Students at UC Irvine continued their protest Monday, May 6, calling for the university to divest itself from companies with ties to Israel and weapons manufacturers, with university officials indicating there’s room to move on some demands but not on divestment.

UCI students and others participating in a Gaza solidarity encampment since last week have been firm in their message: They won’t be leaving until the university meets all of their demands. Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a Friday statement that not all of their asks will be feasible from the university’s perspective, but some are.

UC Irvine pro-Palestinian protesters hold a rally at their campus encampment on Monday, May 6, 2024. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

A pro-Israel protester makes her point at the UC Irvine pro-Palistine encampment at the University on Monday, May 6, 2024. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Young Muslim girls take part in a prayer service near the UC Irvine pro-Palestinian encampment on Monday, May 6, 2024. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Pro-Palistine protesters hold a rally at the UC Irvine encampment on Monday, May 6, 2024. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Pro-Palestinian protesters hold a rally at the UC Irvine campus encampment on Monday, May 6, 2024. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

A pro-Israel protester makes her point at the UC Irvine pro-Palistine encampment at the University on Monday, May 6, 2024. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)



Encampments at some other colleges are seeing agreements reached with university administrators, but others continue to press on or are being cleared by authorities.

“What I see in the classroom is lots of students with humane concerns, who don’t necessarily know a lot about Israel or about foreign policy more generally, who want to do good and make the world a little bit better,” UCI sociology professor David Meyer said. “And when an opportunity seems to come up to do that, they jump on it.”

In a Friday message out to the campus community, Gillman said as long as the encampment “remains peaceful and minimally disruptive of university activities” there would be “no cause to involve law enforcement.”

Two high-profile encampments, at UCLA and USC, were cleared in recent days.

At UC Riverside, students ended their encampment after university admins agreed to a deal that would form a task force to explore moving UCR’s endowment from being managed by the system’s investment office. A protest leader there said they made progress to have “all of our demands” met and that’s why they reached an agreement.

In his Friday message, Gillman gave some outline of demands that would be impractical, including ending research partnerships with “Israeli organizations and individuals;” divestment “that would violate university policies on investment decisions that are outside the control of any individual campus;” defunding the UCI Police Department and changing procedures for handling accusations of faculty misconduct. On Monday university officials declined to comment further.

Sarah Khalil, a student organizer, said the students aren’t leaving until all of their demands are met and they want to be a part of change.

They don’t want university money to be invested in manufacturers whose weapons are being used in the attacks killing people in Gaza, she said. “We do not want our money to be funding that.”

There are only “so many levers” that students can pull, Meyer said, but targeting university investments is one of them. A few dozen universities have previously divested their investments in fossil fuels after pressure.

“The wrinkle at UC is that investments are controlled by the UC as a whole, not by the individual campus,” Meyer said. “So, if some chancellor wanted to divest tomorrow, there’s a lot of complications about following through on that.”

Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesperson for UCI, referred questions to UCR about how it can consider moving away from the UC system management of its investments.

Divestment demands have been a part of protests in the past, said Edwin Amenta, a UCI professor of sociology and political science. The demand for divestment is similar to one made during successful protests decades ago over South Africa’s apartheid system.

The current protests are in a trickier political climate, Amenta said, because the U.S. government has been a long supporter of Israel. But the ongoing dialogue, “could end up being a positive thing for everyone,” Amenta said.

The students are upset at what they see going on in Gaza, and Amenta said the encampments are the leverage they have. The UCI students, Amenta said, see the deals being made at Northwestern University, Brown University and UC Riverside.

“I’m hopeful they will keep the dialogue going, and there’s probably room for some agreement,” Amenta said.

Robert Cohen, an NYU professor who studies student activism, said he doesn’t believe students will get their demands for divestment in most places.

“Unlike the anti-apartheid movement, there was no ‘apartheid constituency’ in the U.S., and there is strong support for Israel,” Cohen said. “(Divestment) is not a demand that’s very realistic.”

Cohen also noted that the student movements may not sustain themselves over the summer when many students go home or have graduated. And if there is a ceasefire, Cohen expects the protests to really die down.

One week in, the encampment in UCI’s Physical Science Squad had not diminished in size Monday. Well over 20 tents remain up, with dozens of students. Protesters on Monday held a passionate rally in support of Palestine. Counter-protesters in support of Israel arrived outside the encampment Monday afternoon, but the scene did not escalate.

“To date, the situation at UC Irvine has presented fewer risks of disruption and fewer concerns about campus safety than has been experienced at other universities,” university officials said in a statement Monday evening. “We are thankful to our university community that the activity within and around the encampment has remained civil.

“A team of UC Irvine administrators met with student protesters Monday, aiming for a resolution to end the encampment. The conversations were productive but did not result in any conclusion,” officials said. “The university will continue to engage with the protesters in good-faith discussions with a goal of returning UC Irvine to its traditional learning environment.”

The security presence around the encampment has stepped up. Security guards occupied nearby buildings, some of which were locked, and a few parking lots and roads were closed to vehicles.

Staff Writer Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.

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