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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    UConn president defends protest arrests; Group decries ‘student repression’

    A day after police arrested 25 pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of Connecticut, President Radenka Maric issued a statement that encouraged free expression and dialogue while standing firm in the university’s decision to arrest peaceful protesters.

    The joint statement, authored by President Radenka Maric, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Anne D’Alleva and Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Nathan Fuerst is the first communication from Maric to the UConn community after student activists established an encampment on April 25 to demand that the university break ties with Israel and divest from companies supporting the war in Gaza.

    UConn dismantled the encampment Tuesday after University of Connecticut Police arrested 24 students and one former student during an early-morning crackdown. The protesters were charged with criminal trespass in the first degree and disorderly conduct.

    In the statement, Maric, D’Alleva and Fuerst said “this was a difficult decision” and that the university “acted to ensure compliance with its policies and practices regarding larger public outdoor gatherings on our campuses.”

    “While we all wish arrests could have been avoided, we are grateful for the largely calm response and hope that this paves the way for constructive dialogue on very serious issues facing the global community in which we all live – which is exactly what a university community should foster,” they said.

    Maric, D’Alleva and Fuerst said the university “unequivocally supports the rights of our students and community at large to express themselves through speech and peaceful assembly, as well as through the bedrock right of academic freedom.”

    They said the encampment “was not registered and did not follow the University’s policies and processes” and that “individuals who were gathered at the encampment significantly deviated from the guidelines and ignored directives to follow them, including by erecting tents and through the use of amplified sound.”

    Student demonstrators said that between 50 and 200 police descended on the encampment at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, encircling the camp and arresting students who did not comply with orders to disperse.

    University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said Connecticut State Police troopers and a “small number of officers” from East Hartford, Norwich, Willimantic and the Department of Correction assisted UConn police. The university did not respond to a request to disclose the total number of law enforcement personnel involved.

    A number of students and faculty condemned the arrests, describing the action an infringement on Constitutional rights and academic freedom.

    Maric, D’Alleva and Fuerst said the university’s policies “do not conflict with rights to free speech and expression.”

    “We need to keep in mind that there are countless ways for students, faculty, staff, and others in our community to exercise their constitutional right to free speech that do not violate University policy or practice,” they said.

    Student protest plan

    On Wednesday, student organizers announced plans for a protest at 6 p.m. on Fairfield Way.

    “The fight for freedom won’t be stopped by handcuffs,” they said in a post on social media. “You can lock us up, you can chain us, but you will never silence the voice of the people.”

    The message called on “everybody across Connecticut” to “stand against student repression and against genocide.”

    Israeli officials and their supporters have repeatedly denied accusations of genocide, arguing that the nation’s attacks on Gaza, which have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, are necessary to defend Israel after Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 100 hostages on Oct. 7.

    Early on in the demonstrations, leaders of the UConn Hillel House said they were encouraging students to “steer clear” of the demonstrations.

    On Friday, Jewish and non-Jewish students criticized the encampment, calling the demonstrations antisemitic. Many condemned chants from the protesters including “There is only one solution: Intifada, revolution,” and “From the river to the sea,” saying that they believe such rhetoric calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people from Israel.

    A number of Jewish students said they do not feel safe on campus.

    A graduate student who is Jewish wished to be identified by only his first name, Elias, said the encampment has embraced Jewish students.

    “Throughout the last few days, it’s really been (a) peaceful, well organized encampment,” he said Tuesday. “The only moments of really high tension or violence have come from this crackdown by UConn and by the Police.”

    UConn students followed Yale in launching an ongoing protest encampment on April 24, occupying the space between the rec center and business school on the Storrs campus and calling it the “UCommune” at Dove Tower. They initially attempted to pitch tents, which were taken by police and one person, a graduate student, was arrested. Protesters subsequently slept outside in freezing cold temperatures in sleeping bags, awaking to study, share food, discussions and even yoga throughout the day.

    When rain fell three nights ago, protesters again pitched tents in violation of the school’s stated policy.

    The UConn students, calling themselves UConn Divest coalition, said the goal of the encampment is “to protest UConn’s complicity in the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza and its shameful contributions to militarism around the globe, and to advocate for a liberated Palestine.”

    The group said they will not leave campus until UConn agrees to an enumerated a list of demands, that the university “disclose and divest from occupation and genocide;” “sever ties to the war industry;” “sever ties to the settler-colonial state of Israel;” and “end repression of Palestinian and Pro-Palestinian activists.”

    The group points in particular to Raytheon Technologies (RTX), Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and calls for Alumni Trustee Bryan Pollard, associate general counsel for RTX, to be removed from the Board of Trustees.

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