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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

“We are in it for the long haul”: Students camp out on campus in solidarity with Gaza, demanding divestment

<p>Demands of the protestors include divestment and financial transparency, free expression and amnesty, cutting ties with the Israel Institute and a statement from the college administration for ceasefire. </p>

Demands of the protestors include divestment and financial transparency, free expression and amnesty, cutting ties with the Israel Institute and a statement from the college administration for ceasefire.

An initial version of this story was published online on Sunday, April 28. This story was last updated on Wednesday, May 1, to include developments in the encampment Monday, April 29 through Wednesday, May 1. 

At 7:15 a.m. on Sunday, April 28, a group of about 40 students set up tents on McCullough lawn to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. The students at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment — which continues to grow as more students bring their own tents — are prepared to remain on the lawn until their needs are met, or until graduation, which is a month away. 

Encampments have appeared at over 50 colleges and universities across the country over the past few weeks, and more continue to pop up, but Middlebury’s was the first protest of this scale in Vermont. Later on Sunday afternoon, Pro-Palestinian protesters pitched tents at the University of Vermont, as well. 

After two full days in the encampment on Tuesday, April 30, Josh Glucksman ’24.5, one of the spokespeople for the encampment, described the protesters as “officially in dialogue” with the college administration. 

“We are in it for the long haul. We want the administration to respond to what we’re asking of them. We’re willing to stay here as long as necessary,” Oliver Patrick ’24, another spokesperson for the protest, told The Campus on Sunday afternoon. 

Palestine Flag.jpeg

Demands of the protestors include divestment and financial transparency, free expression and amnesty, cutting ties with the Israel Institute and a statement from the college administration for ceasefire.

On Tuesday, Glucksman estimated that there were 130 people who had been heavily involved with the camp. He added that the encampment had grown to include over 60 tents. 

On Wednesday, May 1, hundreds of Middlebury students walked out of their 11:15 a.m. classes and gathered on McCullough lawn for chants, student speeches and a teach-in. Chants included “Middlebury you can’t hide you’re supporting genocide” and “not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes.” The walk out was a part of the National Students for Justice in Palestine’s May Day movement. 

Four members of the college’s Senior Leadership Group — Vice President for Student Affairs Smita Ruzicka, Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration David Provost, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Khuram Hussain and Dean of Faculty Jim Ralph — met with four students representing the encampment on Tuesday morning. 

“We had an initial meeting with student organizers on Tuesday, April 30, during which we discussed their concerns, general safety, and exploring avenues for continued engagement,” a spokesperson for the college wrote in an email to The Campus on Tuesday afternoon. “We did not reach a resolution at that time but plan to continue the discussions in the coming days.” 

The college spokesperson added that the college’s top priorities are the safety and security of all students on campus and encouraging the educational institution’s values of freedom of expression. “Right now, the group’s behavior is not substantially disruptive, and our focus is on dialogue and carrying out our educational mission,” they wrote.

Gaza Solidarity Encampment.jpeg

About 40 students set up tents on McCullough lawn on the morning of Sunday, April 28 to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

“We do know that as we get closer to graduation, the rules will change about what we’re doing here on this grass, where grad is going to happen. We know that administrators are going to pull up any rule in the book to try and get us to leave,” Glucksman said on Monday. 

Planning for the event was largely kept under wraps among a group of organizers, and many people were surprised by the tents from the Gear Room on Sunday morning. Patrick and Glucksman emphasized that the encampment is open to anyone who wants to get involved. 

The protesters have created three “zones” of involvement in the encampment. Red zone students have committed to live at the encampment and are willing to risk academic sanction and arrest; yellow zone students will stay unless asked to disperse by law enforcement; green zone students will participate in daytime activities at the encampment. 

Athena Antippas ’26, another organizer of the protest, described the zones as a way of helping people understand the risks of participating in the encampment, and protecting the most vulnerable groups, such as international students and students of color. 

“We came up with this in a defensive manner, because we know that the rules are going to change, that they're going to find loopholes, or they're going to be scouring the handbook,” Antippas told The Campus on Monday. “And we wanted to make sure that there's an internal understanding of how we keep each other safe”

The demands of the encampment, according to the organizers, are divestment of Middlebury’s endowment from holdings in companies that profit from Israel’s military campaign; freedom of speech and protester amnesty; an end to association with Israeli institutions and businesses; and cultivating association with Palestinian academic and cultural institutions without a requirement that the college partner with Israeli counterparts as well. 

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The organizers also demand the college end its silence “by releasing a public statement calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and condemning Israel’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people,” according to the press statement on the Middlebury Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Instagram released Sunday morning. 

The encampment is not affiliated directly with Middlebury SJP. The SJP organization has been in conversation with the college administration about its investment in Israeli-affiliated companies for the past six months, Glucksman told The Campus. 

“A number of us were frustrated with basically the extent to which the administration was willing to engage with us beyond a lot of conflict transformation kind of stuff. We weren’t really making tangible achievements or intangible progress on some of our main goals,” Patrick said.

Glucksman and Patrick called for increased transparency about where the school is investing its money. Middlebury’s investment is contracted through a private firm called Investure, which means many of the investments are not available to the public. Glucksman said although the college does not have public holdings in arms manufacturing, there is no way to know the private holdings. He added that Middlebury has no explicit policy to not have holdings in arms manufacturing.

Tents.jpeg

About 40 tents, mostly from the college gear room, were on McCullough lawn by 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 28.

In 2019, the Board of Trustees voted to divest from fossil fuels in response to the student-led Energy 2028 campaign. In 1986, the college divested from business in South Africa in response to student and faculty calls amidst apartheid. 

Since Sunday, the encampment has held daily educational programming, such as workshops on “Zionist Co-opting of Judaism” and “Palestine and the Environment,” and twice daily general assembly meetings. The protesters set up a so-called “People’s University” tent in the encampment, where professors have held classes and clubs can hold meetings. 

College faculty and staff members have supported students through offering supplies such as tarps in case of rain. Community members from Vermont Justice for Palestine have also visited the encampment. Wafic Faour, a member of Vermont Justice for Palestine, came to the encampment from Richmond, Vt. and gave a speech on Sunday afternoon.

“You will learn from this encampment more than you will in your classes. Believe me,” Faour told the crowd. “You are not studying history, you are creating history.”

He told the protestors that there is a place for Jewish students at the encampment. 

“Liberating ourselves from historical genocide is to stand with the people who are suffering. Is to liberate our Jewish communities of the Zionist occupation to their identities,” Faour explained.  

Glucksman stated that he has been disappointed by mainstream media coverage focused on moments of anti-semitism at encampments across other college campuses, and that this protest at Middlebury would feature Jewish students celebrating Passover. 

One student protester called herself the public safety liaison for the encampment. She spoke to Public Safety officers on duty Mark Johns and Rick Whitney on Sunday morning. She said the only rule the encampment is breaking is a Residential Life policy on camping on college grounds, and insofar as the protestors are not escalatory and do not block campus pathways, they are not breaking any other rules.   

As of Tuesday afternoon, the student public safety liaison had spoken to Public Safety again, and confirmed that there was no change to the situation or the policies the protesters were breaking. 

“Students are not expected to be in areas that are not regular living spaces. They should not use areas outside of their living spaces for storage unless authorized. The list of spaces excluded from student use includes any roof or outer surface of any Middlebury building,” reads Middlebury’s Residential Life Policies. 

Residential Life did not respond to The Campus’ request for comment.

The college confirmed that there are currently no plans for the Middlebury Police Department to get involved. 

Glucksman and Patrick emphasized that involvement in the protest is open to anyone, and they welcome any level of engagement. Patrick said he plans to attend classes over the coming weeks, but Glucksman does not plan to leave the encampment for class or to eat meals in the dining hall.

“There’s a general sense that people want to take risks, and that this moment — genocide in Gaza right now is not one where it feels right to continue going to classes and doing life as usual,” Glucksman said. 

About 600 students have been arrested at pro-Palestinian protests on at least 15 college campuses over the past week, according to Axios. Particularly prolific among recent protests was the arrest of 108 Barnard College and Columbia University students by the New York City Police Department, who were enlisted by Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, on April 18. 

“It all started with Columbia but it’s not going to end with Columbia,” Glucksman said.

The Middlebury Student Government Association (SGA) passed a joint statement in solidarity with students at Barnard College, Columbia University and college across the country, in commitment to students’ free speech and opposition to administrative abuse of students’ liberties, on Friday, April 26. A number of other colleges’ student government associations, Williams College, New York University, UC Berkeley and Cornell University, also signed the statement. 

As of May 1, 587 alumni have signed an open letter to the college in support of the encampment. The alumni pledged to withhold all donations to Middlebury until it meets the encampment’s demands. 

The Middlebury chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also passed a statement on May 1 supporting the right to protest as vital to academic freedom and the college’s educational mission. “We appreciate the administration’s decision to refrain from escalating by bringing the police or outside security to campus. We urge the administration to hold the course and to vigorously uphold this right to peaceful protest,” the statement, supported by over half of the AAUP’s 200-plus members, read. 

At the Middlebury encampment, many students covered their faces with masks, and duct taped their tattoos to avoid being recognized by the press. The protestors also held a security workshop, which included de-escalation techniques, on Sunday afternoon. 

“This is our way of standing in solidarity and putting all of our efforts right now towards the people of Gaza. And everything else is secondary. That is the most important message we want to share,” Glucksman said. 

Editor’s note: Managing Editor Ryan McElroy ’25 and Editors-at-Large Charlie Keohane ’24 and Sarah Miller ’24 contributed reporting to this story.


Katie Futterman

Katie Futterman '24 (she/her) is a Managing Editor.

Katie previously served as a News Editor and Staff Writer. This past summer, she was a news intern at Seven Days, and she held the same position at the Addison Independent the prior summer. In her free time, she loves to read, write, and bask in the sun.


Maggie Reynolds

Maggie Reynolds '24 (she/her) is the Editor in Chief.  

Maggie previously served as the Senior Local Editor, a Local Section Editor, and a Staff Writer. She spent this past J-term interning for VTDigger, covering topics from affordable housing in Addison County to town government scandals. She also interned for Seven Days VT as an arts & culture reporter summer 2022 and as a news reporter for the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY summer 2021.   

Maggie is majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Spanish. She was a three-year member of the Women's Swimming and Diving team. Maggie enjoys running, hiking, and iced maple lattes. 


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