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Rutgers students join nationwide encampment movement with march, tents in Voorhees Mall

The Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick (SJP) and Endowment Justice Collective (EJC) kicked off the week with an encampment and march on the College Avenue campus in response to a perceived lack of progress on EJC's recently filed divestment request.  – Photo by Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick / Instagram

The Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick (SJP) and Rutgers Endowment Justice Collective (EJC) commenced an encampment on Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus on Monday, following in the steps of peers at other Northeastern campuses such as Princeton University and Yale University.

Encampments, otherwise defined as a group of tents set up by a group of people as per Merriam Webster, have emerged at college campuses across the country, from the University of California—Los Angeles to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to one of the more publicized demonstrations, Columbia University.

Encampments are not a novel aspect of social justice movements. They date back to the 1930s, when unemployed veterans from World War I set up temporary housing in Anacostia Flats to demand previously promised compensation, to the 1970s, when protestors camped outside of and shut down operations at the White House to protest America's participation in the Vietnam War.

Recent posts from the Rutgers SJP Instagram account detailing the local encampment include phrasing such as, "Welcome to our student intifada," "No school when Gaza has no schools" and "Join us in our liberation zone."

A statement from the organization addressed Monday's demonstration and explained how the event is inspired by communities in the Gaza strip.

"We will not leave Voorhees Mall, the same way Palestinians in Gaza refuse to leave their homes, until our demands are met," the statement read. "Today, we took a historic march, shut down College Ave, from Brower Commons to Voorhees Mall."

The encampment movement at Rutgers comes in the wake of the submission, and subsequent time-sensitive disregard, for divestment, according to a separate statement from Rutgers SJP and EJC. Both groups said Holloway opted not to recognize the presence of the Rutgers student community at last week's Board of Governors meeting.

"The Rutgers University Board of Governors was required to address the referendum results at their last meeting on Thursday," their statement read. "Instead, they made sure to not make room for us in their room and completely ignored us ... Rutgers refused to discuss divestment in the open section. Holloway refused to acknowledge his own students."

Rutgers administration has responded to the encampment and the divestment request. A statement from a University spokesperson reads that the University is currently reviewing Rutgers EJC's request for divestment.

The statement also notes the University's $1.8 billion endowment supports various academic and philanthropic initiatives, and any efforts to divest are gauged in accordance with several standards.

These standards include whether the divestment furthers the goals of the Joint Committee on Investments and other governing agencies, whether the investment being targeted conflicts with the University's goals and if it has sole or shared responsibility over the rationale for divestment. Additional standards involve whether the divestment claim reflects the desire of the Rutgers community.

In the same statement, the University indicated that while University President Jonathan Holloway has publicly acknowledged his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, it remains steadfast in its support for student demonstrations that do not affect other students' educational experience.

"Holloway today added, 'Our students want to make a difference in a struggle that has cost far too many innocent lives and that threatens so many more,'" the statement read. "'I respect their right to protest in ways that do not interfere with University operations or with the ability of their fellow students to learn.'"

On Tuesday, Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Francine Conway issued a separate University-wide email that acknowledged the encampments and clarified the difference between disruption and freedom of expression in accordance with University policy.

Disruptive conduct is anything that recklessly and negatively impacts academic and administrative environments across the Rutgers campus or violates facility-use guidelines, Conway's email read.

"Supporting the right to free speech means creating a space for civil, respectful discussions," her email read. "However, expressions of dissent or protest must not impede the right of others within our community to learn, teach, and carry out the university’s essential work."

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) have issued a statement both echoing the administration's affirmation of First Amendment rights and adding an additional layer of solidarity with those exercising those rights.

The union's statement on the matter reads that while faculty members may be divided on whether they support Palestine or Israel, the majority of them stand with students who engage in advocacy. In the same statement, the union has said it will lead a committee and support students who are arrested or repressed in any manner.

"We reiterate our unions' commitment to challenging all instances of antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry," the statement from the Rutgers AAUP-AFT reads. "During this encampment, our unions will protect our students and defend their rights."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new information from Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Francine Conway.

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