Campus protests at universities

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Campus protests have taken place nationwide with students speaking out against the war between Israel and Hamas, specifically targeting Israel and its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza. The protestors are calling for universities to cut financial ties to Israel.

While many campuses were largely quiet over the weekend, protesters on both sides of the issue were still out. About 275 people were arrested on Saturday at various campuses including ASU, Indiana University at Bloomington, and Washington University in St. Louis.

The number of arrests nationwide approached 900 after New York City Police removed a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at Columbia University and arrested more than 100 demonstrators on April 18, 2024.

Craig Calhoun, an ASU Professor of Social Sciences, joined Arizona Horizon to give his insight on the protests.

“My first thought is, ‘Pay attention to the fact that its college campuses.’ What’s special about colleges? Why do we have these educational institutions, academic freedom questions, and then we get protests there?” asked Calhoun.

“Some of the reasons are students are gathered there. They’re all together in one place. They are encouraged to be thinking about the big issues of their time, so they’re taking positions,” said Calhoun.

Calhoun continued, “So, most of the protests on campus involve mainly students who are engaged in airing their views of big issues like, ‘Why don’t we have a ceasefire in Gaza?’ But also, engaged in learning. Because they’re debating and discussing with each other, they’re having ongoing communication of various kinds across campuses.”

All of that, Calhoun said, is not violence, as anti-protesters have argued, but equivocally what a protest is: a debate.

Calhoun also likened the protester encampments that have sprung up across college campuses to refugee camps.

“I think, to me, the camp is an evocation of the refugee camps in which so many Gazans and others have found themselves, in an attempt to make a point about that. That’s not violence, that’s disruption,” Calhoun said.

“Part of dissent and part of expressing controversial opinions is often disruption. You’ve seen it with civil disobedience, against the draft in the Vietnam era, as part of the Civil Rights movement and various other contexts. Disruption can be part of communication. That’s not violence,” Calhoun said.

“Violence is when there is actual physical threat or damage. It’s not when people feel uncomfortable; it’s when they might get hurt,” Calhoun continued.

Hundreds of arrests have been made by police called to quell campus protests. On April 26, 2024, at least 69 people were arrested on the lawn of Old Main at ASU when protesters refused to disperse.

“We don’t condone violence and universities have a legitimate interest in trying to keep their campuses safe from physical violence. That doesn’t mean safe from keeping people uncomfortable, but it means not having physical threats,” said Calhoun.

“Universities don’t make laws, and we should distinguish rules that universities make from laws. Universities make rules about what you can do on this lawn, or what you can do after 11pm. Those are not laws. It’s not breaking the U.S. law, or the local municipality law, to follow the university rule,” Calhoun said.

“I think we should be sure that we’re standing with the students,” said Calhoun.

Craig Calhoun, ASU Professor of Social Sciences

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