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University of Minnesota reaches ‘initial agreement’ with pro-Palestine student protesters

Thursday May 2, 2024
by Hibah Ansari

Students say they will dismantle their on-campus encampment by noon Thursday. Students have camped for 10 days, demanding that the university divest from Israel.

University of Minnesota students camp outside of Northrup Auditorium in support of Palestine on May 1, 2024. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

The University of Minnesota agreed late Wednesday night to consider student protesters’ demands calling for the university to divest from Israel. 

Student organizers said that in light of the development, they plan to take down their encampment on the campus’ Northrup Mall by noon Thursday. A coalition of student groups set up camp for nearly 10 days. University police arrested nine people last week after they refused to leave an earlier iteration of the encampment.

“Following a constructive dialogue with multiple representatives of those protesting, I am pleased to share that we have reached an initial agreement that will end the encampment,” the university’s interim president, Jeff Ettinger, said in a campus-wide email sent Thursday morning.

The University first sent camp organizers a letter at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday about its willingness to consider their demands before publicly announcing it Thursday. Representatives of the student coalition that led the effort will have an opportunity to address the Board of Regents on May 10.

“Thank you again for the productive conversations,” said the university’s Wednesday letter, which noted that school officials spoke with organizers that morning, afternoon, and evening. “Our aim is to resolve matters yet tonight…”

Nesma Abuammo, 20, is a Palestinian student and encampment organizer. She’s been attending rallies in support for her home country her whole life, but has never seen more support than she did Wednesday evening.

“It’s more than just being on this campus. The main point of this is to raise awareness about what’s happening in Gaza and the fact that genocide is still continuing,” she said. “This is a humanitarian issue, and I’m glad people are taking initiative and students are standing up for what’s right.”

Student organizers told protesters Wednesday evening they will continue to hold the university accountable as they begin discussions about divestment. They want the university to sever ties with companies they say support Israel by ceasing investment in those companies through stocks, bonds, and other financial tools.

“Our demands are clear,” the student divestment coalition said in a statement posted on its Instagram account Thursday morning. “It is time the university comes in good faith and fulfills their side of the bargain, or we shall not be moved.”

The university’s Thursday statement also said buildings that were previously closed on Northrop Mall will reopen at noon Thursday. Classes at the university ended for the semester on Monday, but finals began Thursday.

The university’s decision followed growing pressure on campuses across the country. Protesters at nearly 40 encampments are calling for their universities to divest from companies and institutions supporting Israel. Police arrested 280 people at Columbia University and City University of New York late Wednesday night. The lack of police protection grew criticism at UCLA after instigators attacked protesters. 

The issue has become such a cultural flashpoint that President Joe Biden interrupted TV programming Thursday morning to address the nation, saying that “violent protest is not protected.”

“Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder,” Biden said.

Students are protesting the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians and displaced nearly 1.7 million, according to health officials in the area. International aid agencies such as the World Food programme warn of famine as 1.1 million people in Gaza face hunger. The conflict began last October when Hamas attacked Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Student demands and university agreement

The University of Minnesota’s move is a rare show of compromise between student organizers and university administrations in the United States. Protests continue on other campuses, where police action has been more heightened. Some Republican lawmakers have also called on states to deploy their national guard to quell student unrest; Biden said Thursday that he does not support such action.

University of Minnesota student organizers made six demands of their administration. Here is a summary of their demands and the university’s response:

Divestment: The university has not yet agreed to fully divesting from companies profiting off war in Israel, but student protesters will get the chance to present divestment and other advocacy priorities to the Board of Regents on May 10.

Banning companies from academic involvement: Protesters proposed banning companies such as Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, General Dynamics, and other aerospace and weapons manufacturers from campus. 

The university does not support restricting career opportunities for students, but is willing to discuss how to advocate directly to students via career services. It is unclear what that will look like based on the university’s statement.

Boycott Israeli institutions: Protesters demanded a divestment from Israeli universities they say are “aiding the ongoing genocide in Gaza.” The university plans to evaluate partnerships with the universities, which includes a program for “hosting scholars at risk,” the university’s statement said. 

The university added that it plans to discuss creating connections with one or more Palestinian universities.

Disclose university financials: Protesters asked for transparency about university financials as part of calls for divestment. The university will disclose as much information as possible about its holdings in public companies by May 7, discluding investments protected by non-disclosure agreements or legal constraints. 

Recognize Thawabit: This is best characterized as the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. Student protesters asked the university to release a statement in support of Palestinian students that also recognizes “the inviolable national rights of the Palestinian people,” divestment organizers said in an Instagram post.

The university’s statement does not clarify its position on this demand, but said the administration hopes to better support the Palestinian student body. The statement also said that the administration encourages students and staff to file complaints about discrimination with the Equal Opportunity and Title IX office.

Amnesty: Protesters demanded amnesty for all students, staff, and faculty participating in the encampment, including for the nine arrested by UMPD. The university recommended that university police not arrest or charge protesters in the last few days. The university will also not take disciplinary action against students or employees who participated in the encampment this week.


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