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SJP and UC Divest Coalition Demonstrations at UCLAUCLA chancellor appointment

UCLA academic departments release statements condemning handling of encampment

The Palestine solidarity encampment is pictured. The encampment’s dismantling by police forces has been a focus of recent condemnation by university faculty. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

By Maya Vibhakar

May 4, 2024 10:58 p.m.

This post was updated May 7 at 11:26 p.m.

For the Daily Bruin’s full coverage of the UC Divest Coalition and Students for Justice in Palestine encampment, see here.

This is an ongoing story and will be updated. The number of signatures associated with departmental petitions was accurate as of the time of publication.

Members of UCLA academic departments released statements condemning the university’s handling of the Palestine solidarity encampment and the treatment of student protesters.

On April 30, more than 100 counter-protesters – mostly non-students – attempted to break into the encampment using fireworks, projectiles, pepper spray and tear gas. Despite the violence beginning at 10:50 p.m., law enforcement did not engage until shortly after 2:40 a.m., sparking criticism of the university’s delayed response and lack of police interference.

After protesters were given a dispersal order May 1, hundreds of police officers arrived on campus and breached the encampment at 1:20 a.m., detaining the first protester shortly after 1:55 a.m. During the sweep, police officers fired rubber bullets and launched flash bangs over the encampment.

More than 200 arrests were made. Multiple students were injured.

Recent statements from department members add to a letter released May 1 – which currently has over 900 signatures from faculty and staff across the UC System – that denounces the treatment of student protesters last week.

The following are departmental statements made in response to the violence on campus this past week:

Department of History

May 1 via online press release: Members of the Department of History released two statements – one condemning UCLA’s response to the counter-protester attacks and one condemning the clearing of the encampment – that received 43 signatures and 37 signatures, respectively as of 7 p.m. on May 4.

In the statement responding to the counter-protester attack, faculty criticized Chancellor Gene Block’s decision to declare the encampment unlawful on Tuesday, claiming Block’s reversal of his previous support for peaceful demonstration left the protesters susceptible to assault. The letter also states that, during the attack, faculty witnessed police officers fail to protect students from counter-protesters.

“History faculty who were present reported that many were middle-aged men; some shouted white supremacist slurs; and others brandished flags linked to violent, right-wing organizations,” the letter said. “We want to object in the strongest possible terms to this travesty. We are horrified that Chancellor Block abdicated his responsibility to protect and support students.”

In the statement released May 2 condemning the police sweep, the history faculty demanded amnesty for student protesters, a university investigation and for the university to cover injured students’ medical bills. The letter also called for the hiring of next year’s chancellor to address issues raised during the protests and for the university to engage in conversation with the protesters about divesting from weapons manufacturing companies.

Department of English

May 2 via X: 44 faculty members in the Department of English signed a letter denouncing UCLA’s treatment of student protesters. With the English faculty office housed in Kaplan Hall, the statement said many faculty members witnessed the “peaceful” and “morally courageous” student protest and denounced what they saw as a mischaracterization of it from Block. The statement also condemned Block for the university’s decision to involve law enforcement.

“These inexcusable actions – allowing mobs to attack students and faculty on April 30 and law enforcement to make brutal mass arrests of students and faculty on May 1 – make Gene Block unfit to fulfill his role,” the statement said. “We call for the resignation of Chancellor Gene Block.”

Additionally, the statement called for amnesty to be given to all protesters arrested during the police sweep, citing UCLA’s status as a public institution and the First Amendment rights of students.

Department of Classics

May 2 via online press release: Twenty faculty members of the Department of Classics signed a letter criticizing the university’s failure to keep students safe and support students’ rights to protest peacefully.

“We believe that the real chaos of the past few days at UCLA has not come from the Palestinian Solidarity Encampment but rather from the university administration’s mishandling of a peaceful protest that they initially seemed to have supported,” the letter said.

The letter said the use of militarized police force was unnecessary and called for more transparent dialogue between the university and protesters. The letter also asked for student protesters to be granted amnesty and argued that the content displayed on a large screen brought into Dickson Plaza by counter-protesters violated Title IX policy.

Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance

May 3 via online press release: Members of the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance released a statement saying Block is “unfit for his role,” citing the events of April 30 and May 1 and calling for him to resign.

The statement also criticized the university’s decision to grant a permit to counter-protesters, many of whom were not students, to demonstrate next to the encampment April 28. The faculty argued that, along with subjecting students to a large screen that displayed content including sexual violence, the university allowed counter-protesters to harass and intimidate students.

“As a department that centers decoloniality as a core value, we condemn the university’s failure to support our students’ right to a nonviolent protest – students who employed de-escalation tactics in the face of violent attacks,” the statement said. “They should have been kept safe while doing so.”

Department of Asian American Studies

May 3 via online press release: Nineteen faculty members of the Department of Asian American Studies signed a letter expressing outrage at UCLA’s lack of intervention April 30 and arrests of student protesters May 1, criticizing Block’s decision to disperse the encampment.

The letter supported UCLA Faculty for Justice in Palestine in demanding amnesty for protesters facing legal or disciplinary action. It also called for a vote of no confidence on Block, saying that he endangered students.

“Asian American Studies is rooted in a rich tradition of student protest against war, imperialism, racism, settler colonialism, and police violence in the United States,” the letter said. “We too are horrified and grief-stricken by the rising death toll in Gaza. We echo and uplift our students’ demands that UCLA disclose its investments and divest from the US-backed genocide against Palestinians.”

Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies

May 3 via online press release: The Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies released a statement signed by 15 faculty members that expressed solidarity with student protesters and echoed the protesters’ demands for divestment.

The statement said many faculty members who had visited the encampment witnessed peaceful and respectful protesting, praising students for acting based on the decolonial lessons taught at UCLA. It also explicitly condemned the events of April 30 and May 1, criticizing the actions of counter-protesters, police departments and the university.

“The university administration has gotten it wrong every time and shamefully put our students’ lives in danger,” the statement said. “As a department that exists in large part thanks to acts of civil disobedience, we feel especially strongly that the university must protect our students’ rights to free speech and peaceful protest.”

Department of Art History

May 3 via online press release: Twelve faculty members in the Department of Art History signed a letter in support of protesters and denouncing the university’s decision to arrest students participating in the encampment.

“In less than 24 hours, the university went from letting our students be attacked by a violent mob during the night of April 30 to May 1 to permitting a violent, armed crackdown that led to the arrest of over 200 peaceful protesters, largely UCLA students and employees,” the letter said.

The letter also demanded Block’s resignation, amnesty for arrested protesters, a commitment to allowing peaceful protest on campus and for negotiations to be opened around divestment.

UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics

May 3 via online press release: Sixteen faculty members from the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics signed a letter condemning the university for rescinding its initial support of peaceful protesters, saying they believe this reversal led to counter-protesters targeting students April 30. The letter also denounced the police sweep and said the faculty has lost faith in the university administration after its decision to shut down the encampment.

“At every level, this appears to us an utter and complete abdication of responsibility on the part of the University administration, Chancellor Block and President Drake,” the letter said. “It has left those who were present completely devoid of trust in the institution, and those who were not present bewildered and terrified.”

The letter echoed the sentiments of other departments, laying out demands that included amnesty for students and faculty, an independent investigation of the university’s response to the encampment and the payment of injured protesters’ medical bills. It also demanded engagement with protesters on disclosure and divestment, as well as a vote of no confidence on Block.

Department of Epidemiology

May 4 via online press release: Fifteen members of the Department of Epidemiology signed a letter condemning the April 30 attack on the encampment by counter-protesters and criticizing the university’s failure to protect student protesters. The letter also said faculty members were troubled by the threats and harassment from counter-protesters, as well as the lack of medical attention administered to injured protesters after the attack. 

“In light of these troubling events, we are calling for accountability and swift action to address the lapses in ensuring the safety and well-being of our university community,” the letter said. “It is crucial that the university upholds its commitment to protecting students’ rights to peaceful protest and provides the necessary support to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.”

The letter also reaffirmed the importance of a supportive and inclusive campus environment, emphasizing the need for safety, respect and academic freedom within the UCLA community.

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