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At Brown University, protesters and administrators reach deal to end encampment

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Tensions between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and counterprotesters erupted into violence overnight at the University of California, Los Angeles. Video captured by a local TV station shows people using sticks, even barricades, to swing at and beat one another. In Oregon, Portland State University closed its campus after protesters took over a library building. In New York, police with riot shields made dozens of arrests last night at Columbia University, pushing into a window of a building that had been taken over by protesters. Meanwhile, at Brown University in Rhode Island, students there left their encampment quietly after making a deal with the school. Olivia Ebertz with the Public's Radio is in Providence.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Everybody get a corner.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: OK.

OLIVIA EBERTZ, BYLINE: That's the sound of pro-Palestinian student activists at Brown University shaking out and packing up their tent.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #3: Low key, I think I'm going to start putting sleeping pads over here. Do you want to help me move these?

EBERTZ: For over six months, Brown has been a hub of pro-Palestinian activism. There have been dozens of arrests, an eight-day hunger strike, and last week, 120 students took up residence on the main campus green. Then Tuesday afternoon, student negotiators announced a breakthrough on their key demand. The university agreed to schedule a vote on divestment at the school board's fall meeting. In exchange, protesters agreed to clear their encampment.

RITA FEDER: To be honest, I didn't think that we were going to get to this point, and I think we are living in a historic moment right now.

EBERTZ: Rita Feder is an Israeli American senior at Brown and is part of a campus group demanding divestment from companies they say profit from human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories. Students think Brown might be the only U.S. university where protesters have forced a vote on divestment this year.

RITA FEDER: This is a historic move to change the American narrative around what is appropriate regarding Israel-Palestine.

EBERTZ: The university's $6.6 billion endowment is indirectly invested in several companies that manufacture weapons, according to SEC filings. Students have been organizing at full speed since late October to get university President Christina Paxson to bring a divestment measure to the Brown corporation board.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) I ain't going to study war no more. I ain't going to study war no more. I ain't going to study war no more.

EBERTZ: The mood at the encampment after the announcement was joyous. The undergrads there who negotiated the divestment deal say they're happy with it and exhausted. Junior Arman Deendar was among those celebrating Paxson's decision.

ARMAN DEENDAR: That's the power of the encampment is, like, we - she actually moved because of us. I think everyone should feel really proud about that. And people setting up similar encampments, encampments ongoing, should know that, like, it's working.

EBERTZ: The students didn't win everything they wanted. They'd also asked for charges to be dropped against 41 students arrested in December while protesting in an administration building after hours. Paxson did not agree to ask for those charges to be dropped during negotiations. And for her part, she says she's satisfied with the deal.

CHRISTINA PAXSON: I feel good about this. And I think we've come to a good agreement. And I'm pleased that we're moving in a good direction.

EBERTZ: Not everyone on campus applauded the deal. The union representing Brown's graduate students released a statement saying it would continue to push for divestment this semester, citing Israel's potential ground invasion on the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. And senior Isabella Garo, who is on the negotiating committee, says getting the university's board to consider a divestment measure was only half the battle.

ISABELLA GARO: We are very prepared to continue organizing to lobby the corporation to ensure that we get a yes vote in October. But this is still huge.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) I ain't going to study war no more. I ain't going to study war no more.

EBERTZ: Garo danced and sang with her fellow students as they worked to clear the encampment. By the 5 p.m. deadline, all that remained were dozens of faded rectangles left by the tents.

For NPR News, I'm Olivia Ebertz in Providence, R.I.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) Down by the riverside. Down by the riverside. Down by the riverside. I'm going to free all of Palestine down by the riverside. Won't study war no more. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Olivia Ebertz
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