned their camp at USC on Sunday after being surrounded by police and threatened with arrest. Other universities have held graduation ceremonies with beefed-up security. The University of Michigan's ceremony was interrupted by chanting a few times Saturday.

A group of faculty and staff members at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill asked the administration for amnesty for student protesters who were recently arrested and suspended.

Harvard University’s interim president, Alan Garber, warned students that those in an encampment in Harvard Yard could face “involuntary leave," meaning they would not be allowed on campus, could lose their student housing and might not be able to take exams.

At the University of California, San Diego, police cleared an encampment and arrested more than 64 people, including 40 students. The University of California, Los Angeles, moved classes online for the week due to disruptions following the dismantling of an encampment last week that resulted in 44 reported arrests.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 34,500 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. Israeli strikes have devastated the enclave and displaced most of its inhabitants.

Hamas on Monday announced its acceptance of an Egyptian-Qatari cease-fire proposal, but Israel said the deal did not meet its “core demands” and that it was pushing ahead with an assault on the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

“Cease-fires are temporary,” said Selina Al-Shihabi, a Georgetown University sophomore who was taking part in a protest at George Washington. “There can be a cease-fire, but the U.S. government will continue to arm the Israeli military. We plan to be here until the university divests or until they drag us out of here.”


LeBlanc reported from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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