Drexel University to Resume Normal Operations as Pro-Palestinian Encampment Heads Into Fifth Day

A chalk drawing is worked on at the Pro-Palestinian encampment on the quad at Drexel University, Tuesday. (Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA (The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS) — Drexel University will officially resume normal operations Thursday as the campus’ pro-Palestinian encampment heads into its fifth full day, president John Fry wrote in a letter to students and staff Wednesday evening.

“It has been determined that we now have the personnel and systems in place to safely return to normal operations on the University City campus tomorrow,” Fry wrote, noting that additional security measures will be put in place.

All lectures and events on campus will be able to occur in person — save for those at the Korman Center, in front of which a mixture of Drexel students and community members have set up dozens of tents since Saturday night. That building will remain closed.

Fry has repeatedly condemned the encampment in letters to the Drexel community, writing on Monday that it has created a “hostile, confrontational environment” that has also placed “added strain on Drexel Public Safety officers” who have been called to patrol the surrounding area. The encampment compelled Drexel to move to remote learning for the first half of the week, Fry has said, and prompted the cancellation of several events.

“I once again call on encampment protestors to disperse so that our community can return to normal,” Fry wrote on Wednesday. “I have heard from many concerned and frustrated members of our community over the last several days. I share your frustration and impatience, and am doing everything in my power to resolve this situation peacefully.”

The encampment began on Saturday with about a dozen tents that protesters set up on the Korman Family Quad after a march from Center City commemorating the 74th anniversary of the Nakba, when many Arabs lost their homes after they left or were expelled from Israel after Arab armies attacked Israel when it declared independence. The encampment has since grown to contain about 35 tents and 75 people as of Wednesday night, police told The Inquirer.

Encampment members are demanding Drexel call Israel’s siege in Gaza a genocide and offer amnesty for student activists. The demands are the latest in a wave of campus protests in the United States that are calling on universities to publicize their endowments and divest them from corporations profiting off the war.

In Monday’s statement, Fry wrote that these demands “have unacceptably targeted” Jewish organizations on campus, as well as individual staff and faculty members.

Drexel administrators — including Vice President of Public Safety Mel Singleton — offered to meet with encampment organizers Tuesday, Fry wrote, but the group refused.

A spokesperson for the encampment, who declined to be named out of retaliation fears, said that characterization was “false.”

“They gave us a time. We said ‘we cannot make that specific time; we would love to meet at a separate time,’” the 19-year-old spokesperson said. “There has been no communication since then.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on why encampment members couldn’t make the meeting.

Fry wrote on Wednesday that Drexel students participating in the encampment are violating the university’s code of conduct, and “have been warned … verbally, via emails, and posted signage that they are trespassing on University property and must disperse.”

He also contended that the university will continue to take “necessary steps to protect our community from individuals who may be bent on sowing chaos on our campus,” noting that the encampment has become a “rallying location” for demonstrations in Philadelphia, including a peaceful one that took place Tuesday night.

Drexel Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine has condemned Fry’s position, reiterating the rights of the protest to take place. “The student protesters are not disrupting campus operations,” the group wrote in a statement Monday, and claims about outside agitators have “historically been used to delegitimize organized movements, particularly those driven by minoritized groups.”

Drexel’s encampment is one of two remaining on college campuses in the Philadelphia area; students at Swarthmore College have had tents on campus for over a month. They continue to call on the liberal arts college to denounce the “scholasticide” in Gaza — where no universities remain — even as negotiations have devolved.

Another — albeit smaller — pro-Palestinian encampment also emerged in Clark Park in West Philadelphia on Wednesday, though its specific demands are unclear.

The two encampments in Philadelphia come on the heels of the University of Pennsylvania dismantling its own after three weeks of failed negotiations. During its removal, 33 protesters — including nine Penn students — were detained, and Penn has since sent letters to 24 people unaffiliated with the university banning them from campus.

Fry wrote that Drexel administrators are continuing to work with established students groups “to have constructive dialogue about the ongoing crisis in Gaza.” He did not name which ones.

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!