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Students at some campus anti-war protests are reaching agreements with universities

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been a tense and, at times, violent week at colleges across the country. Thousands of students have been arrested as some schools have called in police to clear pro-Palestinian encampments. Not all schools have resorted to force though. Some have been able to reach agreements with students to clear encampments voluntarily. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: At Brown University in Rhode Island, at Rutgers in New Jersey, at the University of Minnesota - at all of these schools, administrators have averted the kind of crisis that's consumed schools like Columbia and UCLA, where police have arrested and removed hundreds of students protesting Israel's war in Gaza.

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MICHAEL SCHILL: I am proud of our community for achieving what has been a challenge across the country.

FLORIDO: That's the president of Northwestern University, Michael Schill, in a video message this week.

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SCHILL: A sustainable, deescalated path forward, one that prioritizes safety - safety for all of our students.

FLORIDO: At his school north of Chicago, student protesters agreed to remove their encampment, and administrators agreed to disclose the university's investments. That's a demand students have been making at schools across the country, along with the demand that their schools drop their investments in companies that are aiding Israel's war.

LUCAS: When it comes to the actual momentum that this agreement gives us, I cannot emphasize enough how huge it is.

FLORIDO: This is one of the protest leaders at Northwestern. He asked to use only his first name, Lucas, because of concern about online harassment. While his school did not commit to the main demand - divestment from Israel - he says disclosure is a step toward that.

LUCAS: You cannot really have divestment without disclosure. Once we have that information, we know what Northwestern needs to divest from in order to remove themselves from not only complicity, but from being an active participant in the genocide.

FLORIDO: Israel rejects the claim that it's engaging in genocide. And Northwestern's deal with students didn't address the war. It did promise to hire two Palestinian professors and to cover tuition for five Palestinian students.

Other schools have made similar promises. In its deal with protesters, Rutgers said it will enroll 10 displaced students from Gaza, and the school's president agreed to meet to discuss divestment. Student protesters have said forcing their schools to engage on divestment is crucial because of divestments' symbolic power to cast Israel as a pariah state. And that is why many Israel supporters are unhappy about these deals schools are striking.

MICHAEL SIMON: For many members of the Jewish community, Israel is an integral part of their Jewish identity.

FLORIDO: Michael Simon is the director of Northwestern University's Hillel.

M SIMON: To try to use divestment as a tool really aimed at delegitimizing it as a Jewish state - that is something that I don't only disagree with, but I find really unpalatable.

FLORIDO: Simon said he was concerned that Northwestern's deal with protesters left open the door on divestment. After it was announced, he and other members of a campus task force to prevent antisemitism resigned, saying in a letter to the school's president that they were not consulted. The Anti-Defamation League called for the president's resignation, saying he rewarded protesters for an encampment that had, quote, "fanned the flames of antisemitism and wreaked havoc on the entire university community." That is a claim protesters forcefully reject. Imogen Page is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and a grad student at the University of Minnesota.

IMOGEN PAGE: I feel really proud that students were able to put pressure on the university and make them come to the table.

FLORIDO: Her school agreed not to punish student protesters. It will also disclose its investments and let students present their divestment proposal to the school's board of trustees. Page says students plan to keep the pressure on.

PAGE: Students at the university are very ready to set back up. We will be back. Our encampments will be back. Our protests will be back if they do not keep their promises.

FLORIDO: The first test is May 7. That's the day by which the university said it will share information about its investments.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.