University of Minnesota students and faculty walk out after anti-war encampment cleared, 9 arrested

People hold signs and wave flags during a protest
University of Minnesota students cheer a speaker during a student and faculty walk out on Tuesday to protest the clearing of a pro-Palestine solidarity encampment and arrest of nine students by university police for trespassing earlier in the day.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Updated: 9:19 p.m.

About 300 people staged a walk out at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus Tuesday afternoon in response to university police arresting protesters at an encampment on campus who were calling on the school to divest from companies that do business with Israel’s military, including weapon manufacturers.

Mirabai Dornfest is a junior at the University of Minnesota who walked out of class Tuesday with her sociology of gender classmates. Dornfest joined the walkout in support of the students who were arrested and against the school calling the police on them.

Protesters sit and stand on a grass lawn
University of Minnesota students gather among tents and yurts as they participate in a student and faculty walk out on Tuesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Dornfest also said she's Jewish, which is one of the other reasons she joined the protest.

“It’s the holiday of Passover, which is the Jewish holiday of liberation. I think it’s very in line with my morals and with the morals of a holiday to protest for liberation of the Palestinian people,” she said. “It’s also just in line with my morals as a person, as a student, as someone who feels in solidarity with oppressed peoples, as a person whose family is a bunch of immigrants. It’s in line with who I am and what I want to fight for.”

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Dornfest wants University of Minnesota officials to acknowledge the students’ demands and talk with students about divestment.

Three people hold signs in protest
Students protest outside the Hennepin County Jail on Tuesday.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

Organizers said they set up the encampment at about 4 a.m. Soon after 7 a.m., a livestream video showed police detaining some of those who had been in the encampment, and removing tents.

Campus police arrested nine people for trespassing and took them into custody at Hennepin County jail. As of 10 a.m., at least a dozen people were protesting outside the jail.

Student organizer Merlin Van Alstine said authorities gave students a 30-minute warning to clear the area; some students chose to stay.

“They were chanting, they were sitting in the middle of the encampment with their arms crossed together and chanting for Gaza, and then one by one they pulled them off,” Alstine said.

A close-up of a person wearing a black and white keffiyeh
A University of Minnesota student wears a Palestinian keffiyeh headdress as they participate in a student and faculty walk out on Tuesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

In a statement, the university said the students were violating campus policy and state law, which prevent tents and other encampment arrangements on university property without a permit. However, the university says it supports students and faculty expressing their views.

“In light of protests around the country and this morning’s activity on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, it’s important to note that the U of M supports and respects free speech through lawful protest,” the statement reads. “As a public research university, demonstrations where groups express diverse views and opinions occur regularly on our campus. We support the rights of all members of our University community to speak and demonstrate peacefully.”

Campus police stand at a row of squad cars
University of Minnesota police squad cars line a walkway as officers clear a pro-Palestine solidarity encampment set up by students in front of Northrop Auditorium on Tuesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

The student coalition says it is planning more efforts to push the university to divest.

“We will not back down,” Alstine said. “Political repression does not scare us.”

Tuesday evening, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar spoke at campus. She told the audience she was “moved by their bravery and courage.”

“People who tell us we are wrong for being out here, they’re going to be footnotes in the history books,” Omar said. “Follow your gut and know that what we are doing, the voices that we are raising to save lives in Gaza is just and righteous and morally correct.”

Omar’s daughter Isra Hirsi was arrested and suspended from participating in the Columbia University protests of the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.

In addition to divestment, the group also wants the U to ban companies, including Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and General Dynamics, from hosting job recruitments and other events on campus. And they called for amnesty for any students and faculty members disciplined amid the protests.

The encampment followed similar encampments on other campuses across the country in recent days.

People spread out a large black tarp
People spread out a large tarp to cover a yurt erected in protest during the walkout on Tuesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia University's upper Manhattan campus were arrested last week. Several students involved in the protest said they were also suspended from Columbia and Barnard College.

In Connecticut, police arrested 60 protesters — including 47 students — Monday at Yale University, after they refused to leave an encampment on Beinecke Plaza. On the West Coast, California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, announced that its campus will be closed through Wednesday after demonstrators occupied a building Monday night. Protesters also set up more than 30 tents on the central part of the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus called the Diag. 

Campus protests began after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. During the ensuing war, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and noncombatants but says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.