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Walkout in solidarity with suspended students at Gaza Solidarity Encampment 

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UCI Divest held a walkout at the UCI Gaza Solidarity Encampment as students, faculty and community members rallied against suspensions issued to encampment protesters and the recent Israeli invasion of Rafah at Rowland Hall on May 10. 

“When they [UCI administration] finally tell us that we have a shot, to hear the students, to give the students what we have been asking for seven months, they stab the negotiators in the back,” a protester said to the crowd while leading a rally. 

Student protesters at the UCI encampment were sent suspension letters on May 8, three of whom were members of the negotiation team. Campus groups involved with organizing the encampment — UCI Divest, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCI (SJP UCI) and Anakbayan at UCI — also received interim suspensions.

Walkout participants condemned the actions of the Israeli military, who bombarded areas in Rafah on May 9, as reported by AP News. The invasion occurred after negotiations for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Cairo, Egypt ended without agreement. 

“Suspending us for speaking out against the genocide is completely, completely absurd,” an encampment protester, who requested anonymity, told New University in an interview. “I don’t know how people are even justifying this, how people are even agreeing to allow us to get suspended, and how people are just sitting by and watching a whole genocide happen and not do anything about it.”

UCI administration released a statement on May 9 regarding the encampment and protesters’ demands. In the statement, the university affirmed rights to free speech but called for the end of the encampment, citing a responsibility for all to “maintain public safety and to safeguard educational opportunities.” The statement also said that the University of California “will not divest from Israel.”

“As long as these responsibilities are met, violations of university regulations will be addressed through the standard administrative processes of the campus,” the statement read.

A group of Jewish high school students at the University Town Center heard about the walkout and told the New University that they wanted to visit the encampment. One of the students told New University that the group wanted to “see what [they] could learn.” 

“Anybody who has family in the area recognizes that both groups need a solution, so it has been frustrating. So, I wanted to come see [the walkout],” one student said. “To some degree, it is great to see people take a stand for what they think is just in the world.” 

The student said their group was approached at the walkout and shouted profanities at them for their Jewish identity. 

“Coming [to the walkout] I learned that there is way too much tension around here and it needs to calm down for there to be any sort of productive discussion, and not the ostracization of Jewish students,” the student said. 

At the walkout, a UCI alumni joined the demonstration and led chants. The alumni referred to the encampment as a “case study of collective action and community support.” They said that the student protests make Palestine “unavoidable.”  

“I understand that from the Jewish perspective, growing up associating Israel with Jewish identity, it feels like it’s an attack on you when the world is turning against Israel,” they said. “I think what’s happening right now —  a conversation, trying to understand each other — that’s exactly how you bridge the gap and realize that this is not a Jewish-Muslim conflict.” 

Community member Jim Miller, who was part of the 1968 student protests against the Vietnam War on his college campus, urged students to “learn and talk face to face” and “to be careful of outsiders who try to discredit your protest.” 

“The Vietnam War protests, it was very productive. We got teachers involved, I was one of the first ones to give speeches on my campus,” he said. “This [encampment protest] is a movement.”

Echoing the impact of grassroots and student protest, the alumni called the student protestors “some of the bravest students in the world” and their suspensions “unacceptable.” 

“I’ve seen tremendous action taken by an interfaith, multiracial community of students, supported by not just students, but alumni, faculty, staff,” they said. “Everyone here is feeding each other, taking care of each other, looking after each other, making art with each other and educating each other.” 

Skylar Paxton is an Opinion Apprentice for the spring 2024 quarter. She can be reached at paxtons@uci.edu

Emilie Takahashi is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at takahae1@uci.edu