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Tulane closes 3 buildings after pro-Palestinian protesters set up encampment

Protesters set up a tent encampment on Tulane University’s campus in New Orleans on April 30, 2024.
Matt Bloom
Protesters set up a tent encampment on Tulane University’s campus in New Orleans on April 30, 2024.

A portion of Tulane University’s campus is closed after roughly 200 people protesting Israel’s war in Gaza — and what they describe as the school’s financial support — set up a tent encampment across from Audubon Park.

Officials closed Gibson, Tilton-Memorial and Dinwiddie Halls and said classes scheduled in those buildings would be held remotely.

Protesters set up a small tent encampment on Gibson lawn Monday night and defended it against police by forming a human chain.

“Arrests have been made and suspensions are being issued,” Tulane’s president, Michael Fitts, said in a statement Tuesday. At least six people were arrested for trespassing when Tulane police tried to stop them from first setting up tents.

Fitts referred to the encampment as “unlawful” and said the majority of protesters are unaffiliated with Tulane — though he did not explain how the university knows that to be true.

“We want to be clear: We do not condone and will not allow trespassing, hate speech, antisemitism and bias against religious or ethnic groups, harassment, intimidation, violence and other criminal acts on any of our campuses,” he wrote.

The standoff echoes demonstrations on many U.S. college campuses in recent weeks, from Columbia University in New York City to state schools in Florida and Texas. While protesters' actions and demands are similar, responses from school administrators have varied widely.

Tents raised, arrests made

Tulane officials said demonstrators set up tents near the sidewalk along St. Charles Avenue early Monday evening, just after 6 p.m.

The actions were “unregistered and unauthorized,” according to a statement sent to students and faculty by Kirk Bouyelas, the school’s associate vice president of public safety and community engagement.

“We fundamentally respect the right to protest,” Bouyelas wrote. “However, breaking the law, hate speech, harassment, intimidation, trespassing, violence and other criminal acts will not be tolerated.”

Some classes were also canceled Monday evening due to police activity, the school said.

The demonstration began at 5 p.m. outside of Tulane’s Navy R.O.T.C. building on Freret Street. Organizers, who identified themselves as a mixture of students and community members from various Democratic Socialist organizations, gave speeches and led chants including “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The phrase is a nod to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea where Gaza and Israel are located, but different interpretations have made it divisive. For some, it’s a rallying cry to liberate all Palestinians throughout the region. Others see it as a call to destroy Israel.

Speakers at Tulane made a list of demands, including that leaders of Tulane and neighboring Loyola University disclose and divest any financial ties the schools have with the Israeli government.

Attendees carried Palestinian flags and held signs that read “Ceasefire now,” and “Free Palestine.” Together, the group marched through the neighborhood before stopping on the lawn in front of Gibson Hall.

As the group approached the lawn, some demonstrators started to set up tents next to a tree by the sidewalk. Dozens of police officers were present and some told protesters they were on Tulane’s property before attempting to dismantle their tents.

Demonstrators linked arms in response and began chanting “Disclose. Divest. We will not stop. We will not rest.”

Officers tackled some protesters to the ground and other demonstrators screamed for them to stop. A group of four officers on horseback rode directly into the line of linked protesters and attempted to push them off the school’s property.

Tulane police officers arrest a member of a pro-Palestinian protest on the school’s campus on April 30, 2024.
Matt Bloom
Tulane police officers arrest a member of a pro-Palestinian protest on the school’s campus on April 30, 2024.

Police pulled several protesters to the ground and handcuffed them before escorting them off the lawn.

People arrested were cited for trespassing, battery of an officer and resisting arrest, according to Tulane. The New Orleans’ Police Department, which had officers on site to assist, did not make any of the arrests, an NOPD spokesman said.

Other recent demonstrations near campus calling for an end to Israel’s war in Gaza have been largely peaceful — except for an early rally that turned violent when someone tried to burn an Israeli flag. Three students were assaulted and several people were arrested, none of them students, according to a Tulane spokesperson.

A pro-Palestinian demonstration in Jackson Square also escalated Sunday night. Five NOPD officers were hospitalized and twelve protesters were arrested.

Chita Chadalawada, a Tulane pediatric medical resident who was there to support Palestine, said prior to the arrests, the protest Monday was “peaceful and organized.”

“We are just asking for our community to stop supporting what our country is doing,” she said, referring to U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza. “Tulane, Loyola and New Orleans itself are all funding bombs being dropped on children in Gaza, and so that's why I'm here.”

Attendees of the demonstration said they were inspired by students at Columbia University and other schools where similar encampments have been set up in recent weeks. The swell of unrest has left university leaders to balance students’ first amendment protections while considering overall campus safety.

Some students and politicians, including U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, of Louisiana, have called the protests “lawless” and “hotbeds for antisemitism.”

During Monday’s protest at Tulane, dozens of people gathered on the neutral ground on St. Charles Avenue to watch the demonstration and in some cases, counter protest. Some held Israeli flags and stood mostly silent.

Sophia Morasco, a Tulane student who identifies as Jewish and Christian, stood with a sign that said, “War has no winners.”

She said she’s felt isolated and uncomfortable on campus in recent months as the conversation around Israel’s war in Gaza has grown more polarized.

“I just wish people could talk to each other instead of just having this extreme rhetoric,” she said.

As she spoke, someone walked over to her from the encampment and yelled, “Death to America!”

“That’s crazy,” Morasco said, turning away from the crowd and toward a group of students holding Israeli flags. “That is not what everyone else thinks,” she said.

A pro-Palestinian march makes its way along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans on November 9, 2023.
Aubri Juhasz
A pro-Palestinian march makes its way along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans on November 9, 2023.

Police continued to monitor the Tulane encampment through Monday evening and repeatedly called for the crowd to disperse.

People in the encampment ignored the instruction and spoke to attendees over a microphone. They shared statistics, including the death toll from the conflict so far in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza health officials said earlier this month that more than 35,000 people have been killed since the Israeli army began bombing the area in response to the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 that Israel says killed 1,200 people.

It remained unclear Tuesday morning how Tulane officials plan to respond to the remaining protesters, though Fitts, the university’s president, said in a statement that the school would issue suspensions.

With graduations set for early May, other schools have adjusted exam schedules and in some cases canceled commencement ceremonies.

Classes at Tulane end Wednesday and final exams run through May 9. Graduation is scheduled for May 18.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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