Pro-Palestinian protesters, University of Minnesota reach agreement to end encampment

People attend a rally
Pro-Palestinian protestors attend a rally at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis on Thursday. They are demanding accountability from university leadership to work towards divestment.
Tom Baker | MPR News

Updated 7:00 p.m.

Organizers of pro-Palestinian protests at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and university leadership announced Thursday morning that they’ve reached an agreement to end the dayslong encampment on Northrop Mall.

Buildings on campus that have been closed since Monday afternoon reopened Thursday.

Interim University President Jeff Ettinger sent a message to students, faculty and staff just after 7 a.m. outlining the agreement.

It includes an opportunity for protest organizers to address the Board of Regents next week, and a pledge by the university to “advocate to the Minneapolis City Attorney for lenient remedies for those previously arrested in connection” with protests on campus.

A student wearing a clear poncho stands holding belongings
Pro-Palestinian activist Fae Hodges, a sophomore, helps pack belongings at a protest camp on campus on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Last week, campus police arrested nine people — most of whom are current or former students — for trespassing, saying school policy and state law prevent people from setting up tents on campus without permission.

Organizers said the agreement is the result of discussions with university leaders.

“We were in late-night negotiations with the administration into the evening. And we received an amazing email, basically stating that five out of six of our demands would be met,” said Fae Hodges, a member of Students for a Democratic Society. “And so this morning, we’ve decided we have come to an agreement with the University to take down the encampment. We’ll be removing tents within the next two hours and getting all of our stuff out by noon.”

A person carries camping gear away from a camp
Pro-Palestinian activists dismantle a protest encampment on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Among other steps, the statement also says the U of M “will make a good faith effort to provide as much information as possible about the university’s holdings in public companies” — in response to protesters’ demands for divestment from companies with ties to the Israeli military — while noting that some investments “are protected by non-disclosure agreements or other legal constraints.”

In return, the agreement states, protest organizers won’t disrupt final exams that start Thursday, or commencement activities over the next couple of weeks.

The UMN Divest coalition posted an update saying that in the wake of the university’s statement, protest organizers would fully clear the encampment by noon Thursday.

“UMN Divest remains steadfast in our commitment to demanding FULL divestment from apartheid Israel and all entities complicit in human rights violations. We will continue fighting for all 6 of our demands until they are met and continue with full transparency of every step that is taken,” coalition organizers said in their statement.

People in a protest
Pro-Palestinian protestors participate in march at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Tom Baker | MPR News

Ettinger said in his statement to the campus that “while there is more work to do, and conversations are still planned with other student groups affected by the painful situation in Palestine, I am heartened by today’s progress. It grew out of a desire among those involved to reach shared understanding. While we do not condone tactics that are outside of our policies, we appreciate student leaders’ willingness to engage in dialogue.”

Hodges called the agreement a win but said organizers are ready to protest again if administration doesn't make progress towards divestment.

“The coalition is cautiously optimistic. We are not putting our trust in administration, we are putting our trust in ourselves, and that is why we needed a seat at the table, and we would not leave yesterday’s negotiations without a full promise that we would continue to have our voices heard throughout this process,” Hodges said.

Administrators also met with Jewish student leaders on Thursday morning. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota said students asked the university to step up its response to antisemitism.

A person carries camping gear out of an encampment
Pro-Palestinian activists dismantle a protest encampment on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus after reaching a deal with the administration on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Student president of Minnesota Hillel Alex Stewart said she wants the school to enforce rules for protestors.

“Those groups get time at the Board of Regents meeting. And they get amnesty for their behavior,” said student president of Minnesota Hillel Alex Stewart. “I appreciate that the disruption is gone. And I do not appreciate that they are getting rewards for it.”

Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas Director Ethan Roberts said he's disappointed that the letter seemed to only be from the viewpoint of the protesters.

“You would never know, based upon the letter that went out to students, faculty and staff that Oct. 7th happened,” he said. “You would never know that was the worst trauma, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. The word Israel, Jews, antisemitism appears nowhere in this email, in this memo.”

The decision puts the U of M among the few universities that have struck agreements with protest leaders. 

A man speaks to a crowd
University of Minnesota grad student Taher Herzallah’s family is from Gaza, and he has lost nine family members due to the violence since October of 2023. “We are prepared to disrupt,” he says in reference to the university keeping its promises.
Tom Baker | MPR News

On Monday, Northwestern University in Illinois and student organizers announced an agreement to curb protest activity in return for the reestablishment of an advisory committee on university investments and other commitments.

At Brown University in Rhode Island, administrators agreed on Wednesday to consider a vote to divest from Israel in October — apparently the first U.S. college to agree to such a demand. Administrators at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore focused talks on limiting student protests to daytime hours.

The nationwide campus protests are happening in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there.

Protest organizer Adam Abu, a junior, said he is pleased that there’s an agreement in place, but said it’s a wait and see situation.

“We’re hopeful, and we’re also cautious at the same time,” Abu said. “So we’re feeling good. And we hope everything goes well in the hopes that the plans don’t fall through."

The Minnesota chapter of American Muslims for Palestine held a march Thursday evening. The original plan was to end the march at the encampment, but that changed after the encampment closed.

The group said it still plans to march to continue to demand accountability from university administration.

The Regents meetings will be held on May 9 and 10.

People dismantle an encampment in the rain
Pro-Palestinian activists dismantle a protest encampment on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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