Protesters at US Catholic universities rally for pro-Palestinian movement

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Catholic university protestors
People wear Israeli flags as they participate in a United for Israel March at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles May 8, 2024, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. (OSV News photo/David Swanson, Reuters)

(OSV News) — As the school year draws to a close, student protesters at Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. have added their voices to the din of pro-Palestinian shouts at campuses across the country and around the world.

The running theme has been a call for their schools to get out of investments in companies that are either directly manufacturing or supporting the making of weapons being used by Israel in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Many student groups consider these investments as tantamount to supporting genocide.

War broke out following the Oct. 7, 2023, attack on southern Israeli communities by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which left 1,200 dead. Hamas members took 253 Israeli hostages and — after several releases and rescues — some 130 remain in captivity, at least 34 of whom are believed dead. Multiple accounts of sexual violence by Hamas members against Israeli females have been reported.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 34,500 have been killed, mostly civilians, in attacks by Israel.

There have been constant conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians since the State of Israel was formed in 1948 and even earlier.

Student protests intensify at DePaul University Chicago

U.S. student protests intensified May 5 at a student encampment at Chicago’s DePaul University when a clash between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups prompted officials to call in police. Police formed a dividing line between a few hundred protesters on the two sides and there were no reports of arrests. Since then, a DePaul communications official confirmed to OSV News that administrators have so far met more than once with protesters.

In a May 6 letter to faculty, staff and students, the university addressed point by point a student group’s list of 10 demands. DePaul administrators said the school is asking its third-party fund managers to be signatories to United Nations “responsible investment” guidelines, which hold investors accountable for following environmental, social and corporate governance standards.

The statement said the school would consider creating an ethics committee to advise its board of trustees, pointing to the example of Georgetown University‘s ethics committee which DePaul administrators said advises Georgetown’s board in “their fiduciary and legal responsibilities; not to politicize the endowment in any way.”

Students arrested at rally at University of Notre Dame

More than a dozen students were arrested at a rally on the grounds of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana May 2. That evening, school officials released a statement saying they called campus police after students did not comply when the school repeatedly reminded them to follow demonstration rules governing “the time, place, and manner of gatherings and demonstrations,” especially near dormitories during finals and “study days.”

“After being repeatedly reminded of University rules, including rules governing disturbances during finals and study days, the group instead marched toward the central University quad which houses several dorms,” the university said in a statement. “After being warned again that demonstrations are not allowed during specific times, Notre Dame Police arrested several noncompliant group members.”

The group Occupation Free ND posted on its Instagram account May 4 that the 17 students arrested were released but that they could potentially face administrative action. Notre Dame officials did not comment to OSV News regarding this claim.

Protestors at Gonzaga University and Loyola University Chicago demand disclosure of investments

At Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, students, faculty and staff led by the group GU Community for Justice in Palestine demanded divestment, disclosure of investments and other actions at a May 1 demonstration deemed peaceful. President Thayne McCulloh said in a May 7 letter to “Members of the Gonzaga Community” that he reaffirmed the administration’s intent to discuss demands with the group.

He also said Gonzaga “has an obligation to maintain a safe campus environment, conducive to learning; published policies regarding student, employee, and visitor conduct are operative and will be enforced.”

Students at Loyola University Chicago April 24 demanded transparency of the school’s investment portfolio, student membership on its board of trustees and getting rid of any investments in weapons manufacturers. A university spokesman told The Loyola Phoenix student newspaper the school already has a “sustainable investment policy.”

Protests at Marquette University and Georgetown University

Marquette University in Milwaukee confirmed that a student-organized group May 2 crossed the campus Central Mall “before dispersing.” Local news footage shows that Marquette students held a walking demonstration on campus and then rode in a multicar caravan to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus in support of a pro-Palestine encampment there.

At Georgetown University in Washington, the group Georgetown Law Students for Justice in Palestine in a May 6 Instagram post called on graduates to “wear your keffiyeh at graduation.” The keffiyeh is a traditional head and face covering of Palestinians that, when worn by non-Palestinians, denotes sympathy for their cause.

Georgetown will hold commencement ceremonies for various schools of the university May 16-19.

Biggest campus protests occur at Columbia University and University of Southern California

The pro-Palestinian protest movement first began April 17 at Columbia University in New York City, and “has since swept college campuses nationwide, with more than 2,500 people arrested,” AP said.

Besides Columbia, one of the biggest campus protests at a secular university has been at the University of Southern California, with scores of protesters setting up tents and posting banners. However, on May 5, after being surrounded by Los Angeles police, the demonstrators left the encampment. The university held an alternative graduation May 9, after announcing days earlier it would cancel its traditional commencement ceremonies.

Secular universities and student protestors

Some secular universities around the country have recently come to terms with student protesters who have agreed to dismantle encampments.

Northwestern University in Illinois came to an agreement with the pro-Palestinian students and will allow them to protest until the beginning of June when the school year ends there. That decision prompted the chair of the U.S. House Education Committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to write to Northwestern administrators May 10 and tell them the committee has opened an investigation into the university’s “response to antisemitism and its failure to protect Jewish students.” Foxx accused the school of giving in to “antisemitic, pro-terror encampment organizers.”

In Rhode Island, Brown University in Providence is allowing students to present their divestment proposal to school administrators.

Simone Orendain

Simone Orendain writes for OSV News from Chicago.