San Jose State students on Monday night set up a pro-Palestine encampment just days before the start of their finals week, adding to the nationwide reports of student encampments on college campuses.

The encampment sprung up near the statues of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, legendary San Jose State athletes whose demonstration at the 1968 Olympics drew global attention.

On Tuesday morning, Palestinian flags and signs calling for university divestment from companies supporting Israel waved through the encampment, which consists of over 20 tents and canopies, with dozens of people participating.

According to a written list of demands posted at the site, the students called on the university to be transparent about their investments and holdings and fully divest from any companies that provide aid and weapons to Israel. They also called for the university to acknowledge a genocide in Gaza, end the repression of Palestinian students, staff, faculty and their allies, and to fire a professor who was involved in an altercation with a student protester earlier this year.

The university’s Associated Students organization passed a resolution on April 29, stating that the student leadership would no longer buy products from companies affiliated with Israel.

Sang Kil, a professor in justice studies at the university, said that a coalition of students began the encampment near the statues of Smith and Carlos, intent on emulating significant historical figures that acted with bravery during a time of repression. They said the action more than 50 years ago resonated with the student protesters in the encampment, comparing their actions against silence and genocide to the university’s history of civil rights and activism.

University spokesperson Michelle Smith McDonald said that sit-ins had been occurring on campus between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. for several days last week, but they didn’t extend into the weekend.

On Monday, tents were erected during a pro-Palestine rally around 3:30 p.m. Kil said that at around 10 p.m., 20 people were at the encampment.

Kil said the encampment was part of a greater mobilization movement of students who are criticizing what they see as silence, poor media coverage and a general lack of outrage against the genocide of Palestinian people in the Israeli occupation of their land.

“This will do great good for Palestinians by doing the right thing and pushing back against the silence that allows the genocide to continue,” Kil said.

McDonald said that the encampment is a violation of the university’s Time, Place and Manner policy, as any activism on campus should be kept between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. McDonald said that eight to 10 students stayed overnight, which violated the policy.

On Monday night, sprinklers turned on sometime around 10 p.m. in the area of the encampment. The San Jose State chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine said in an Instagram post showing people scrambling to gather items and flee the sprinklers’ spray that administrators had turned on the sprinklers. However, McDonald said that the sprinklers were automatically scheduled to turn on at 10:30 p.m., and the university gave the students warning before they turned on.

McDonald said Tuesday that the university was reaching out to the students, but maintained that regular operations would continue and safety is administrators’ main priority. She said that representatives from student affairs and student involvement attempted to make contact with the protesting students, but they were turned away both times.

Multiple people at the encampment on Tuesday morning declined to speak to a Bay Area News Group reporter.

“We will do everything within our power to make sure that no one’s final exams are disrupted, that there’s not an opportunity for anyone to be distracted, disrupted by anything happening on the lawn,” McDonald said.

McDonald said that the university doesn’t have any direct investments with any companies that students are concerned about. She said officials were checking to make sure that they do not invest in any companies listed in the Associated Students’ resolution.

The students set up their encampment around the statues of Smith and Carlos — who famously raised black gloved fists in protest on the medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 — and placed signs and flags on the statues. McDonald said the university is also asking students to not engage with the statues, because they are special to the university.

The professor said they are not leading the encampment or the students’ actions, but they are there to support them.

“This encampment is the heart of San Jose State University,” Kil said. “The students are the heart of this university and they need support 100%.”


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