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Overnight UNCA encampment stopped. Chancellor addresses demonstrations.

UNC Asheville

After an incident with a counter-protester and a complaint from university administrators that non-students were hiding in a UNCA building after hours, an encampment for Palestine on campus has stopped overnight activity.

Wolfie Layne, a student spokesperson for the encampment says protest participants refused to show university IDs on Sunday when UNCA staff began enforcement at the demonstration site.

University Chancellor Kimberly van Noort acknowledged the issues in a statement this week, saying staff eventually ordered the encampment to disperse. Students were threatened with arrest but no one was arrested, van Noort said.

Over the weekend, around 30 students had formed the encampment on UNCA’s Quad. The student-led protest joined a broader collective of campus demonstrations, most notably at Columbia University and UCLA, where students are demonstrating in support of a cease-fire and end to conflict claiming citizen lives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the time, van Noort said peaceful demonstrations and activities in line with UNCA policies would be supported. “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 wrote previously.

On Sunday, in an updated statement, van Noort said university leaders are restricting access to the demonstration area. Only students, faculty and staff are permitted to join the protest, she wrote.

After three unauthorized people were found in a locked academic building near the Quad on Sunday night, the university announced it would limit the use of the Quad to students and employees. Earlier in the day, the chancellor wrote, “an altercation between demonstrators on the Quad and counter-protesters required immediate University staff intervention to ensure everyone’s safety and prevent continued disruption to normal campus operations.”

Protesters responded on Monday with a march from the campus botanical gardens parking lot onto the main campus.

The ID rule put into place on the third day of UNCA protests and threats of students being arrested appear to have stopped students from camping on the Quad. But on Tuesday Layne said other demonstrations will continue.

“We have been on the Square every day since May 2. We will be out here again today,” Layne told BPR.

Layne added students will not be sleeping at the site overnight as they were ordered to disperse or be arrested on Sunday.

Campus response to protest

Van Noort says student organizers haven’t attempted to talk with her or set up a meeting to discuss demands central to the protest this month.

“I would have agreed to meet with students or faculty had they made a civil request appropriately,” she said in a statement on Sunday.

In an email to the campus, the chancellor said “the demonstrators’ demands are easily addressed” and she included some details about alleged funding and calls for divestment.

“UNC Asheville endowments are managed by the UNC Management Corporation, along with other UNC System university endowments,” she said. “We do not have direct control over the portfolio.”

Student protesters say they want transparency over endowments or investments and specifically want any funds in support of Israel or military conflict to end. It’s not clear whether any UNC system-endowed funds are being used in this way.

Van Noort did say that no student tuition or fees at UNCA are used for any non-campus purpose.

“... All UNC Asheville tuition and fees are used only on campus for costs related directly to educational, operational, and student support expenses,” van Noort wrote. “No tuition or fees are diverted to other non-campus uses or entities. Misinformation provided to student demonstrators has led to incorrect assumptions.”

In her email to campus, the chancellor says she will not take a public stance or support university resolutions against “geopolitical events.”

“... UNC Asheville values and upholds its role as a neutral forum for robust expression. The First Amendment protects the right of students and employees to express their opinions on matters of public debate. Faculty members are entitled to academic freedom in the classroom when discussing issues related to their courses. Neither the University nor I, the chancellor, should interfere by taking an official stance,” she wrote. “Institutional neutrality promotes the open exchange of ideas and avoids inhibiting scholarship, creativity, and expression. Compromising this position carries great risks.”

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