Protestors display a Palestinian flag at Hepner Hall during a pro-Palestinian protest at San Diego State University in San Diego on April 30, 2024. Photo by Kristian Carreon for CalMatters


By Christopher Buchanan, Christina Chkarboul, Atmika Iyer, Briana Mendez-Padilla, Jacqueline Munis, Jada Portillo, Hugo Rios, Elizabeth Wilson, Amelia Wu and Mikhail Zinshteyn


While some universities in California are negotiating with student protestors, hundreds of students and faculty throughout the state are facing legal and academic repercussions for protesting the Israel-Hamas war.

Protesters, who have largely been non-violent, have disrupted events, occupied buildings and public spaces, erected encampments, and skirmished with counterprotesters, resulting in university leaders citing campus policy violations and calling in law enforcement to forcefully remove protesters. According to a CalMatters analysis, at least 567 people, many of whom are students and faculty, have been disciplined by their universities or arrested since the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing over 1,100 and sparking a counter-offensive by Israel that has killed 35,000 Palestinians.

For months, pro-Palestinians have been intent on forcing their universities to divest from weapons manufacturers and companies with ties to Israel, and pro-Israelis have insisted the language and actions of the pro-Palestinian groups have been creating anti-semitic environments.

At some campuses, students and faculty are facing consequences for what they see as engaging in their First Amendment rights to speech and to peaceably assemble. An unknown number of students have been suspended or warned of possible suspension, while other students and faculty have been arrested on suspicion of trespassing, attempted burglary and unlawful assembly. And although some campuses are dropping charges, students and faculty throughout California face long-term repercussions.

Students and faculty face legal consequences

Law enforcement officers in riot gear have arrested hundreds of students and faculty for participating in pro-Palestinian encampments on several campuses, including Pomona College, University of Southern California, Cal Poly Humboldt, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Irvine.

Twenty students arrested at Pomona College on April 5 were suspended and cut off from their access to housing and the campus. At USC on April 24, 48 were students, three faculty members and three staff were arrested on suspicion of trespassing.

First: A pro-Palestinian protester is arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers during a protest in Alumni Park at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on April 24, 2024. Last: Pro-Palestinian protesters listen to speakers during a protest at Alumni Park at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on April 24, 2024. Photos by Jules Hotz for CalMatters

Protesters are slowly pushed towards the gates behind them as Los Angeles Police Department officers move to close the University of Southern California campus during a pro-Palestinian protest in Los Angeles on April 24, 2024. Photo by Jules Hotz for CalMatters

The next day, UCLA students began an encampment. The ensuing violence by counterprotesters and law enforcement against the camp protesters has drawn condemnation and resulted in the reassignment of UCLA Police Chief John Thomas on May 22, according to a statement from vice chancellor for strategic communications Mary Osako.

Third-year philosophy student Aidan Doyle said despite being aware of potential legal and academic consequences, including dispersal notices from the university and law enforcement, he and many other students felt it was absolutely necessary to continue their protest to call attention to the many deaths in Gaza.

“Despite all the roadblocks that the university and even the police presented to protesters, there’s still an electrified student base who wants to take the side of Palestine,” Doyle said.

After an aggressive group of counterprotesters stormed the UCLA campus in the early morning of May 1, the university moved all instruction online and called in outside law enforcement to clear the encampment that night. Officers arrested 254 protesters and dismantled the encampment. A CalMatters analysis of video from the sweep at UCLA found 25 instances of police brandishing “less-lethal weapons” in students’ faces.

After being injured by police during the sweep, Doyle was among the students and faculty members taken in packed prison buses to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. He has been charged with trespassing, though he and his lawyer believe the charges will be dropped.“(The encounter with counterprotestors) was such a heinous assault and nobody got arrested. Then, the very next day, 200 people who acted peacefully were arrested,” he said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow that the administration is predisposed to dislike us.”

Last: Groups of pro-Palestinian protesters gather at an entrance to their encampment at UCLA on the late evening of May 1, 2024. Law enforcement would eventually clear the encampment on the morning of May 2, 2024. Photo by Ted Soqui, CalMatters

Despite the violent apprehension of students at UCLA, two more UCs called in law enforcement to clear protest encampments over the following two weeks. Police arrested 64 individuals at UC San Diego’s Price Center on May 6, 40 of whom are students now facing charges including failure to disperse and resisting arrest, as well as suspension from the school. And at UC Irvine, law enforcement cleared the encampment on May 15, leading to 47 arrests including 26 students and two employees.

A fourth-year UC San Diego student who asked to be identified as Jewish but also requested anonymity for fear of academic consequences was arrested for failure to disperse while attempting to secure the encampment after police arrived.

“No one really wanted to be the person who broke rank [in holding the encampment perimeter] because we all believed in what we’re doing,” the student said. “We wouldn’t have done anything different.”

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said in a statement that the arrests were made after multiple orders from police officers to disperse were ignored: “UC San Diego encourages and allows peaceful protests, but this encampment violated campus policy and the law, and grew to pose an unacceptable risk to the safety of the campus community.”

Faculty members at UC San Diego condemned Khosla’s decision to involve law enforcement and are demanding the university reverse suspensions of arrested students.

“We are outraged at what our administration has done here,” said Gary Fields, a communications professor at UC San Diego for 22 years. “I’ve seen a lot of protests, but I’ve never seen anything like what Chancellor Khosla did.”

A University of California campus police officer pushes a pro-Palestinian protester away from a moving San Diego Sheriff’s bus with arrested protesters onboard at UC San Diego on May 6, 2024. Photo by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

Students suspended, banned from campus

The encampment sweeps were not the first crackdown of pro-Palestinian demonstrators on California campuses. As far back as Jan. 23, a group of protesters gathered outside Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Recreation Center as the university hosted a career fair inside that included military-defense company Lockheed Martin. Eight people were arrested, including three students and one faculty member.

One of the students arrested, who asked to remain anonymous due to the ongoing case, said they were also suspended for two academic quarters due to their participation. The student was supposed to graduate this spring. However, the suspension includes a ban from campus events.

“I thought they were rooting for us but I was really proved wrong there and they’re not looking out for our well-being at all,” the student said.

Other universities have also opted to enforce strict academic consequences. They have handed out suspensions, academic probations and event bans, though most schools will not disclose how many students have been disciplined.

After Stanford students established a second encampment on April 25 following a previous 120-day sit-in that ended in a deal with campus administrators, the university is taking a punitive approach to overnight protests. Stanford President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez sent a letter to about 60 students at the encampment saying they would be referred for disciplinary action for violating university policy, and that they could be arrested. They also announced that any student groups helping to maintain the encampment would also face disciplinary actions.

The university has already put an unknown number of students on academic probation, mandated community service hours and taken away university-funded fellowships for violating policies. The protesters risk losing campus jobs and university-sponsored internships.

“I get a lot of fellowship money from Stanford. I get a lot of medical support from Stanford. Being on academic probation is something I’m really, really scared of, just because I know those things would probably be in jeopardy,” said a student at the encampment, who requested anonymity due to fear of academic and professional retaliation.

USC suspended at least 29 students who participated in the protest, according to the student group Divest from Death Coalition, which has been collecting suspension letters.

“They were suspended for bringing items onto campus with the intent to use those items for the construction of the encampment,” said Jess, a doctoral candidate and member of the coalition who asked to be identified by her first name only for fear of repercussions.

Additionally, USC canceled its mainstage commencement ceremony due to the lack of security provisions for the expected 65,000 attendees.

In response to a growing encampment at Cal Poly Humboldt, the university shut down completely at the end of April and shifted classes online for the remainder of the semester.

According to Humboldt’s Communication Specialist Iridian Casarez, the university suspended 77 students related to protest activities. The suspension notice cited the alleged destruction of property, trespassing, resisting arrest, and obstruction of pedestrian traffic. Environmental studies major Stella Baumstone was among those, and said her initial concern was whether she’d be receiving her diploma. She knows of one student who lost a campus job due to the suspension and has been struggling to pay rent.

“It’s hard to see what they’re doing is having real material harm for people,” Baumstone said.

On April 30, 40 protesters were arrested when they refused law enforcement’s request to disperse and instead barricaded a building. Charges ranged from unlawful assembly and vandalism to conspiracy.

First: Pro-Palestinian protesters demand police officers leave campus during a protest outside of Siemens Hall at Cal Poly Humboldt in Arcata on April 22, 2024. Last: A pro-Palestinian supporter leads a chant during a protest at Cal Poly Humboldt on April 22, 2024. Photos by Mark McKenna for CalMatters

People gather after demonstrators took over Siemens Hall at Cal Poly Humboldt during a pro-Palestinian protest in Arcata on April 22, 2024. Photo by Mark McKenna for CalMatters

Rouhollah Aghasaleh, an assistant education professor, was the only faculty member arrested that day. The professor received a two-month suspension from the university and is barred from going to campus, attending university events including online, and contacting students.

“They are using a similar template for faculty suspension as if for a faculty member under investigation for a Title IX case,” Aghasaleh said. “I don’t think I’m dangerous for my students. My students also don’t think I’m dangerous for them.”

Faculty consequences are muddled on some campuses. John Branstetter, a political science lecturer at UCLA, was arrested after standing between students and police during the raid, trying to quell violence. He said the university has not promised to review “everybody who was caught up in it and apply the rules of the (employment manual) to us, although it’s not clear to me what those are.” He added he is particularly vulnerable as a non-tenured faculty member.

Students and faculty at UCLA have yet to face academic consequences for their participation in the encampment. Both Doyle and Branstetter believe the university will likely not follow through with suspensions or punishment. However, UCLA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On May 20, a rolling strike began at UC Santa Cruz when graduate students and other academic workers represented by United Auto Workers 4811 were the first to walk off the job. Strikes at UCLA and UC Davis are planned to begin May 28, adding to the work stoppage. That would mean roughly a third of the UC system’s graduate workers – who teach and grade a large portion of the undergraduates – will be withholding their labor.

The union demands that the UC drop disciplinary charges against some graduate workers who were arrested at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the past month. The UC calls the strike illegal, which the union disputes, and argues that it cannot change disciplinary rules just for graduate workers. The union argues these disciplinary rules are new and unilaterally change their working conditions, which they say is a violation of labor law.

Faculty and students at several universities have also held additional protests calling for district attorney offices to drop charges and for campus officials to offer academic amnesty for those they say expressed their right to speech and assembly.

And protesters continue to block public spaces and buildings, leading to further law enforcement action. On May 23 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a group blocked a main entrance to campus while chanting for a “free Palestine.” Eight people were arrested, including four students and one faculty member, for “unlawful assembly, willfully obstructing a street or sidewalk and resisting arrest,” according to university spokesperson Matt Lazier. The Cal Poly Police Department has temporarily banned those arrested from campus.

Meanwhile, also in the morning of May 23, at UCLA, a group of a few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters erected a short-lived encampment that cleared out once officers arrived. In the afternoon, a larger group of about 200 occupied Dodd Hall, a classroom space, using their bodies to block doorways and stopped students of at least one class from entering.

Fourth-year student Ricky Ramirez, who was trying to attend his 5 p.m. sociology class, said he was sympathetic to the protesters and had joined previous pro-Palestinian rallies at campus. “I understand why it’s happening,” he said. “I wish the school would inform us more and keep us up-to-date.”

After witnessing several campus security guards grab and then push a student who was standing outside a back door of Dodd Hall, Ramirez said, “It’s really scary, honestly. I feel like it could just happen to me and I’m just trying to get into class.”

University police officers cleared out the students by about 5:30 p.m. It did not appear that any arrests were made.

Kenza K., a third-year UCLA undergraduate student who identified herself as a spokesperson for the student protesters, said the day’s actions were a test to see if students were just as mobilized as they were three weeks ago. And, according to her, they were. Their goal was not to get arrested, she added, “though students are willing to take a lot of risk because they believe that they’re not doing anything wrong.”

Some campuses turn to peacemaking

Some universities have been able to avoid police intervention and come to agreements with pro-Palestinian protesters. Most of these deals include provisions that would make investments by universities more transparent and bring recognition to Palestinian losses. Encampments have cleared following negotiations at San Francisco State, Sacramento State, Sonoma State, UC Riverside, UC Berkeley and Chapman University.

Various movements in solidarity with Gaza joined the “Free Palestine Camp” demonstration outside of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley on April 23, 2024. Photo by Manuel Orbegozo for CalMatters

Sacramento State President Luke Wood said there would be full transparency for the university’s investments following the protests. Sonoma State’s president Mike Lee promised the same but added one caveat. Without prior approval by Cal State Chancellor Mildred Garcia, Lee agreed to cut ties with student and faculty exchange programs in Israel. After Garcia placed him on administrative leave for insubordination, Lee announced he would retire, leaving the deal in limbo and student activists in the Cal State system calling for Garcia’s resignation.

In stark contrast to the other three UC campuses, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said she’d be reevaluating whether the university’s investments align with the UN Principles for Responsible Investment — which prohibits investment in companies who are threatening any public safety — and that she’d call for a ceasefire in support of Palestinian and Jewish lives. UC Riverside has agreed to consider investment strategies that direct money away from weapons manufacturers.

“This is a step forward for our community,” said a statement by the group Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Riverside. “However, our work is not done. Innocent people are STILL dying, enduring displacement, and suffering. This is not a victory and, more importantly, this is not defeat.”


Sergio Olmos contributed to this story. Buchanan, Chkarboul, Iyer, Mendez-Padilla, Munis, Portillo, Rios, Wilson and Wu are fellows with the College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists from across California. CalMatters higher education coverage is supported by a grant from the College Futures Foundation.

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