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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Pro-Palestinian protestors demonstrate during Jenkins’ celebration

No arrests were made despite confiscation of tents

As fireworks were set off above campus Thursday evening, a group of around 75 students and faculty participated in a pro-Palestinian march around South Quad. Demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans calling upon the University to do more to push for a ceasefire in Gaza and to disclose and divest from investments in military contractors.

The protests began around 5 p.m. when a small group gathered on God Quad, outside of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The beginning of the protests coincided with the 5:15 p.m. mass presided over by Fr. Jenkins as a part of the celebration marking the end of his presidency.

A statement of intent for the protest acquired by The Observer outlined the main goals of the protesters.

“We urge our institution to do more to bring about a ‘permanent ceasefire’ and an ‘accelerated and unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid to provide food, water, medicine and other assistance to civilians,’” the statement read. “We call [upon] the investment office to disclose the investment portfolios of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman and to divest from these companies that manufacture weapons and military warfare that directly facilitate the Gaza genocide and war crimes.”

Many protesters were wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian head garb, and were waving Palestinian flags. Protesters included undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty members.

The protests at Notre Dame follow similar protests at universities around the country. Students at Emory University, The University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University and New York University, among others, were arrested in the past week while protesting. Protesters have been accused of expressing anti-semitic sentiments, leading to a shift to hybrid classes for the rest of the semester at Columbia University.

During the early portion of the protest, participants sitting in the grass engaged in prayer for the Palestinians who have died in the conflict. At the same time, loudspeakers outside the Basilica broadcasted the mass onto God Quad.

At this time, police — from both the Notre Dame Police Department and the South Bend Police Department — drove by at a number of points in golf carts and were stationed on benches on God Quad, but did not directly approach the protestors. Police sniffer dogs were also in use.

At around 6 p.m., the protestors picked up their belongings and moved to the intersection of God Quad and South Quad. From there, they then moved west along South Quad, past Coleman-Morse Hall and Badin Hall, as well as the tents and tables set up for Fr. Jenkins’ celebration, before stopping in front of Morrissey and Howard Halls.

Along the way, the protestors chanted slogans such as “Free Palestine,” “From the river to the sea, justice and equality” and “Notre Dame, you can’t hide, you’re condoning genocide.” One protester held up a sign that read “This Passover, let’s hasten the Exodus from Zionism.”

Police followed the protestors as they marched.

Upon arriving in front of Morrissey, the protestors began assembling tents, some of which were draped with Palestinian flags. They then formed a circle around the tents, sitting down, linking arms and continuing their chants.

At this point, a large group of police had coalesced around Morrissey. Golf carts were parked on the quad, police on bikes circumambulated the area and police cars could be seen driving on nearby Lake Road and Corby Drive. Police could be heard speaking with some of the protesters, explaining that the tents were not permitted. These protesters then returned to the circle around the tents.

A few minutes later, the police entered the circle and confiscated the tents. A few protesters were sitting on one of the tents, causing the police to pull the tent from under them and move their legs off of the tents. The rest of the protesters continued chanting slogans, including “Free Palestine.” A loudspeaker used by the protesters was also confiscated.

No arrests were made and protesters offered no active resistance to the confiscation of the tents.

Some protesters, including Spencer French, a graduate PhD student in English, said they felt afraid of the police at this moment.

“When the huge group of police came, we were all very worried for our safety. People have been tased at different universities, students have been beaten, run to the ground, so of course it involves risk,” French said. “But we feel, or at least I feel, that this kind of risk is worthwhile to stand in solidarity with Gaza.”

After marching around South Quad during the evening’s fireworks display, protesters again attempted to set up a tent around 9:15 p.m. and surrounded it in a circle; however, police again entered the circle and confiscated the tent. Apart from these incidents, the police, although present for the duration of the protest, kept their distance and did not intervene.

Multiple University administrators stood nearby and watched the protests for the majority of the evening, including Campus Ministry director Fr. Pete McCormick and various staff from the Student Activities Office.

Foremost upon protesters’ minds was the University’s connections to weapons manufacturing companies.

“As a Catholic university, if we’ve asked for a ceasefire, we’re asking for a divest as well,” Jeanett Ochoa, a junior at Saint Mary’s said. “So an end to all of our funds from going into companies that are providing weapons of mass destruction.”

French, too, expressed this sentiment.

“We believe that because they are not being open about where they’re investing and they’re not being open about where their money is going, we’re really concerned that it’s actually involving the genocide of other people,” he said.

The location of the protest next to Jenkins’ celebration proved somewhat troublesome for the protestors, as loud music was being played from a DJ booth in front of the Rockne Memorial Gym, which drowned out many of the protestor’s chants. Although some protesters complained the music had been turned up since they had arrived, policemen stationed next to the DJ booth denied these claims.

Multiple protesters stressed the protest was not planned by any one student group, but rather came about organically.

“This was completely word of mouth, this is not through any one organization. This is entirely student-led and student-organized. It’s grassroots at the core,” French explained. “There’s faculty here too.”

Notably, however, the alumni-run pro-Palestine organization Occupation Free ND advertised the protest in a post on their Instagram account Thursday morning.

“We are mobilizing in solidarity with universities and colleges across the nation for a #Free Palestine,” the post read.

When asked about Occupation Free ND’s involvement, French stated the organization was only promoting the event, not organizing it.

“Some groups are amplifying information, but the heart and core of this is not through any organization,” he said.

The University requires all demonstrations to be registered and approved in advance by the vice president for campus safety and University operations and to be organized by “members of the University community.”

Following the second attempt at setting up tents, at around 10 p.m., demonstrators sat down in a circle on the quad, while taking turns giving speeches and reading poetry.

One protester called on Jenkins to support their cause.  

“We, the students, faculty and staff of Notre Dame call for your support as our mentor. We call on you to enact the very Catholic principles of honesty, justice and compassion when it comes to supporting Palestinian people,” he said. “We insist on our right to protest, to be respected.”

The Observer spoke to Notre Dame police who said the demonstrators would be asked to leave the area at around 11 p.m. Earlier in the evening, protesters had stated they planned to spend the night on the quad.

At 11 p.m., however, the protest began to die down as protestors thanked one another for coming and discussed future plans to plant 14,000 white flags on North Quad Sunday night at 9 p.m. to commemorate the Palestinian children who have died since the beginning of the war. The protestors said they had permission from the University to keep the flags up for 24 hours.

Around 11:10 p.m., demonstrators began to disperse as police looked on. A number of protesters participated in the Isha prayer, one of the five daily prayers for Muslims, around 11:20 p.m.. By 11:33 p.m., all the protesters, as well as the police, had left the area.

In a statement to The Observer, the University stated although it “welcomes students’ voices on issues and causes they care about,” it has “rules in place that govern when, where, and how gatherings and demonstrations can happen.”

“This evening a small group of students attempted to pitch tents on the South Quad,” the statement went on to explain. “After being reminded by University officials that tents are not permitted, Notre Dame Police confiscated the tents. The students continued their gathering peacefully and eventually dispersed.”

The protest group did not acquire University approval to hold the protest. It was unclear why the University allowed the protest to continue despite its requirement that demonstrations be approved beforehand.

Annelise Demers and Liam Price contributed to this reporting.