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Student-led encampment for Palestine at UNCA; chancellor says peaceful protest allowed

Banner from the Quad at UNCA
Jose Sandoval
Banner from the Quad at UNCA

On Saturday, a group of around 30 students from campus coalitions began an encampment for Palestine at UNCA.

The student-led coalitions at UNCA join a broader collective of protests, most notably at Columbia Universityand UCLA, where students are demonstrating in support of a cease-fire and end to conflict claiming citizen lives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As previously reported by the Asheville Citizen Times, a soft encampment began on May 2 at UNCA, with a few dozen students showing up in support but they have not been sleeping on the campus.

In an email sent from UNCA Chancellor Kimberly van Noort Saturday morning, she addressed the demonstrations occurring on the Quad:

“UNC Asheville values and upholds the principles of free expression. This involved protecting the rights of our campus community members to engage in peaceful and lawful demonstrations.

“At UNC Asheville, students and employees enjoy the freedom to express their opinions, engage in discussion and debate, or otherwise express themselves. However, it’s important to note that this freedom is subject to the University's policies, which are primarily designed to ensure safety and prevent disruption of campus activities. Therefore, the current demonstrations may continue so long as they remain in compliance with our established policies, including our policy on use of University space.”

Chancellor van Noort added the demonstrators have been cooperative in addressing concerns regarding UNCA’s space use policy.

“Should there be any instances where these policies are not followed, it may be necessary for the demonstration to come to an end,” van Noort said.

A UNCA senior and a member of the media liaison team for the student-led coalitions said they can’t always be in complete compliance with campus policy for safety reasons. The student did not provide their name to BPR and said their name is Wolfie.

“That's part of the reason that we're currently sitting out here underneath this pop-up tent is that we can't completely and always be in compliance with their policy for safety reasons,” they said. “It's currently pouring rain. We need to keep some of our stuff dry and we need to be able to interview with people. We wish to escalate and you know, get some sort of push that our demands are being felt and that our demands will be met.”

As BPR reported from the demonstration area on Saturday, someone appeared to tell the students to take down their tents, which the group did.

The student who spoke with BPR added they wanted to eventually sleep at the protest location overnight — as students have at other universities — but were concerned about safety issues.

“We didn't want students to feel unduly threatened by administration and police presence.”

The groups are asking for the UNC system to divest from Israel, but it is unclear what, if any, public or private funds are involved in the ongoing conflict or adjacent causes. The students say they want transparency on funding since they don't know who or what is being funded. The protest also calls for UNCA to cut ties with Israeli universities and establish ties with universities in Gaza; and for college leaders, faculty and students to adopt a ceasefire resolution.

Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.