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The Gaza Solidarity Encampment was disbanded on May 10.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil


Interim Penn President Larry Jameson 

Provost John Jackson Jr.

Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli:

We, the graduate student workers and educators of Philadelphia, unequivocally condemn the decision made on May 10, 2024 by the University of Pennsylvania administration to violently dismantle the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on College Green. Your indefensible decision to call Philadelphia Police to our campus resulted in the arrest of 33 students, faculty, and community members, including four of our fellow graduate student workers. We join individual faculty, AAUP-Penn, Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine, and Philadelphia politicians in expressing our deepest disappointment and outrage at the administration's lack of integrity and defiance of due process. Your actions have left our community shaken and our campus inaccessible.

We reject your mischaracterization of the encampment and add our voices to the chorus of support from the broader Penn community. Despite public intimidation and individualized disciplinary action, encampment organizers transformed College Green into a lively educational space. Their commitment to imaginative and thoughtful learning was clear at teach-ins, screenings, and discussions organized in collaboration with scholars, artists, and educators across Philadelphia. This stands in stark contrast to your suppression of student and faculty attempts to organize events on the history, culture, and politics of Palestine that we have witnessed in the last year.

We are appalled by your vacuous description of your actions as “viewpoint neutral.” Ordering armed police to remove faculty and students from campus, shred books and artwork assembled at the encampment, and squash the right to dissent is by no means a neutral act. Your choices have set a very dangerous precedent for the future of free speech and the right to dissent in higher education. Your actions painfully illustrate how our university has ceased to be a scholarly institution and instead become a site of censorship controlled by the whims of donors. When donors’ dollars are more important than self-evident truths about human suffering and injustice, universities like Penn reveal that higher education has been thoroughly transformed through a simultaneous process of material enrichment and administrative moral bankruptcy. When billboard trucks speak louder than books, the very idea of a university is at great risk.

We would like to remind the Penn administration that students and faculty have historically formed citywide coalitions to push institutions to do better, pressing the university to divest from corporations pursuing unjust and violent operations in West Philadelphia and beyond. This empowering tradition of political protest at Penn includes the 1969 sit-in against chemical warfare research on campus, the 1986 coalition for divestment from the South African apartheid regime, the 2006 divestment from genocide in Sudan, and climate justice activism by Fossil Free Penn since 2016. All of these highlight how the current calls to disclose and divest from specific corporations that profit from Israel’s war on Gaza are thus neither unreasonable nor unprecedented. What is unusual and unprecedented is the extraordinary physical violence, impunity, and irresponsibility with which the Penn administration has refused to heed calls for accountable governance of university resources. 

As graduate instructors, we have had the pleasure and privilege of teaching students who support the encampment. We are committed to their well-being and intellectual growth. In lectures, recitations, labs, and office hours, we encourage our students to be critical thinkers, take risks, and ask hard questions. Unfortunately, over the past year, the Penn administration has decided that some questions cannot be asked at all. We can no longer remain silent or complicit with the censorship of Penn’s administration. We stand with our students. We believe in them and their fight for truth and justice. We admire their endless courage and unshakable commitment to the highest ideals of higher education, ideals that Penn’s administrators seem to have long forgotten. 

Unlike you, Interim President Larry Jameson, Provost John Jackson Jr., and Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, we do not presume to know better than the entire apparatus of the UN International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council, the UN Secretary-General himself, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and numerous scholars. These institutions, in various terms, have named and condemned the genocide of the Palestinian people, something Penn refuses to acknowledge. Alongside brave students across the globe, we call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and investigations into war crimes in Gaza. We call upon you, the university administration, to substantively address encampment demands: 

  • Disclose Penn’s financial ties to corporations profiting from the genocide in Gaza and Israel’s apartheid regime.
  • Divest from all institutions and companies that directly support the mass killing and maiming of Palestinians. The University must invest in Palestinian students, faculty, and scholarships at Penn. 
  • Defend students, faculty, and staff as they express their grief in the face of unimaginable loss. Such defense would include immediately withdrawing police from campus and reopening College Green.
  • Desist from pursuing legal or disciplinary action against students, faculty, and graduate student workers involved in the encampment and reinstate students who have been banned or evicted from campus accommodations. 

As graduate students, workers, and educators, we stand in solidarity with our fellow students, faculty, and community members in Philadelphia and across the country in a call for a People’s University that stands against war and the genocide in Gaza. 

GRADUATE STUDENTS at Penn, Drexel University, Temple University, and other higher education institutions in Philadelphia signed this letter. A full list of this letter’s signatories can be found here.