Apr 30, 2024 - News

Pro-Palestinian protesters at Tulane vow not to leave until demands are met

Photos show people protesting at Tulane University in New Orleans

Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

Pro-Palestinian protesters reinforced their encampment with wooden pallets and construction barricades Tuesday on Tulane University's campus in New Orleans as law enforcement officers watched nearby.

Why it matters: It's a flashpoint for university leadership who must navigate political waters pitting pro-Israeli groups against pro-Palestinian groups in the Israel-Hamas war.

The big picture: Pro-Palestinian student protests have spread across U.S. campuses in the past week, urging school leaders to disclose and divest from Israel or companies that support the country.

  • Tulane and Loyola have had multiple marches and rallies since Hamas' October attack on Israel.
  • Juleea Berthelot with Students for a Democratic Society tells Axios New Orleans that she and others decided to start the encampment Monday in response to the organization's national call.
  • "We're fed up," said Berthelot, who is a Loyola sophomore from Slidell.
Locator map of college campuses with reported encampments or sit-ins related to the war in Gaza. There have been at least 82 reported encampments as of April 30, with the most clustered in universities in the Northeast. At least 30 campuses have reported police arrests.
Data: Axios research; Note: Universities with joint encampments reported separately; Locations approximated for clarity; Map: Kavya Beheraj, Tory Lysik and Will Chase/Axios

Zoom in: Six people were arrested Monday in connection with what Tulane calls an "unlawful protest on our campus." One of those was a Tulane student, the school said.

  • Seven students have been suspended, and another suspension was pending as of 10pm, Tulane said late Tuesday.
  • Any student who participates faces arrest on trespassing charges, and employees face possible termination, the statement said.
  • A man who was arrested Monday at the protest returned Tuesday. He told Axios he was tired and his wrists hurt and declined to comment further before joining the chanting.

The friction point: Tulane leaders and counter-protesters say most of the protesters are not affiliated with Tulane.

  • The protesters pushed back on that, saying most in the encampment were Tulane and Loyola students.
  • Axios New Orleans polled about two dozen protesters around noon Tuesday, and the majority said they were Tulane and Loyola students.
  • A handful said they were alums or supportive people who lived in the area.
Photos show people protesting at Tulane University in New Orleans
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

The other side: Yasmeen Ohebsion, a senior at Tulane, was among a group of people watching the protest Tuesday and said she was disappointed in her school for allowing it to happen.

  • "Tulane has completely failed its Jewish students," she told Axios.
  • Other students wore Israeli flags and said they were frustrated the university was allowing antisemitic comments, especially during Passover.

Driving the news: Law enforcement ramped up Tuesday with Tulane, NOPD, Louisiana State Police and Loyola officers represented near the encampment.

  • NOPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick met with State Police leaders at the protest before going into Tulane's administration building.
Photos shows NOPD chief Anne Kirkpatrick at Tulane University in New Orleans
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios
  • When protesters put up the wooden pallets and construction barricades to reinforce the encampment, Tulane police put up metal barricades around the edge of the lawn.
  • Someone with Tulane also parked a large digital sign on the grass that said it was private property and everyone must leave. The school later started playing music to drown out the "Free Palestine" chants.

Between the lines: Staffers from the Independent Police Monitor have been at the encampment since Monday to watch NOPD's interactions with protesters, said Kirschelle McGowan, the deputy police monitor.

  • McGowan, who was at the protest Tuesday, said she was looking for use of force and if it is justified.
  • As of Tuesday afternoon, Tulane police were taking the lead, and NOPD officers were hanging back.
Photos show people protesting at Tulane University in New Orleans
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

The vibe: The encampment was peaceful Tuesday morning with protesters making signs, doing homework and eating donated food.

  • In the afternoon, protesters started chanting and formed a human chain when they saw police gathering nearby.

What's next: Tulane says it is "focused on containing and ending the protest," but spokespeople declined to comment about a timeline Tuesday.

  • Protesters said they are settling in and prepared to go to jail. People have donated $7,000 to a bail fund, Berthelot said.
  • "We're here to make our statement," Berthelot said. "We're not here to fight the police."
Photos show people protesting at Tulane University in New Orleans
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios
Photos show people protesting at Tulane University in New Orleans
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios
Photos show people protesting at Tulane University in New Orleans
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios
Photo shows an encampment on Tulane's campus.
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios
Photos show people protesting at Tulane University in New Orleans
Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

Go deeper

Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:50pm Tuesday with a new count for student suspensions from Tulane.

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