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Some colleges that allowed pro-Palestinian protests are starting to take a tougher stance | National

CHICAGO (AP) — Police cleared a pro-Palestinian tent camp at the University of Chicago on Tuesday after administrators who had initially taken a tolerant approach said the protest had crossed a line and raised growing security concerns.

University President Paul Alivisatos acknowledged the school’s role as a protector of free speech after officers in riot gear blocked access to the school’s Quad, but also took an “enough is enough” stance.

“The university remains a place where dissenting voices have many opportunities to express themselves, but we cannot create an environment in which the expression of some dominates the healthy functioning of the community and disrupts the rest,” Alivisatos wrote in a message to the university community. .

Tensions have continued to rise following clashes with protesters on campuses across the US – and increasingly in Europe – almost three weeks after the start of a movement launched by a protest at Columbia University. Some colleges immediately took action against protests against the war between Israel and Hamas. Among those who have tolerated the tent encampments, some are beginning to lose patience and turn to police over concerns about disruptions to campus life, safety and non-student involvement.

Just over 2,600 people have been arrested on 50 campuses since April 18, figures based on AP reporting and statements from universities and law enforcement agencies.

But not all schools take that approach; some schools allow protesters to hold rallies and organize their encampments as they see fit.

The president of Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Connecticut, has praised the demonstration on campus — which included a pro-Palestinian tent camp — as an act of political expression. The camp there has grown from about 20 tents a week ago to more than 100.

“The protesters’ cause is important – drawing attention to the killing of innocent people,” university President Michael Roth wrote to the campus community on Thursday. “And we will continue to make space for them to do that, as long as that space does not disrupt the operation of the campus.”

The Rhode Island School of Design, where students began occupying a building Monday, affirms students’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and supports all members of the community, a spokesperson said. The school said President Crystal Williams spent more than five hours with the protesters that evening to discuss their demands.

On Tuesday, the school announced it would move classes that were scheduled to take place in the building. It was covered with posters reading “Free Palestine” and “Let Gaza Live,” and a dove was drawn on the sidewalk in colored chalk.

Campuses have tried tactics, from appeasement to threats of disciplinary action, to resolve the protests and clear the way for them to begin.

At the University of Chicago, hundreds of protesters gathered for at least eight days until administrators warned them Friday to leave or face removal. On Tuesday, the police dismantled the camp.

Officers later picked up a barricade erected to keep demonstrators out of the Quad and moved it toward the demonstrators, some of whom chanted, “On, on, liberation.” Away, away with the occupation!” Police and protesters pushed back and forth along the barricade as officers moved to regain control.

Officials at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told deans and department chairs Monday that some students have been notified by faculty who oppose the suspension of student protesters that they will withhold grades.

The school provost’s office said it “will support sanctions for any instructor found to have improperly withheld grades.”

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, protesters were given a deadline to leave voluntarily or face suspension. Many left, according to an MIT spokesperson, who said demonstrators had breached the fencing following the arrival of demonstrators from outside the university. On Monday evening, dozens of people remained in the camp in a calmer atmosphere.

MIT officials said the next day that dozens of interim suspensions and referrals to disciplinary committees were underway, actions taken to ensure the “safety of our community.”

Sam Ihns, a mechanical engineering graduate student and member of MIT Jews for a Ceasefire, said the group has been there for two weeks calling for an end to the killings in Gaza.

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

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

Wesleyan senior Uday Narayanan said students there are prepared to protest all summer if that’s what it takes to get their demands met.

“Our tuition still goes towards the brutalization of the Palestinians,” said the 21-year-old physics student. “So ultimately, even though our president has said, ‘Oh, I’m not going to call the police. Oh, I’m not going to beat up students, that’s still not enough, and that’s not the bare minimum for us either.”

And as Wesleyan’s May 26 commencement approaches, some protesters fear they will be forcibly removed from the center of campus, adjacent to the field where the ceremony will take place.

“The longer we are here, the more their facade of relaxed, hands-off falls away,” said Batya Kline, a 22-year-old graduate student. “We know the university doesn’t want us here, and we know they can change their pace at a moment’s notice without letting us know.”

Frank Straub, senior director of violence prevention at the nonprofit Safe and Sound Schools, said this and previous protests have shown the need for early dialogue between the university, police and protesters to set ground rules.

Straub said Wesleyan, for example, needs to have conversations about commencement and where protesters can be, and ensure there is a plan to respond should protesters want to be arrested so that can happen without violence.

“By nature, protests are hostile, but I think we can control the backlash,” he added. “And I think the more campus officials are involved with the protesters and the more police are involved in those conversations, that’s critical.”

The protests stem from the conflict that began on October 7 when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostages.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 34,500 Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled area, about two-thirds of whom were women and children, according to the Health Ministry. Israeli attacks have destroyed the enclave and displaced most of its residents.


LeBlanc reported from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Associated Press journalists from across the U.S. and around the world contributed, including Jeff Amy, Christopher Weber, Mike Corder, Barbara Surk, Rick Callahan, Sarah Brumfield and Pietro de Cristofaro.