Apr 29, 2024 - News

How Boston-area colleges are responding to pro-Palestinian protests

Protesters at Northeastern University shout chants as they support fellow demonstrators as they are placed into nearby police vans early Saturday morning.

Protesters at Northeastern University shout chants as they are placed into nearby police vans early Saturday morning. Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

College and police responses to pro-Palestinian encampments on campuses have sparked debates over what consequences student protesters should face, if any.

Why it matters: Graduation is around the corner, and some students could have their degrees withheld for participating in protests against Israel's ground offensive in Gaza.

State of play: Ken Henderson, Northeastern University chancellor, wrote in a letter that students who were arrested will face disciplinary proceedings over their role in the encampment, which he called "an unauthorized occupation of university space."

  • Henderson said he warned protesters multiple times the encampment would have to be dismantled and that the demonstration drew a large crowd of non-college-affiliated protesters.
  • The university is also investigating antisemitic statements that were made by some protesters as tensions escalated Friday, Henderson wrote.
  • In total, 98 people were arrested Friday night, including 29 students and six faculty and staff.

Harvard College's administrative board asked 30 students to appear over their participation in the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard, the Crimson reported.

  • The board will decide whether students will face disciplinary action. Students may have their degrees withheld if they face a pending disciplinary charge.

Yes, but: Emerson College president Jay Bernhardt wrote in a statement that the student protesters arrested last week won't face disciplinary charges.

  • Emerson officials will also encourage the district attorney not to pursue criminal charges and will provide housing support to students who have to stay in Boston for court appearances after their dorms close.
  • "Though we are nearing the end of the academic year, our commitments to free expression, safety, and an inclusive community will remain top priorities for our leadership team far beyond this semester," Bernhardt wrote.

The escalating protests and responses prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to send a letter to college presidents Friday calling for stronger protections for free speech and academic freedom.

What they're saying: "Preserving physical safety on campuses is paramount; but 'safety' from ideas or views that one finds offensive is anathema to the very enterprise of the university," the ACLU letter states.

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