Pro-Palestinian camp at Wayne State dismantled while MIT students walk out of commencement

May 30, 2024, 4:51 AM | Updated: 6:40 pm

DETROIT (AP) — Police broke up a pro-Palestinian encampment at a Detroit university and arrested at least 12 people Thursday while more than 100 graduates walked out of commencement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the East Coast, the latest campus stress related to the Israel-Hamas war.

Police in riot gear removed fencing and broke down tents erected last week on green space near the undergraduate library at Wayne State University.

President Kimberly Andrews Espy cited health and safety concerns and disruptions to campus operations. Staff were encouraged to work remotely this week, and in-person summer classes were suspended.

“No individual or group is permitted to claim campus property for their own use and deny others access to that property,” Espy said.

The camp, she added, “created an environment of exclusion — one in which some members of our campus community felt unwelcome and unable to fully participate in campus life.”

An outdoor commencement ceremony at MIT in Cambridge, near Boston, was disrupted for 10 to 15 minutes when some graduates walked out. Wearing keffiyehs, the checkered scarves that represent Palestinian solidarity, over their caps and gowns, they chanted “free, free Palestine” and held signs that said, “All eyes on Rafah.”

“There is going to be no business as usual as long as MIT holds research projects with the Israeli Ministry of Defense,” said David Berkinsky, 27, who earned a doctorate degree in chemistry and walked out. “There are no graduates in Gaza. There are no universities left in Gaza left because Israeli has bombed every single one.”

Eesha Banerjee, a 20-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, who received her bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering and physics and walked out, said she wants to pressure MIT to become a better place.

“It wouldn’t feel right taking the degree without making clear to the administration and corporation that we still want the demands to be met. We are still watching what the administration does,” she said. “We want to send the message that this movement will continue. Students are still standing for those ties to be dropped.”

Banerjee said she never questioned her decision to leave commencement.

“While I’m still here, I want to use every chance I can to push this institute to be better,” she said. “I want MIT to be the institution that it can be, and it can’t be that until it drops its ties, drops its complicity.”

Some people at the event were upset by the disruption, swore at the protesters and yelled, “Good riddance to Hamas terror fans.” A pro-Palestinian encampment at MIT was cleared by the school on May 10.

Protest camps sprang up across the U.S. and in Europe as students demanded their universities stop doing business with Israel or companies that they say support its war in Gaza. Organizers seek to amplify calls to end Israel’s war with Hamas, which they describe as a genocide against the Palestinians.

In Detroit, as the Wayne State camp was cleared, at least 12 people were arrested for trespassing or other offenses, including one for assaulting a police officer, spokesperson Matt Lockwood said.

The protesters chanted to police, “There’s no riot here, why are you in riot gear?”

The protesters have demanded that the school divest from weapons manufacturers supplying Israel, provide a full disclosure of investments and cease delegation trips to Israel.

Wayne State this week posted video of its efforts to invite protesters to private meetings with Espy and other officials if they would dismantle the camp. Lockwood said all of the university’s efforts were rejected.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, visited the encampment site after it was broken up to offer support to the protesters.

Ali Hassan, who represents WSU Students for Justice in Palestine, told WXYZ-TV this week that he believed the university’s shift to remote learning means the administration is taking notice of the student protests.

“The reason that they went remote is because we have put pressure on them,” he said.

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on May 21 broke up a similar encampment after 30 days.


Associated Press writers Michael Casey and Steve LeBlanc in Cambridge, Massachusetts, contributed to this story.

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Pro-Palestinian camp at Wayne State dismantled while MIT students walk out of commencement