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UCI campus reconvenes after encampment dispersal

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After law enforcement from multiple cities across Orange County cleared UCI’s Gaza Solidarity Encampment on Wednesday and classes were held remotely on Thursday, normal in-person operations resumed at UCI on May 17.

Chancellor Howard Gillman sent a campuswide message on the night of May 15 in which he described himself as “brokenhearted” over Wednesday’s events, stating that the protesters’ actions were “a direct assault on the rights of other students and the university mission.”

“My hope is that we can find our way to a culture of peace, mutual respect and shared commitment to addressing our differences through the norms of scholarly inquiry and debate,” Gillman wrote.

At a press conference held at the Aldrich Hall flagpoles on May 16, student spokespeople said that everyone arrested on Wednesday had been released. The UCI administration confirmed that 47 individuals were arrested.

When asked whether they planned to re-establish the encampment, the student organizers declined to answer. They also called for Gillman’s resignation.

In interviews with students across campus on May 17, many expressed support for the protesters and disagreed with the university’s calls for police presence.

First-year unaffiliated student Elisa Raya called it “disappointing and disheartening that once again we see the brutal force of police,” referring to the dismantlement of encampments by law enforcement at UCLA and USC.

“What happened [there] should have been looked at as an example of what not to do. Unfortunately, we were just another campus added to the list,” Raya said.

Second-year film and media studies major Therese Lagrimas also disagreed with how the university reacted to the protesters’ actions.

“[UCI’s] claim can be arguable because the [Physical Sciences Lecture Hall] was taken over, but to send that many units of police is really unacceptable. I think the true violence is what the police did when they started arresting people,” Lagrimas said, adding that Gillman’s statement and the university’s multiple emergency zotALERT messages felt “dishonest.” The initial alert sent out at 2:53 p.m. on May 15 read, “Violent protest confirmed at or near Physical Science Lecture Hall. Avoid the area.”

A fourth-year student who identified himself as Jose called the encampment’s expansion a “necessary escalation” and attributed it to the UCI administration’s refusal to compromise with the protesters, some of whom were suspended by the administration.

“Before, I was definitely on board, but now I feel even more responsibility to keep fighting for the cause,” Jose said. “We can’t limit the free speech of these protests and misrepresent them and put them down, then come back later and say, ‘That was bad. Moving on.’”

Jose stated that his support for the protests has now increased and that the movement to divest is not over, despite the encampment’s dispersal.

“If we let Palestine die, we let our humanity die. It’s necessary as students to try to participate in doing our part, as little as it is, by supporting divestment,” he said. “We’re not trying to actively stop the war — that’s too much for us to do just as one campus. We’re just trying to stop our part in it.”

Other members of the UCI community expressed mixed feelings about the protesters’ expansion of the encampment.

Below an Instagram post by UCI Divest, a user commented: “[I] am curious why you shut down a lecture hall, and why we are attributing the admin response to hate against free speech when in all likelihood they just want kids to be able to go to classes.”

The user also wrote that it feels “counterproductive to propagate hostility” toward the UCI administration and chancellor.

Several students declined to give interviews to New University, saying that they are uninformed or do not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

Third-year chemistry major Edwin Lopez described his lack of knowledge regarding the encampment or protesters but said that it seemed as if they were “exercising their rights.” He added that he wanted to know “who crossed what line” to cause Wednesday’s events.

“It was pretty sad that it happened,” Lopez said.

A first-year student who chose to remain anonymous told New University that although people may have had a better opinion of the protesters had they stayed in the Physical Science Quad, she understands their actions and stands with them.

“I think genocide is morally wrong. I feel like that’s a pretty common take,” she said. “[This] reminds me of the Vietnam War protests. I think historically students have been on the right side.”

Chrissy Park is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at chrip10@uci.edu.

Edited by Karen Wang and Jaheem Conley