Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

UR officials clear out pro-Palestinian student encampment ahead of commencement

Protest signs reading "Student Power" and "In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians," hang from a tree in the University of Rochester's Eastman Quadrangle on on Tuesday, May 7.
Noelle E.C. Evans
Protest signs reading "Student Power" and "In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians," hang from a tree in the University of Rochester's Eastman Quadrangle on on Tuesday, May 7.

[This story has been updated]

University of Rochester public safety officers cleared out a pro-Palestinian student encampment outside of the Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus early Tuesday morning.

The student demonstrators for weeks had been protesting university and U.S. policies related to the war in Gaza, in part calling for the university to take a public stance on a ceasefire and sever ties with Israeli institutions — like ending research and study abroad programs.

Students began an encampment on the Wilson Quadrangle on April 23 in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza before relocating to the Eastman Quad.

Two people were arrested Tuesday morning for damaging a large commencement tent, a University of Rochester spokesperson said, adding that neither individual was affiliated with the university.

A UR statement said that the DPS and Facilities personnel approached the encampment Tuesday morning “to clearly communicate to those there that the tents, barriers and other accumulated items were being removed from the Eastman Quad.”

According to the university, most of the students soon dispersed and they say the encampment has largely ended, but they also added that the students did mobilize as a small group to a different part of the River campus.
There was a call-out on social media by Rochester Students for Justice in Palestine for individuals to “mobilize” on the Eastman Quad and help “defend the camp.”
The UR statement said that they have “tried extremely hard” to maintain open lines of communication with student protest leaders,” but said that given “numerous policy violations” the decision was made to end the encampment. 

The vacant Eastman quadrangle where about three dozen tents had been set up, enclosed within a barrier, was closed off until mid-morning. By 10:30 a.m. graduating seniors were taking photos in commencement garb holding diploma binders and graduation hats.

Wilson Boulevard, the main road through campus, was closed off to traffic but has since reopened. Dining staff member Lovett Brown said security wouldn’t allow him through to get to work by 9 a.m., so he parked on a street across the river and walked.

“I was told that it was an incident on campus ... (by) one of the security guards,” Brown said. “So they're gonna charge me today for parking on campus when I'm not parked on campus.”

Brown said he's seen the protests on campus but hasn’t been affected by them until today.

“I believe that freedom of speech is powerful,” he said. “We should be able to get that across, we should be able to bunch up as long it’s not violent. We should be able to do that.”

UR officials said they are continuing to closely monitor all campus spaces and activities in the days leading up to commencement. The three days of the UR commencement activities begin on Friday, May 17. 

Recently, the university announced plans to start suspending student protest leaders as UR sought to “restore campus life” after months of unrest over the war in Gaza.

 The Students for Justice in Palestine then had issued a statement last Thursday saying that the suspensions violate an agreement between administrators and protesters who participated in a sit-in at Wallis Hall that those students would be safeguarded from disciplinary action.

This is a developing story. Check back throughout the day for further details.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.