Pro-Palestine protesters occupy lawn on KU’s campus

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Post last updated at 11:51 p.m. Wednesday, May 1:

More than 100 pro-Palestine protesters gathered outside Fraser Hall on KU’s campus for 17-plus hours Wednesday, calling on the university to disclose and divest any financial connections with Israel amid monthslong violence in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Protesters set up the encampment around 4:30 a.m. and packed up and began leaving their encampment as storms rolled in just before 10 p.m.

The protest is part of a broad movement on college campuses nationwide that has included students barricading themselves inside university buildings and standoffs with police. 

The protesters have four demands: That the university divest any financial ties with Israeli government and military interests; that KU disclose those ties; that KU refuse to accept grants from companies that contract with the U.S. Department of Defense or Armed Forces; and that the university grant amnesty to the protesters and protect their First Amendment rights.

Students present in the morning said they were told by KU Student Affairs they were not allowed to put up the tents they bought. 

A student affairs representative at the protest said they would not comment on the matter. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Protesters sit on tents that have not been raised on the lawn outside Fraser Hall.

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a spokesperson for the university, said via email that the university had put a policy in place in February regarding camping. The policy allows camping only as part of certain activities, including pre-approved public assemblies. 

If students or employees try to sleep outdoors on campus grounds past 10 p.m., they “may face disciplinary action. Visitors may be asked to leave the campus. Repeated violators may be removed and banned from campus,” according to the policy. 

When protesters were told by student affairs representatives that they needed to take down their banners, they formed a protective circle around the banners, linking arms and chanting. Afterward, KU Students for Justice in Palestine posted on Twitter asking for more supplies to make banners and posters. 

Cuyler Dunn/Lawrence Times Pro-Palestine protesters link arms in front of their banner outside Fraser Hall, May 1, 2024.

“Eyes are on them,” said J, who attended the protest and asked to be referred to by their first name to protect their safety. “This is shameful and disgraceful of them to do this. To not allow us to protest the crime that this university is committing that we as students do not stand for.”

Much of the encampment was calm through the day Wednesday. 

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A small presence of pro-Israel students have been present throughout the day, occasionally shouting at the pro-Palestine protest. 

In the early afternoon, a group of pro-Palestine protesters formed a line between a group of students who were praying and a few jeering pro-Israel students. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

In the late afternoon, protesters spread out on the lawn in the sun, listening to poems and songs from fellow demonstrators. 

“Our poetry and our similarities are so much more similar to each other and Palestinians than it is the one percent,” one speaker said. “We have solidarity together.”

Around five police officers were present at the site late afternoon, stationed on each side of the encampment. 

“There are no universities left standing in Gaza; I think that is an affront to our academic standing,” said Mya, who attended the protest and asked to be referred to by their first name to protect their safety. “We have to show solidarity with Palestinians experiencing genocide right now.” 

The students said they planned to stay until their demands were met. Both students and faculty members were at the protest. 

“It’s honestly amazing seeing the community come out for us, help keep us fed, keep us energized,” J said.

Before deciding to cap the night for good, protesters agreed to move inside Watson Library until up to midnight, when the building closes, because it was about to rain. But lightning changed their plans.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times

N, who attended the protest and asked to be referred to by their first initial to protect their safety, said they felt proud near the end of the group’s first day of occupation. And there’s more to come in the following days.

“I’m definitely exhausted,” N said. “I know, people have been here earlier than me — as early as 5 a.m. But honestly, I’m excited. I think we’ve built a lot of momentum. And we have people excited to talk about this ongoing genocide, which is really what we need. There is power in numbers and our voices matter.”

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, co-director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Serving KU & the Northeast Kansas Communities, was present throughout the day to support his students, he said Wednesday night.

Tiechtel said much of the pro-Palestinian demonstration has made Jewish students feel unsafe.

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“Protests like this, which is supporting Hamas — a terrorist entity — needs to be stopped in our campus, as far as if you want to express your opinion, you’re welcome to, but hateful rhetoric, messaging that makes it seem like Hamas has a right to be there and destroy and annihilate and murder Jews just because we’re Jewish is wrong,” Tiechtel said.

Tietchtel expressed sympathy for Palestinian victims but said “the whole concept of Israel doing genocide is absolutely not true.” He preferred not to get too deep into that statement at the time.

N said protesters inside the encampment briefly had tents pitched Wednesday evening but took them down once the sun set, per campus policy. The plan is to continue complying with campus policy and with police, if necessary.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Protesters pitched their tents for a while Wednesday evening.

“After a thorough discussion with the provosts and the representatives from student affairs, we came to the conclusion that by us setting up tents, we were not violating any campus or university policy, as long as we’re doing it between the hours of sunrise and sundown,” N said. “So like we had stated the entire time that we were planning on being here, we abided by university policies, and we set down all our tents right at sundown.”

No major conflict with police ensued Wednesday evening. One person on the outside of the encampment’s perimeter was detained by campus police after a brief altercation with people inside of the perimeter.

At around 9:30 p.m., an encampment media liaison told reporters that they would no longer be taking interviews for the night.

Protesters will be back on the lawn at 11 a.m. Thursday, according to their Twitter.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times A projection on Fraser Hall reads “Free Palestine – Ceasefire now!”
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Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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