Multiple tents behind a large banner reading "SJSU: Divest Now."
Students at San Jose State University have set up more than a dozen tents on the grass in front of Clark Hall to protest the university's lack of response to the deaths in Gaza. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

San Jose State University students have set up a dozen tents on a lawn in front of Clark Hall, calling for the school to acknowledge the death toll in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war.

The student encampment began Monday, which was the last day of classes at SJSU. University administrators put up a sign telling protesters to clear the encampment by 6 p.m. Tuesday night, but as of Wednesday the encampment was still there. The university is still assessing the situation.

University spokesperson Michelle Smith McDonald said the protesters could face consequences and that there is due process to follow if they are found in violation.

The SJSU students have numerous demands including disclosure and divestment from Israeli companies, along with 11 community guidelines for those visiting or staying at the encampment. Groups of people sat on the grass, with most wearing masks to hide their faces, out of fear of being doxxed or harassed. Doxxing is when someone’s private information is made public.

Victory Statue at San Jose State with multiple tents around it, some adorned with Palestinian flags
San Jose State University administrators are assessing next steps with the student encampment. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Students on dozens of campuses around the nation have been staging sit-ins and arranging tent encampments in support of Palestinians, including at San Francisco State University and Columbia University. Many have called for their universities to divest from holdings that benefit Israeli companies, as well as demanding their universities support a ceasefire.

Sang Hea Kil, a SJSU professor of justice studies who is participating in the sit-in, said the students in the encampment and people walking by have been mostly peaceful, but some administrators threatened her and the encampment. Kil is being investigated by the university for violating its “time, place and manner” policy, which outlines how and when free speech can occur on campus. She said this policy represses students’ rights.

Kil said university leadership is seen as pro-Israel, pointing to how the campus administration has not put out any statements about the death toll in Gaza, which likely delayed the students’ actions. She added that the protest was organized by the students.

“They are scared, but they’re also courageous, and I commend them for their courage and bravery,” she told San José Spotlight. “They inspire me in every way.”

After the Oct. 7, 2023 attack by the Palestinian armed group Hamas that claimed the lives of roughly 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped more than 200 hostages, according to the Wall Street Journal, Israel retaliated by bombing Gaza and killing more than 35,000 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians, according to Reuters.

Kil added that she hopes university administrators will communicate with the protesters about their demands, but is worried that administrators will not collaborate. On Monday night, the sprinklers turned on while the protesters were encamped, which Kil said followed a historical trend of using water to disperse protests.

McDonald said the university’s lawns are on an automatic timer for 10:30 p.m., but the university turned off the sprinklers on Tuesday.

She added that the university has been preparing for increased student activism for the past few weeks. University administrators have a meeting scheduled with Students for Justice in Palestine leaders today. McDonald added that two other attempts by administrators to communicate with the encampment were rebuffed.

“We would like to dialogue with students,” McDonald told San José Spotlight. “We’re hoping that will happen pretty soon.”

McDonald also said the encampment has been peaceful.

Many passersby stopped to read the signs displayed on the tents or talk with protesters. Teri, a university employee who declined to give her last name for safety concerns, said she supports students speaking out over things they don’t like, but that she heard protesters yelling at SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson, which made her uncomfortable.

Campus junior Kevin Lizarraga and graduating senior Vanessa Mach stopped by to read some of the signs at the encampment, and Lizarraga took some photos. The pair had been talking about the encampments at other universities and said this one seemed peaceful.

Lizarraga said he wasn’t well informed on the conflict, but the encampment seemed approachable and he might stop by to learn more.

“They seem to be the most peaceful one we’ve seen. Columbia looks like a warzone,” Lizarraga told San José Spotlight.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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