Five University of Oregon students are chained to the front of Johnson Hall, the administration and office building for the UO president. Photo by Eve Weston.

After the Encampment 

University of Oregon administrators and Pro-Palestine protesters continue to clash

On Thursday, May 30, roughly 50 University of Oregon students shut down UO President John Karl Scholz’s investiture at Matthew Knight Arena, protesting the university’s investment ties to Israel. 

During the disruption of the ceremony that formally installed him as president, Scholz said that he can “get fired up about these things” and joked about being offered a heavy mace. 

As part of the ceremony, Scholz was presented with the president’s medallion and university mace, the official symbols of leadership at the UO.

UO Assistant Director of Issues Management Eric Howald wrote in an email to Eugene Weekly that Scholz’s remarks were “an attempt to lighten a tense moment created by protesters disrupting and delaying a milestone event.”

According to UO Director of Issues Management Angela Seydel, those who violated the student code of conduct and/or vandalized at the event will be subject to disciplinary action. She writes in an email to EW that protesters painted the doors and exterior wall of Matthew Knight Arena red.

This protest comes one week after the university and the UO Palestine Coalition signed an agreement on May 22 that students would take down the encampment in front of the Matthew Knight Arena if the university agreed to a list of demands. 

These demands included releasing a statement calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, creating five full-ride scholarships for displaced Palestinian students, starting a working task force that would investigate the UO Foundation investments and contracts, agreeing not to punish protesters involved in the encampment and establishing a physical space for those involved in the encampment to organize. 

UO students took down the encampment on May 23, and Scholz released a statement that same day saying, “I believe it is now appropriate to express my heartfelt anguish at events in Israel and Gaza, and my support for a ceasefire, return of the hostages, and humanitarian aid that reaches civilians affected by the violence.” He also outlined some key details of the agreement.

However, the UO Palestine Coalition says that Scholz issued a different statement than the one it had negotiated and misrepresented the nature of the agreement by calling it “similar” to an earlier proposal the coalition had rejected. 

In an email to EW, the coalition writes that the original statement it agreed to was, “We are heartbroken over the devastating loss of innocent civilian Palestinian and Israeli lives in the Middle East and particularly in Gaza. We support an end to violence and to the current humanitarian and hostage crisis in Gaza.”

The UO Palestine Coalition writes, “While we are angered at this violation of our agreement, our core objection is still that the University has an endowment of billions of dollars invested partially in the U.S.-Israeli war machine.”

For 25 days students camped outside the UO Knight Library and in front of Scholz’s Johnson Hall office, calling on the university to divest from Israel and demand a ceasefire in Gaza. 

At its peak, more than 100 tents sprawled across the quad. Stations with medics, media liaisons, food and water, and for sign-making, shirt-making and onboarding lined the outside of the camp. On the sidewalks surrounding the Knight Library lawn were names of some of the deceased in Gaza written in chalk. 

Every morning the Students for Justice for Palestine posted a schedule on a whiteboard outside as well as on their social media filled with negotiation meeting times, teach-ins hosted by UO professors and local activists, craft-making, protests and sit-ins. 

“Being a part of a collective power where we were all here fighting for the same thing and we’re here together at camp all the time, right? That was just so enriching on so many levels,” says former encampment member and UO student Gino Polvorosa.

The Students for Justice for Palestine, UO Jewish Voices for Peace and the Working Committee of Grads for Palestine spearheaded the camp as well as organized a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

Their demands include immediate divestment from Jasper Ridge Partners, an investment management service that invests the UO Foundation’s funds in companies tied to the defense industry such as aerospace manufacturer Boeing, investment management company Vanguard and Israel-based international military technology company Elbit Systems. The coalitions also called on the university to boycott academic exchanges and other relationships with Israeli universities. 

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians –– more than 14,500 of those casualties are children –– since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis. 

“We are here to pressure our university to divest from their holdings in companies that perpetuate this genocide, perpetuate the Israeli apartheid state,” UO Jewish Voices for Peace leader Gabriella Moreno said on the second day of the encampment. “We’re here to show our voices and show our strength in numbers as students in order to pressure our university.”

The camp was one of many popping up across the country at the time — all calling for divestment from Israeli companies and defense manufacturing companies that contribute to the Israeli military. While some of the other encampments across the country faced violent counterprotesters, such as at UCLA, and police use of force like at Columbia University, the UO’s encampment remained peaceful with minimal police interaction.

 On May 15, one UO student protester, Hazel Muller Key, was charged with criminal mischief for gluing posters to the side of campus buildings. 

Over the course of 25 days, the encampment, which relocated to Johnson Hall on May 16, held a series of negotiations with UO. According to Seydel, there were eight meetings between the student protesters and the original negotiations team, five meetings between the student protesters and the faculty/senate negotiations team, and four informal meetings between the student protesters and representatives from the Office of the Provost, for a total of 17.

Moreno, who was present for these meetings, says negotiations went through several rounds and iterations because the university didn’t take their demands seriously. “We were originally meeting with members of the university who had nothing to do with the UO Foundation and its investments,” Moreno says.

The original negotiations team was Denis Galvan, vice provost for Global Engagement, Allison Blade, associate vice president and chief of staff in the Office of the Provost, Krista Dillon, chief of staff and senior director of operations for Safety and Risk Services and Marcus Langford, dean of students. 

After the eight meetings with the original negotiations team, she says “It felt like things were going nowhere,” so the protesters decided to continue to rally and demand to meet with Scholz.

Moreno and a leader for the SJP met with Scholz on May 14 and began meeting with the UO Senate most nights starting the weekend of May 18 until they got the deal on the 22nd. 

Scholz released two public statements addressing the encampment’s demands as well as numerous emails to students and faculty calling for an end to the encampment. In a Tuesday, May 7, email Scholz asked for the overnight encampment to end and said the university would be “moving forward with the student conduct process related to violations of campus policy as appropriate.” 

The UO revoked academic amnesty for protesters on May 7 as well. 

The protesters held six rallies, including a “100 Hours in Chains” rally on May 20 to honor three students who chained themselves to Johnson Hall for over 100 hours. 

University administrators did not publicly respond to that particular protest. Polvorosa, one of the three students chained to Johnson Hall, says, “It was frustrating because they claim to care so much about their students and the health and safety of students, and they’re just allowing their students to be physically locked outside for over 100 hours.”

Seydel writes in an email to EW, “The choice of some protesters to chain themselves to a university building marks an unfortunate escalation of recent protest activities and incurs additional violations of university policy and the student code of conduct. These actions disrupt university operations, impede access to the building and create unsafe obstructions to people exiting the building in case of an emergency.”

Protesters reached an agreement with the UO negotiation team two days after the “100 Hours in Chains” rally.

“It’s easy to focus on the demands that weren’t met, but I think it’s important to not let that take over,” Polvorosa says. “Take the win that you got from this — whether that’s from feeling like you have a sense of community now or you had a great conversation where you learned something new — let that impact you just as much as what you’re not getting.”

Moreno, who was not present at the investiture protest, says that the UO Palestine Coalition never promised to stop protesting in its agreement. She says that while she cannot comment on whether there will be more protests in the future, the SJP is hosting a “People’s Commencement for the Popular University for Palestine, Class of 2024,” at 6 pm Friday, June 7, on the UO’s Gerlinger Lawn.