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Pro-Palestine student protesters set up encampment at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison

A group of students gather outside of a college campus. One student holds a megaphone. There are tents set up, and many of the students hold signs. There is a Palestinian flag set up behind the student group.
Emily Files
Student protestors set up an encampment outside Mitchell Hall on Monday. Throughout the afternoon, they decorate the sidewalk with Pro-Palestine messages and shout protest chants.

On Monday, Milwaukee and Madison joined the growing number of U.S. cities that have pro-Palestine encampments on college campuses.

At UWM, student protesters gathered on the lawn at Mitchell Hall. By mid-afternoon, there were about 100 protesters and 20 tents. The gathering was organized by a group called the UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition. The coalition is made up of different student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Students for a Democratic Society and the Muslim Student Association.

At the encampment, student organizers outlined a list of demands for UWM. It includes the campus disclosing and divesting financial ties to Israel. The list also says UWM must release a statement condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and refer to Israel as “an apartheid state.”

Samia Saeed is a journalism student at UWM and part of the UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition. She says the encampment was necessary because students have exhausted conventional avenues for making change.

"We have talked to the Dean of Students. We have talked to Mark Mone, the chancellor. We've talked to every person that we needed to talk to, and those are just meetings and conversations that mean nothing at all," Saeed says. "So, we have decided that we need to take direct action."

Saeed says the goal is to stay at UWM as long as it takes for the university to meet the group's demands.

Ameen Atta is also a student at UWM and part of the Popular University for Palestine Coalition. He says he's seen how police have responded to encampments on other college campuses, like Columbia University in New York, where more than 100 protesters were arrested last week. However, he says he and his peers are determined to show large, visible support for Palestine.

"Whatever the police do, regardless of what the university decides to do, we are committed to staying put because the cause is bigger than us," Atta says. "It's not about me. It's not about the students that are here. It's about the kids that now are dead. The kids that are dead in Gaza." 

The UWM encampment drew the attention of Hillel Milwaukee, an organization that supports Jewish college students and young adults. The organization posted a statement on Facebook saying Hillel understands and upholds “the university’s commitment to the protection of freedom of expression.” But Hillel says it also hopes and expects UWM will enforce its “policies and act to restore a sense of belonging and safety among Jewish students.”

Hillel says the encampment comes “just weeks after a group of protestors encircled Jewish students on UWM’s campus, chanting violent and antisemitic slogans, and forcing Jewish students to flee under police protection.”
The UWM administration did not respond immediately to the demands made by protesters at the encampment. But last month, Chancellor Mark Mone sent a letter to the Students for a Democratic Society. It's one of the organizations behind the encampment and for months it's been pushing for UWM to cut ties with Israel.

In his letter to the group, Mone said UWM has no investments in weapons manufacture and has no planned study-abroad trips to Israel. He also said “cutting ties” with Israel, including faculty research, would prohibit faculty from conducting research about the ongoing conflict.

Meanwhile, in response to the encampment Monday, UWM spokesperson Angelica Duria says UWM respects students' right to free speech. But she says the encampment violates the campus’ protest guidelines. UWM police are monitoring the gathering.

Update: UWM provided this statement on Monday evening in response the the Popular University for Palestine Coalition's demands.

UWM Statement on Free Speech and Campus Protests

Editor's note: WUWM is a service of UW-Milwaukee.

Support for the Eric Von Broadcast Fellowship is provided, in part, by Bader Philanthropies.

Nadya is WUWM's sixth Eric Von fellow.
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