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UVM students, community members protest commencement speaker near pro-Palestinian encampment

A group of people hold signs and flags with the colors red, black, white and green.
Lexi Krupp
/
Vermont Public
Students and community members hold signs and flags at a protest calling for the cancellation of the University of Vermont's commencement speaker on Monday, April 29.

More than a hundred students and Burlington community members gathered outside the Howe Library at the University of Vermont on Monday. They were there to protest the school's upcoming commencement speaker, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, because of her vetoes of U.N. resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Demonstrators said they want the university to cancel the speech and the honorary degree the university plans to grant Thomas-Greenfield.

Canceling Thomas-Greenfield’s visit is one of the five demands demonstrators have made to the university's administration.

On Sunday, students set up an encampment at the Andrew Harris Commons, just outside the Howe Library. Students say they plan to stay there indefinitely, or until their demands are met.

A line of tents behind chairs with signs that read "UVM funds genocide" and "Divest."
Zoe McDonald
/
Vermont Public
University of Vermont students who put up an encampment in solidarity with Palestine say they'll remain there until the five demands they've made of the university's administration are met.

James, a junior at UVM who declined to share his full name due to fear of retaliation from the university, is a member of the campus group UVM Students for Justice in Palestine.

"It's day two, we've established a strong presence here, and we are in a position where we can make it clear that we are here to stay until our demands are met,” he said. “And the only way that admin is going to be able to move us, short of coming in with police batons and zip ties to brutalize their own students, is to negotiate with us in good faith, in good conscience, with a sincere attempt to meet our demands."

Among the other demands, the student group says they want the university to disclose its financial investments, participate in an academic boycott of Israeli institutions and offer students participating in the encampment a guarantee that there will be no retaliation or charges brought against them.

A man wearing a black jacket, beret and a keffiyeh speaks while gesturing to one side.
Zoe McDonald
/
Vermont Public
Ashley Smith participated in Monday's protest at the University of Vermont in solidarity with students. Smith is part of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.

Ashley Smith, one of the non-students taking part in Monday’s protest, is part of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation. He said he and his group are in support of the widespread student demonstrations.

“Students are now the leading edge of this struggle, and I haven’t seen a rebellion like this since the Vietnam anti-war movement. … And now, this is like, full circle, back to the same kind of eruption,” he said. “So I think we’re at a turning point in the history of Palestine solidarity.”

Harper, a senior at UVM who only shared her middle name for fear of retaliation by the university, came to the encampment Sunday night to help serve food for a seder. She ended up staying.

“They said that we would only have until 8:30 this morning, and we’re still here,” Harper said. “Last night they said they wouldn’t let us bring food in. There’s too much food. There’s too much water. No one is giving us a hard time right now.”

According to university policy, temporary structures are not allowed to be occupied on campus overnight.

Adam White, executive director of university communications, didn’t say whether the encampment would be allowed to remain overnight into Tuesday. However, White said in an email that students suspected of university policy violations would “be subjected to the university’s student conduct process.”

The UVM students join pro-Palestinian demonstrators at schools across the country, including Vermont’s Middlebury College.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Disclosure: Lexi Krupp is an adjunct audio journalism instructor at the University of Vermont.

Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
Zoe McDonald is a digital producer in Vermont Public’s newsroom. Previously, she served as the multimedia news producer for WBHM, central Alabama’s local public radio station. Before she discovered her love for public media, she created content for brands like Insider, Southern Living and Health. She graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Mississippi in 2017. Zoe enjoys reading, drinking tea, trying new recipes and hiking with her dog.