UW-Madison negotiates removal of pro-Palestinian protest encampment

The announcement came on the eve of commencement, 2 weeks after tents were first erected on the university's Library Mall

Pro-Palestinian protesters at UW-Madison hang a tarp with the names of children killed in the Israel-Hamas war along a staircase at Library Mall. Anya van Wagtendonk/WPR

Tents that stood on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison for nearly two weeks in protest of Israel’s war in Gaza came down Friday after campus leaders reached an agreement with student protest organizers.

In an announcement shared Friday afternoon — with graduation ceremonies scheduled for Friday and Saturday — administrators said that students had agreed to take down the encampment on Library Mall and pledged not to disrupt commencement activities.

In exchange, the school said it will facilitate a meeting between Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, the student group behind the protest, and the boards responsible for UW’s endowment.

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Protesters had been calling for the school to disclose how it invests its endowment, and to end investments in Israeli companies or those whose products have been used in service of the Israeli military.

In the school’s agreement, the administration said it has “limited authority over how our endowment is invested,” but committed to “facilitate access to relevant decision-makers at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.”

Blue and orange tents are set up on a patch of grass with a Palestinian flag behind them.
Protesters at a pro-Palestinian encampment at UW-Madison’s Library Mall begin to take down tents after negotiations were reached between them and campus administrators. Anya van Wagtendonk/WPR

The university also pledged to support students affected by wars in Gaza, Ukraine and elsewhere, by reviewing current services for students affected by violence and bringing on a staff member focused on supporting those students. The pledge also included a commitment to bring at least one scholar from a Palestinian university to campus for each of the next three years.

The school also said it would request campus police to “use its discretion” as they process cases related to a crackdown on the encampment last Wednesday. Thirty-four people were arrested that day. Most were released with citations, but four people were processed at the Dane County Jail.

Since then, students and faculty liaisons have been in regular talks with administrators, as noted by UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin in a campuswide email.

“I appreciate the hard work, engagement, and careful listening I have seen on display in our community over the last 10 days,” Mnookin said in the email. “I want to thank the members of my leadership team who led the dialogue process over the past week. I also want to thank the SJP student leaders and their faculty liaisons for their constructive engagement as we searched for a mutually acceptable path forward.”

A few hours after the agreement was announced Friday, Dahlia Saba, a graduate student and one of the encampment organizers, said protesters remain committed to the cause of Palestinian liberation. She said the strongest way to fight for that as members of the UW-Madison community was to end the university’s “complicity in ongoing genocide” through divestment.

“This agreement does not achieve that,” Saba said. “However, this agreement does achieve material gains for Palestinians, both in Palestine and on this campus, which should not be discounted.”

Organizers gradually removed the tents from the encampment, at one point ceremonially removing a group of 11 tents that they said signified universities that were destroyed in Gaza.

Throughout the day, the area was packed with families and students, many of whom were wearing their graduation robes.

Organizers said they were working to donate their equipment from the encampment to the community. They said their remaining funds would be donated to support the people of Gaza.