Students take down pro-Palestinian encampment at UVM

An encampment set up by pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Vermont was mostly dismantled by the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (VtDigger - Corey McDonald)

An encampment set up by pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Vermont was mostly dismantled by the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (VtDigger - Corey McDonald)

By PETER D’AURIA

VtDigger

Published: 05-08-2024 3:37 PM

A tent encampment at the University of Vermont is coming down, organizers announced Wednesday, after pro-Palestinian student protesters spent 10 nights occupying a campus quad. 

Protest organizers said that students had made the “strategic decision” to pack up the camp in an Instagram post Wednesday, after claiming a partial victory in forcing the university to agree to their demands. 

“While the encampment served as an immensely useful tactical escalation, the time has now come for us to pivot our energy,” Students for Justice in Palestine, the campus group that has spearheaded pro-Palestinian activism, said in its announcement. 

A spokesperson for the University of Vermont did not immediately respond to a call and email requesting comment. 

This spring, university and college campuses nationwide erupted in protest against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. At UVM, students began pitching tents on the Andrew Harris Commons on April 28.

The camp, which at one point grew to nearly 100 tents, according to organizers, called on UVM to unveil details about its investments, divest from Israeli companies and arms manufacturers, cut ties with Israeli academic institutions and cancel the university’s commencement speaker. 

Protesters saw the speaker, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as complicit in the U.S.’ decision to veto three resolutions calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. 

On Friday, UVM announced that Thomas-Greenfield would not speak at commencement after all. The university also released some information about the investment of its endowment last week, although a school spokesperson said that was a routine disclosure to trustees. 

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Either way, protesters claimed a limited victory. 

“Though the fight for full disclosure, divestment, and severing of ties between UVM and the Israeli occupation is only beginning, we have demonstrated that power lies with the people,” Students for Justice in Palestine said on Instagram. 

The Vermont Cynic reported that students began taking down tents at midnight. By 1 p.m. on Wednesday, most of the tents on the Andrew Harris Commons had been disbanded. About a dozen students were working to clear the remaining campsites. Students who spoke with VTDigger declined to provide their names, but said they hoped to continue their activism and push the university to divest from companies involved in the conflict in Gaza.

Protesters’ decision to disband the encampment voluntarily stands in stark contrast with some other U.S. universities and colleges. At other campuses — including Dartmouth College, less than two hours away — police forcibly dismantled camps and conducted mass arrests of students. 

At UVM, administrators have taken no action to remove the camp, but have maintained that its existence violated university policy. An unspecified number of students are facing potential disciplinary action over their participation.