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Live updates: Gaza solidarity encampment to continue through Sunday; group grows by nightfall

April 25, 2024
<p>Two students paint trees on a banner during a Gaza solidarity encampment in People’s Park behind Wells Hall on April 25, 2024.</p>

Two students paint trees on a banner during a Gaza solidarity encampment in People’s Park behind Wells Hall on April 25, 2024.

The State News is covering the ongoing Gaza solidarity encampment campus protest. This report will continue to be updated throughout the day. 

Update — 8:45 p.m.

At nightfall, those in the encampment are now sitting quietly, listening to speakers discussing the history of Israel-Palestine relations. 

The group has grown, now including about 60-70 students and older community members. 

They’ve continued to expand and embellish the encampment. It now includes a make-shift kitchen, hand-washing stations and lights.

At the front of the crowd there is now a large photo of Tariq Thabet, a former MSU exchange scholar who was killed in an Israeli bombing late last year.

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Update — 6 p.m.

The MSU Board of Trustees has approved the Gaza solidarity encampment’s permit request, according to university spokesperson Emily Guerrant.

The approval allows for encampment to remain standing in the space between Wells Hall and the International Center through Sunday, April 28, which was the time period requested by organizers.

Student protestors said they were grateful for the board's cooperation.

“I am thrilled that the Board of Trustees has recognized our right to protest and decided to not forcefully remove us,” said Natalie Harmon, a comparative cultures and politics senior who is one of the encampment marshals. “I really hope that this is a step in the right direction and that they'll actually listen to our demands and take a step towards divestment.”

Jesse Estrada White, a comparative cultures and politics junior and student organizer with Sunrise MSU, said he didn’t know if the group plans on staying past the permit’s expiration on Sunday.

“I don’t know yet,” Estrada White said. “It’s a collective decision.”

Update — 4 p.m.

MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said “all indications” point to the Board of Trustees approving the student protestors’ permit request.

“All indications are it’s going to be approved,” Guerrant said. “I don’t anticipate any problems, and I’m sure that will happen in the next couple of hours.”

Guerrant added that the pending decision is mainly concerned with the size of the demonstration and ensuring that demonstrators are aware of relevant safety information. Additionally, Guerrant said the Gaza solidarity encampment is the first time “on record” that students have used the permit request process for a political demonstration.

“(The board is) reviewing it, they didn’t seem to have any major concerns,” Guerrant said. “They were just double checking a couple of safety parameters they want to be communicated.”

Update — 2:30 p.m.

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Student leaders have established a set of rules governing the Gaza solidarity encampment behind Wells Hall.

The rules ask broadly that students “practice kindness” and treat the encampment like a commune.

“Give what you can and take what you need,” the rules say.

The rules also discourage drug and alcohol use.

Students have designated “marshals”: Leaders of the protest wearing bright orange vests, charged with communicating with police and the media.

Other students are discouraged from interacting with outsiders.

Two senior MSU administrators — Vice President for Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore and Vice President for Civil Rights and Title IX compliance Laura Rugless — briefly visited the encampment to talk to students.

The students have now settled into the camp, outfitting their tents with foam mattress toppers from newly-vacant dorm rooms.

Update — 2 p.m.

Student organizers said they have filed a permit request in hopes of protecting their Gaza solidarity encampment. 

MSU police said this morning that the protest violated a board ordinance prohibiting camping on campus.

MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant confirmed that the permit request will be reviewed by the Office of the Board Of Trustees. 

MSU police have moved further away from the student’s tents. The majority of the officers and vehicles have left.

Guerrant said the remaining officers “will continue to monitor” the encampment.

Update — 12:30 p.m.

MSU President Kevin Guskiewicz visited the Gaza solidarity encampment behind Wells Hall and spoke to protestors. 

He addressed concerns that the student activists’ tents and signage would be removed by MSU Police, telling them his administration will review their permit request and decide whether the encampment can continue.

“It’s gonna go through our process,” he told The State News after his discussion with students. “I support them petitioning to be able to have the encampment.”

The student activists pushed Guskiewicz on their demand that the university divest from an Israeli bond and stock portfolios they say fund weapons manufacturing. 

He deferred to MSU’s Board of Trustees, which he said is “reviewing our investment and endowment policies.”

The board, however, said earlier this month that it will not consider “divestment of any kind.”

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Update — 11:45 a.m.

If the protesters want to stay in the courtyard, they will need to apply for a permit which will be reviewed by MSU’s Board of Trustees, said Vice President of Communications Emily Guerrant.

“I don’t know what the board would ultimately decide,” she said.

There is also no set time when the university will enforce the ordinance preventing campus camping, Guerrant said. MSU Police previously told protesters they had to clear their tents by 10 a.m.

“We are continuing peaceful conversations with activists, but there is no firm timeline,” she said.

The protesters — 40 to 50 in all — have stopped chanting and are now eating in the encampment. New activists are arriving with food and water.

Update — 11 a.m.

Campus police arrived at the encampment two hours ago. Officer Steve Beard told student organizers that MSU ordinance 13.01 prohibits unauthorized camping on university grounds.

“You can still stay, you can still gather, you can do what you want to do, but the tents — because of the ordinance — have to come down,” he told students.

Beard said students would have to get permission from the Board of Trustees to have the encampment. 

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At 9 a.m., the police gave student activists 45 minutes to either remove tents or get permission from the board. They said they would extend the time if needed.

Activists say they don’t intend to leave.

“We’re standing our ground,” said Jesse Estrada White, a comparative cultures and politics junior and student organizer with Sunrise MSU.

There are now three police cars on the edge of the Wells Hall corridor. Two of them have K-9s. They have yet to take action, despite the 45 minute mark passing.

Interim Vice President of Public Safety & Chief Safety Officer Doug Monette also arrived at the encampment. He deferred questions to MSU Police’s Public Information Officer, who he said would arrive shortly.

“A lot of people here have bad experiences with cops, for good reason,” Estrada White said. “Just them being here threatening removal, possible arrest or citation, is unnerving enough. Dogs don't help.”

The students began locking hands, waving Palestinian flags, and chanting. There are now 40-50 protesters on the scene.

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Original Report — 8 a.m.

Michigan State University students have set up a Gaza solidarity encampment on campus, the latest and most extreme effort in their calls for the university to divest funds from Israel.

The students, around 35 in total, set up 18 tents in the corridor between Wells Hall and the International Center at 5:30 a.m. this morning, and plan to stay there until MSU meets their demands. 

“We're here to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the mass mobilization across all campuses calling for divestment from the state of Israel and an end to the genocide,” said Saba Saed, a Palestinian student organizer with the Arab Cultural Society.

Students at dozens of universities across the country have started encampments and sit-ins this week, often facing heavy police response and arrests.

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Dana Whyte, spokesperson for MSU’s Department of Police and Public Safety, said that dissent is encouraged on campus. But protests “cannot interfere with the rights of others, or stop the function of a speech or event, or interfere with the normal business operation of the university in causing disruption,” she said.

Before any arrest for disruption takes place, multiple public notifications are made in an attempt to disperse it, Whyte said.

Saed said the university’s police response will indicate “how willing they are to actually listen to these student voices.”

Later in the day, the activists plan to paint more signs and banners and hold a press conference. 

It’s “in the spirit of the encampment,” said Jesse Estrada White, a comparative cultures and politics junior and student organizer with Sunrise MSU.

The encampment is set up in “The Peoples’ Park,” an area that held an anti-Vietnam war encampment in 1970. The demonstration held 200 people at its highest, according to the MSU Archives.

“Part of that is the symbolism, the connection,” Estrada White said. “We may be … 50-60 years beyond that, but the university is still complicit in war, it's still complicit in genocide. Also, it's a good place for a camp.”

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MSU’s Board of Trustees announced earlier this month that its finance committee will conduct a review of the university's financial holdings but will not consider "divestment of any kind."

President Kevin Guskiewicz said the university is "doing everything to protect the endowment and our financial investments from any political influence."

As of June 30, 2023, MSU has $218.1 million invested in three BlackRock funds: BlackRock Emerging Companies, BlackRock Strategic and BlackRock Systematic China Absolute Return, according to the MSU list of investments.

Advocates for divestment argue that those investments, alongside an additional $363.8 million invested in BNY Mellon, are funding weapons manufacturers involved in the Israel-Hamas war. 

Additionally, MSU has $236,114 invested in Israeli bonds, as well as $479,006 invested in weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin. 

MSU spokesperson Mark Bullion said that while MSU does own U.S. treasury bonds that were issued to fund Israeli aid, "the university purchased these bonds in March 2023, well before the current conflict."

But even if MSU did decide to pull out of the Israeli bond, doing so would be "chaotic," Assistant Vice President of Financial Management Jeff Rayis told The State News in February.

Financial experts say the complex web of outside asset managers and contractually-bound investments put the university in a bind — without much control over its own endowment.

Both MSU’s undergraduate student government and the council of Graduate Students passed resolutions calling for divestment earlier this year. MSU’s Faculty Senate voted no on a similar resolution, a decision that 90 faculty members signed an open letter disagreeing with.

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Academics/administration reporter Owen McCarthy contributed to the contents of this article.

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