What is the goal of student encampments in the US (re Gaza)

So, i hang out with undergrads. And i have a friend who is risking her graduation to keep the encampment open on her campus. And i don’t get it. And I’m afraid to ask her, because she’s really passionate about this and has already snapped at a few of us oldsters for not being firmly on her side.

But i don’t understand what their goal is.
The immediate goal is to keep the encampment open, despite the university wanting to clear it for graduation. (And honestly, i get wanting the space open for graduation and reunions.)
The demand, as best as i can tell, is that the university stops doing research with Israel.

But who gains what if some US universities drop joint research with Israeli universities? Would that make any difference to Gazans? To Israel?

Anyway, i thought I’d ask here.

The nominal idea, if i understand correctly, is that American public and private institutions of civil society (schools, trade associations, corporations, local government units) are traditionally significant supporters and partners of their Israeli counterparts and of Israel in general. Divestment and boycott would put pressure on those Israeli institutions to put pressure in turn on their government to back off on the Gaza/Settlements policy lest they lose a lot of their support from and access to Western resources ; and it would “free” the American institutions to take an open position against that policy themselves, thus putting pressure on our government to “rein in” the Israeli leaders.

The encampment leaders will tell you that “just asking nicely” has not worked, so they move on to disrupting normal functioning of the campuses to make a point that they can’t let business as usual continue.

The encampments i am watching are not especially in the way or disrupting campus. Although they will be come graduation.

But all this seems kinda vague and weak, at the cost of your own graduation. I get hating the war. I wonder if telephoning their congressional representatives wouldn’t be more effective at advancing their goals, too.

Maybe they are doing that, too.

You begin by disturbing “normality” and making it uncomfortable to pretend all is as usual. Then it’s a matter of whether or not there’s pushback and resistance to the pushback.

I think this part is key and is what has caused the escalations and entry into the news cycle. The protesters are being ignored, so they set-up camp illegally on campus to get attention. Still not getting thru so occupy some administration buildings. This crosses a line and riot police brought in to extract them from buildings and remove the camp - TV news crews are all over the confrontation - all with the dramatic backdrop of graduation season (its great TV). However, the original message and reason for the protest has been lost (the logic nicely summarized by @JRDelirious). I doubt it will make any difference at all in the lives of Palestinians, however.

I am sure there are more than a few furious parents out there pissed-off little Johnny wont have a normal graduation, or got expelled from Columbia. Ouch!

I think you hit the nail on the head.

People tend not to like it when they are asked questions they have no answer to.

The protestors are a mixed bag without a clear leadership or organizational structure, so it’s difficult to say that they any one goal. Many of them just want to make their feelings known by hanging out holding a sign. For some, the chaos itself is the goal. They want the confrontation with police shown on the nightly news because they think it advances what they are advocating. It’s sort like Hamas’ strategy of getting Gazan civilians killed to generate sympathy, just writ small.

The big question is if there would be more effective strategies. I would think the following strategies would be more effective:

Or shut down access to Representatives and Senators offices and residences both in Washington and in the states.

Heard a discussion on the radio the other day that contrasted today’s protests with some in the 60s. Claimed the 60s protests were successful to the extent that they had clear and achievable goals. Contrasted w/ today’s.

Have also heard discussion of the extent to which the leaders of past protesters identified themselves and were willing to accept legal/social repercussions. As opposed to many of today’s protesters who desire anonymity. Of course, the social environment today is different than in the 60s-70s.

(BTW - might want to fix the typos in the thread title.)

Thanks. I’m traveling, and have crappy Internet, and hadn’t even noticed.

Yes, they are taking a moral stand against university (and in the larger context) US support for Israel with regard to the continued ‘war’ (blockade, bombardment, targeting of hospital facilities and refugee camps, blocking of international humanitarian aid and assistance). Encampments on campuses may be ineffectual and perhaps even counterproductive but it is undeniably a definitive and public demonstration of their objection to a continued normalization of the subjugation of the residents of Gaza.

“…telephoning their congressional representatives…” That is so quaint a notion that the average, non-PAC-donor constituent could get a message through to their representative or senator, or hope to have any influence if they did. But maybe shame would work?


Let’s look at what many are considering a “successful” protest to get a sense of what success could look like for protestors. At Brown University students agreed to end their encampment in return:

The University agreed that five students will be invited to meet with five members of the Corporation of Brown University in May to present their arguments to divest Brown’s endowment from “companies that facilitate the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory.” In addition, Paxson will ask the Advisory Committee on University Resources Management to provide a recommendation on the matter of divestment by Sept. 30, and this will be brought to the Corporation for a vote at its October 2024 meeting.


The general sense here is that the Brown protest succeeded because the students had a clear goal that could be easily met by the University. I mean the University board would look like a bunch of dinks to not agree to hear a formal proposal and vote on it.

Now, does Brown (or any school) divesting from Israel really make a difference? Probably not, unless it inspires a much broader wave of divestment, which did happen with South Africa. For the students, there is also the sense of accomplishment that their chosen institution, and their current home, does not have a direct connection to what is going on in Gaza. And for some of them, that is enough. I freely admit that having my tax dollars going towards Israel’s ongoing slaughter of civilians makes me feel like I have a level of complicity in it.

Asking universities to pull out of research projects that benefit the Israeli military could have a more direct impact on a specific weapons system, but that would also at best have an impact in the future, not the current state of affairs. Again, it is probably more a matter of not having their chosen institution be tied to the war, similar to 60 years ago when there were calls to eliminate ROTC programs.

Beyond those specific things that universities actually have some control over, there probably isn’t much value to protesting on campus beyond trying to raise attention to the issue by causing commotion. One of the simplest reasons why students protest on campus is that is where they live. There is also the sense of them protesting against the authority that they know best, in this case their friendly, neighborhood campus. I will say that in 1991 my college roommate had the sense to be part of a sit in at the local Congressman’s office. Didn’t change anything, but at least he was talking directly to someone who actually had a vote that mattered.

Yes, and they’ll tell you all about it on TikTok, with videos they filmed on their iPhone (assembled by Uyghur slave labor in China out of raw materials mined by children in the Congo). They sure are picky about what should or shouldn’t be “normalized”.

Already happening. It is not the encampments themselves but rather the overall situation (and the encampments are a part of it).

Two universities announced changes to their commencement plans on Monday, after a tumultuous few weeks on campus.

Columbia University is canceling its main ceremony and will focus on multiple school-specific celebrations instead. And Emory University announced it will relocate graduation from its Atlanta campus to a complex in Duluth, Ga., over 20 miles away.

One injustice does not mute another, and “whataboutitsm” is not a valid technique of legitimate argumentation.


Yeah, this strikes me as a fundamentally unserious movement (which is not to say the students involved are not in earnest, just that they haven’t really thought about who has the power to do what, and what strategies would actually be effective at persuading those people). Which is true of the vast, vast majority of student protests, it’s just that this one is getting about 10,000x the media attention that most of them do.

I know that’s happened at other colleges. But there is a wide variety in what’s happening where. The encampment that the student i know is supporting is visible, but not really in the way, and has been peaceful so far.

I’m sure it will be in the way come commencement, but until then, it’s pretty easy to just walk past.

Absolutely. I posted the following in another thread to put it in perspective:

We have a camp at the Copenhagen University too from today.
Their goal, as published, is stopping the university cooperating with institutions in Israel or occupied parts of the West Bank.