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An organizer of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment speaks to the press on May 9.

Credit: Ethan Young

Read all of our coverage of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment and protesters' demands here.

Penn placed six student organizers affiliated with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on mandatory leaves of absence on Thursday morning, according to a source familiar with the matter.

A University spokesperson told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the Vice Provost for University Life issued the mandatory leaves of absence in accordance with University policies pending the results of disciplinary investigations by Penn's Center for Community Standards and Accountability.

A Penn undergraduate originally announced at a press conference at 12 p.m. that the student organizers were suspended, but the source familiar with the matter clarified that this was not the case. The same undergraduate also alleged that one student organizer was evicted without notice from their dorm. The DP could not immediately confirm the speaker's allegations about the student's eviction.

The six student organizers received letters from Vice Provost for University Life Karu Kozuma notifying them of the mandatory leaves of absence. In a letter addressed to one of the individuals and obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Kozuma writes that the student’s participation in the encampment has contributed to “increasingly unsafe conditions” and “a situation that poses a threat to order and safety.”

The letter cites the Charter of the University of Pennsylvania Student Disciplinary System (Section III.D.) as justification for the disciplinary measure. Those issued the “mandatory temporary leave of absence” are barred from all University-related activities and Penn facilities. One student was unable to access her dorm room after her PennCard was deactivated, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Violation of the restrictions above may result in further disciplinary action,” the letter concludes. “The University reserves the right to modify your status or impose additional restrictions if it determines, in its sole discretion, that such action is warranted by new information.”

According to the University handbook, a mandatory leave of absence is used in “extraordinary circumstances” for “when a student’s presence on campus is deemed by the University to be a threat to order, health, safety, or the conduct of the University’s educational mission.”

The handbook adds that “at the respondent’s request, and where feasible, the [Office of Student Conduct] may expedite the investigation of a complaint and the disciplinary hearing against a student placed on a mandatory temporary leave of absence.”

Twelve students previously received disciplinary notices due to their involvement with the encampment. It remains unclear whether the University will pursue further action against the remaining six students. The disciplinary action marks the University's most significant response to date, as it has repeatedly declined to take action to disband the encampment, which numbered approximately 40 tents on Thursday.

The disciplined students have lost all PennCard access. Organizers said the majority of those disciplined were issued against seniors, and they are unsure of how the action will impact eligibility for those seniors to graduate or receive their degrees. 

Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine wrote in a statement on Instagram that the six students  did not receive hearings before Provost John Jackson Jr., as required by the Charter of the University Disciplinary System. In the statement, PAO also alleges that the decision was made without consultation and approval of each student's academic dean.

The Daily Pennsylvanian could not confirm the allegations. A request for comment was left with a University spokesperson.

"These cases have been manipulated to keep perceived leaders of the encampment off campus," the statement read. "This is a corruption of the Community Standards and Accountability process, devoid of open expression policies, and clear proof it is University administrators — not organizers — who are bad-faith actors."

The statement also says that the disciplinary measures were conveyed by Vice Provost for University Life Karu Kozuma this morning. It says that Kozuma's letter told students they cannot enter academic buildings, be present on campus, or participate in programming — including classes and graduation-related activities.

Two of the students banned from campus are on the encampment's negotiations team, while the student locked out of her dorm is an international student, according to the PAO statement.

The student at the press conference added that organizers met with University leadership on Wednesday, and described negotiations as having gone "incredibly poorly." They said that while it seemed Penn would initially grant some leeway with their demands, it now appears that administrators will not respond to any demands.

"From day one, we have insisted with the university that students receive disciplinary amnesty from the school,” the student said. “The University has again and again refused this. We didn't think that the school would stoop so low, but clearly they have.”

The student blamed the University Board of Trustees for the lack of response to their demands, alleging that the Board of Trustees "has an incredible amount of money invested in the Israeli apartheid state" and that Penn is committed to its "financial commitment to these investments."

The Daily Pennsylvanian could not independently corroborate these allegations.

As the University escalates disciplinary action against participants, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment expanded onto the east side of College Green Wednesday evening, nearly two weeks after it first began. At around 7:30 p.m., members began moving barriers and at least eight tents onto the east side of College Green as a crowd of 200 people chanted, “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.”

The encampment is demanding that Penn divests from Israel, corporations that benefit from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, and Israeli institutions committing “scholasticide.” It also demands that Penn defend Palestinian students, including granting amnesty to students involved in pro-Palestinian activism and reinstating Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine.

“We are here protesting against a genocide that has threatened tens of thousands of lives,” the student said at the press conference. “I don’t think that we are going to be deterred because the school thinks they can stop us from six [leaves of absence]."

PAO further described the administration's allegations that the encampment contributes to “increasingly unsafe conditions” as a "display of hypocrisy."

The group wrote that they reject the characterization of student organizers as "exceptional threats," criticizing Penn for failing to confront "academic devastation, scholasticide, and destruction of over 445 academic institutions in Gaza." It also criticized the University for not taking action against counterprotesters.

"Karu Kozuma did get one thing right: 'you and other organizers have persisted,'" the statement read. "And we will continue to do so."

The encampment's expansion and the conduct of some participants has drawn criticism from some Jewish community members, including College senior Eyal Yakoby and Perelman School of Medicine professor Benjamin Abella — both of whom have organized events in opposition to the encampment. Yakoby plans to deliver a second petition calling on the encampment's disbandment to Jameson Thursday evening.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the student organizers were suspended, having attributed this information to a student at an encampment press conference. Organizers later clarified that the student organizers were placed on leaves of absence and are not under suspension. The DP regrets the error.

Correction: The same previous version of this article stated that the student organizers were disciplined by the Center for Community Standards and Accountability. According to a University spokesperson, the student organizers were issued the leaves of absence by the Vice Provost for University Life, pending the results of disciplinary investigations by CSA. The DP regrets the error.