Harvard Suspends, Sanctions 35 Protesters; Students Say Disciplinary Measures ‘Violated’ Agreement to End Encampment

A student protester against the war in Gaza walks past tents and banners in an encampment in Harvard Yard, April 25. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

(Boston Herald/TNS) — Harvard handed out notice of academic sanctions to 35 pro-Palestinian student protesters over the weekend, students said — a move that galvanized renewed pushback from groups Sunday and that some organizers say breaks the agreement between the university and students to end their encampment.

“Harvard has violated its agreement with student protestors,” the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee wrote on social media on Saturday. … “If Harvard won’t live up to their promises, we see no reason to live up to ours.”

Harvard and the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine Coalition (HOOP), a collection of pro-Palestinian student groups and organizers, negotiated a deal last Tuesday to end the protest encampment on Harvard Yard. Despite students’ claim that the disciplinary measures violate their deal and a rally was held protesting the actions Sunday afternoon, no students immediately moved to reinstate the camp.

In the deal, HOOP stated in a release, students voted to end the encampment in exchange for meeting with the university’s governing board to discuss divestment from Israel affiliates and others, expedited processing for the reinstatement of student protestors placed on involuntary leave, and expedited processing of over 60 students with cases before the Administrative Board with “precedents of leniency for similar actions in the past.”

In a statement, Harvard President Alan Garber said he would encourage the disciplinary boards to “evaluate expeditiously, according to their existing practices and precedents” for protesters’ cases.

Of the cases before the Administrative Board, 35 students will face academic sanctions including suspension and probation, HOOP and other student groups said in statements over the weekend. Students claimed about 14 students would not be graduating in the coming week because of the sanctions and others would have to withdraw from school for extended periods next year.

Harvard did not respond to a Herald request for information on the cases by Sunday evening.

The decisions to discipline 35 of the students with cases before the Administrative Board violates the “existing precedents,” the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee said.

In releases against the decision, several student groups cited precedents in terms of outcomes of the 1986 South Africa Apartheid encampment, the 2001 Progressive Student Labor movement sit-in, Fossil Fuel divestment sit-ins and blockades from 2014-2017 and a 2016 Belinda Hall occupation, among several others. Harvard Artists for Palestine said in all those cases organizers faced “minor or no discipline for comparable forms of nonviolent civil disobedience.”

A rally in support of the students facing disciplinary action started at Harvard’s shut Johnston Gate — the university was closed to anyone without a Harvard ID again on Sunday — and wound through Cambridge on Sunday. Rally-goers called the “extraordinary” punishment of pro-Palestine demonstrators compared to past protesters at Harvard the “Palestine exception.”

“The Palestine exception should have no place at Harvard University,” said Sal Suri, an organizer with the Harvard Graduate Students Union who said she is facing disciplinary action for her role in the protests. “We will not rest until the university ceases to weaponize this exception by singling out and punishing our fellow students. We will not rest until we put an end to our institution’s complicity in this genocide. We will not rest until Palestine is free.”

A petition calling for administrators to let 14 seniors graduate and end the other disciplinary measures gained over 1,100 signatures by Sunday morning, the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee posted.

Cambridge police said there were no incidents or arrests at Sunday’s rally.

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