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UF threatens student protesters with suspension, banishment from campus

An unidentified University of Florida campus police officer watches over about 50 pro-Palestinian protesters who demonstrated on campus
Amanda Friedman
Fresh Take Florida
An unidentified University of Florida campus police officer watches over about 50 pro-Palestinian protesters who demonstrated on campus Thursday, April 25, 2024, for a second consecutive day. There was no violence or police response – a contrast to what was happening at some other college campuses around the U.S.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida threatened pro-Palestinian student demonstrators with suspension and banishment from campus for three years if they violate a host of rules of behavior over protests that continued for a second day late Thursday.

The university said employees or professors caught breaking its rules would be fired.

Some of the rules were specific, such as prohibiting protesters from using bullhorns or speakers to amplify their voices, possessing weapons or protesting inside buildings on campus. Other rules were far more vague, such as one that said “no disruption,” or another that said signs must be carried in hands at all times.

READ MORE: DeSantis wants colleges to expel, deport protesters who target Jewish students

Campus police circulated the list of prohibited activities late Thursday as about 50 protesters gathered for a second day of demonstrations. A university spokeswoman early Friday confirmed the authenticity of the document. It said permitted activities included “speech,” “expressing viewpoints” and “holding signs in hands.” It wasn’t clear whether temporarily dropping a sign during hours-long protests would end in an arrest or trespass order.

Other prohibited activities included littering; camping or use of tents, sleeping bags or pillows; blocking anyone’s path. They also included “no sleeping” on a campus where students often doze in the sun between classes.

The letter was not signed or dated but indicated it was sent from the university’s Division of Student Life. The university is a public institution and its campus is generally not restricted.

The protesters late Thursday urged the university administration to end investments with publicly traded companies that sell weapons or military technology to Israel. A significant number of campus police officers watched nearby but did not immediately intervene. A large sign erected on two tall poles that read, “It’s not a war, it’s a genocide,” had been removed late Thursday.

Campus police did not conduct any arrests Thursday or early Friday, according to county jail records. A police spokesman, Capt. Latrell Simmons, said the demonstrators were cooperating with law enforcement.

The scene at UF, home to the largest percentage of Jewish college students in America, was so far a peaceful contrast to demonstrations at some U.S. universities this week, where police arrested demonstrators, put some in zip ties and used an electrical device to stun at least one at Emory University in Atlanta.

UF is home to about 55,000 students, including about 6,500 Jewish students. There were no classes Thursday or Friday this week, so that students can prepare for final exams starting next week.

The two days of relatively mild protests at UF also have occurred in a different political environment than at other schools. Staunch allies of Israel, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, and UF’s new university president, Ben Sasse, have openly warned they would not tolerate violent pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses.

Last year, DeSantis tried unsuccessfully to ban two pro-Palestinian student groups at UF and the University of South Florida in Tampa, Students for Justice in Palestine, after accusing them of providing material support to Hamas. Citing First Amendment protections, the universities have allowed the groups to continue operating on their campuses.

DeSantis this week said pro-Palestinian student protesters should be expelled from their universities, and that those who are international students should have their visas canceled. Sasse, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, has said, “we will absolutely be ready to act if anyone dares to escalate beyond peaceful protest.”

The protesters this week demanded that the university prohibit speakers affiliated with Israel’s military and promise not to suspend or arrest students engaged in peaceful protests. The former demand is a hot-button among conservatives who control Florida’s Legislature, who have imposed new rules requiring that colleges and universities host guest speakers with a range of political viewpoints.

The protesters also said a student oversight committee should approve future investments by the university. UF’s endowment is worth more than $2.5 billion. The university said the money supports faculty and students, including professorships and financial aid for undergraduates, graduate fellowships, and student life and activities.

A similar protest on the campus on Wednesday drew some Jewish counter protesters. Campus police kept the groups apart. There was no counterprotest Thursday.

Carlos Alemany, 21, a political science major from Windemere near Orlando, said he hoped the protest would educate others about the brutality of what was happening in Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel last October.

Alemany compared the killings in Gaza to a holocaust, a destruction or slaughter on a mass scale. The term has a particular meaning among Jews, who suffered the murder of 6 million people by Nazis during the Holocaust of World War II.

“There is a technical term for the word holocaust,” Alemany said. “And this is exactly what it is.”

Kenise Jackson, 20, a marketing sophomore, attended the demonstrations in solidarity with hundreds of college students who have recently been arrested at Pro-Palestinian rallies across the U.S and call for a ceasefire to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

"That's ultimately what I want – for people to stop dying," she said.


This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporters can be reached at afriedman1@ufl.edu  and vivienneserret@ufl.edu. You can donate to support our students here.

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