Miami University students protest Israeli-Hamas war with peaceful encampment

‘Those present have been informed that they are currently violating policy and must come into compliance,’ Miami VP says.

OXFORD — After weeks of unrest at college campuses across the U.S., students at Miami University have started a pro-Palestine encampment on the academic quad outside Roudebush Hall, the university’s main administrative building.

In the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, students across the country have formed encampments to protest university investments in companies which support Israel, which protestors say is committing a genocide against Palestinians. These protests have led to clashes with police and hundreds of arrests, including at Columbia University, UCLA and more.

Miami’s own encampment, led by the campus branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), follows a week of scheduled protests, sign making and study sessions. According to the SJP Instagram account, the encampment began at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Roughly 40 students were at the encampment Thursday night, but that number shrank to about 20 on Friday morning.

In a statement to the Journal-News, Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Jessica Rivinius wrote that university staff have been present to “maintain student safety and ensure that university policy is followed.”

“Unfortunately, participants have chosen not to follow university policy,” Rivinius wrote. “Those present have been informed that they are currently violating policy and must come into compliance.”

Student protestors have been given 48 hours to stay in their encampment, but administrators required them to take down the tents at 6 a.m. Sunday, according to SJP president Maysa Constandinidis.

Just after 9 p.m. Thursday, several administrators from Miami, not including Miami President Gregory Crawford, emerged from Roudebush Hall and asked to speak to leaders within the encampment. Darek Sanabria Valderrama, a junior diplomacy and global politics major and incoming treasurer for Miami’s branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, and Constandinidis met with the administrators for roughly 15 minutes.

Constandinidis confirmed that the administrators representing the university included Vice President for Student Life Jayne Brownell, Dean of Students BaShaun Smith and Assistant Vice President for Student Life Scott Walter.

“They will let us stay overnight,” Constandinidis told the protestors at 9:20 p.m. “But if you are not a Miami student, you have to go … you will be considered trespassing.”

The administrators told Constandinidis and Sanabria Valderrama that the encampment will need to take down their tents on Friday morning but can continue to protest in ways that “comply with the policy,” Constandinidis told the encampment. According to university policy on freedom of expression, students may protest without scheduling or obtaining permits, but demonstrations are subject to time, place and manner restrictions. Non-students, however, require authorization.

University policy also prohibits camping outdoors except in designated locations as part of official student organization activities. Temporary structures must be approved by the physical facilities department, and the Miami University Police Department must review and approve security needs.

The protestors are planning a Shabbat dinner Friday night in coordination with Sheba Cincinnati, Constandinidis said, and she expects the encampment to grow throughout the day as more students wake up. The encampment will also host a professor from the University of Cincinnati for a teach-in on Friday.

“We are also going to be singing some music … doing arts and crafts,” Constandinidis said. “It’s basically a lot of community building today and just good vibes.”

Sanabria Valderrama said the decision to start an encampment came after conversations with Crawford on May 1. The university committed to reaching out to its strategic investment group to evaluate whether the university has money going to companies in Israel, Sanabria Valderrama said.

“Safety is our number one priority,” Sanabria Valderrama said. “We let everyone know that if you’re uncomfortable at all, feel free to leave.”

Police officers from the Miami University Police Department monitored the encampment throughout the night. Constandinidis said four “very angry” people showed up at 4 a.m. and she felt they threatened the safety of student protestors. After informing the police, the four people dispersed.

Oxford Police Department Chief John Jones wrote in an email that the university has not requested OPD’s assistance.

Several counter-protestors were also present at Miami’s seal as the encampment formed but left later in the night. Daniel Renfield, a member of Students Supporting Israel, said he pays attention to SJP events and decided to go to the encampment after the rabbi encouraged him. While the protests were peaceful, he said he’s skeptical about what the encampment might accomplish.

“At the end of the day, we can’t do anything about the conflict,” Renfield said. “They can’t either. They want Crawford to do all these things, they have an action list right there, but it’s really doing nothing.”

Dominic Dellapina said he heard the protestors start to form near his residence hall and came out to voice his support for Israel. He said Miami’s campus could be a positive model for other protests across the country. As of Thursday night, no clashes between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protestors had been reported.

“I think Miami can be kind of like a role model for these other universities because of how peaceful we have been,” Dellapina said. “It shows that students with different opinions, different views, different protests can coexist here.”

The encampment at Miami is calling for the university to disclose its financial investments and holdings, divest from all companies and institutions “that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine,” make a public statement endorsing an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and apologize for staying neutral.

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