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U Faculty Sign Letter Supporting Student Protesters; Mecha Holds Rally During Commencement

Faculty released a letter to President Taylor Randall condemning the U’s response to a solidarity encampment organized Monday night by Mecha. As of Thursday evening, the letter had received over 100 signatures. 
Graduates+receive+applause+from+demonstrators+outside+the+Jon+M.+Huntsman+Center+on+the+University+of+Utah+campus+in+Salt+Lake+City.+%28Photo+by+Emerson+Hagy+%7C+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Emerson Hagy
Graduates receive applause from demonstrators outside the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Emerson Hagy | Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Thursday morning, a group of University of Utah faculty released a letter to U President Taylor Randall condemning the U’s response to a solidarity encampment organized Monday night by Mecha and affirming their support for student protesters. As of Thursday evening, the letter had received over 100 staff signatures. 

“On Monday April 29, a peaceful student-led protest on our campus was met with a violent response from police in riot gear,” the letter started. “We vehemently object to this unprovoked and unwarranted use of force against students and community members exercising their right to free speech.”

Monday night’s encampment resulted in 19 arrests, including four students and a faculty member. Over 100 police officers from the University of Utah Police Department, the Salt Lake City Police Department, Unified Police, Utah Highway Patrol and the West Valley City Police Department were present at the demonstration. 

At 11 p.m. Monday night, a group of officers in riot gear moved to disperse the demonstrators. For over an hour, police officers pushed protesters towards University Street and 1300 East while tearing down tents and clearing protesters’ stashes of water and food. 

Before the police started issuing warnings to demonstrators, protesters had been setting up tents for communal food, water and medical supplies. As demonstrators became aware of police intent to break up the encampment, they stood, arms linked, around the camp chanting. 

Response to Protesters

On Tuesday, Randall released a statement reaffirming his support of lawful and peaceful demonstrations.

“At the University of Utah, you have an absolute right to express your opinion,” Randall’s statement read. “You do not have the right to violate law or university policy. It is unlawful to set up structures or camp overnight on university property.”

While the faculty letter acknowledged Randall’s support of peaceful protests, it also expressed concerns over the lack of regard for student safety. The letter pointed to the U’s previous support of overnight camping last fall for ESPN’s College Gameday, “demonstrating that encampments are permissible when the University deems them so.”

The letter requested that the U meet the protesters’ demands of ending police presence at peaceful protests, divesting from companies with ties to Israel and granting amnesty to student organizers. 

“These students’ actions reflect all four of the University’s learning outcomes for general education: collaborate effectively, reason effectively and act ethically, respond creatively, and persist in addressing complex problems,” the letter said. 

The letter also encouraged the university to create a permissible zone for encampments, and asked the university to ensure that future peaceful protests will not be met with police violence. They also asked the university to reveal the role that the U’s administration played in Monday night’s police response, including how, when and why police were directed to act as they did. 

Sen. Mitt Romney introduced a bill in the Senate on Tuesday that would deny students convicted of a crime access to student loan forgiveness. The bill, called the No Bailouts for Campus Criminals Act, is endorsed by 18 other Republican senators.

Romney argued that American taxpayers should not bear any responsibility to pay off debt that’s not their own. This is especially true, Romney said in a statement, when tax dollars are spent on “bailout for students who engage in the criminal behavior we’re seeing on college campuses across the nation right now.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden commented on the wave of student protests in the United States. He emphasized the right to peacefully protest but not to cause destruction or violence. Biden said the protests have not led him to reconsider his policy on the Middle East. 

Biden’s comments come after a group of pro-Palestine Columbia students occupied the school’s administrative building, Hamilton Hall. The group was removed from the building Tuesday night and hundreds of arrests were made. A couple weeks earlier, hundreds of Columbia students were arrested for participating in an encampment on university grounds, sparking student protests across the U.S

Commencement Rally

During the U’s commencement ceremony Thursday evening, roughly 30 protesters organized outside the Jon M. Huntsman Center while waiting for graduates to leave the ceremony in a planned walk-out

At around 5:30 p.m, seven police officers surrounded a Mecha organizer and arrested her. A crowd of protesters surrounded the arrest before being told to back off by police. 

On Tuesday, Mecha organized another protest, where a different organizer was arrested before the demonstration officially began. 

“Literally Tuesday, they did the exact same thing; they arrested an organizer before the event even started, and they did the exact same thing today,” said Christopher Loera-Peña, a student organizer with Mecha. “We just see it as blatant targeting, repression and trying to shut down our movement. But we’re still gonna be here.”  

After the arrest, organizers rallied and began chants. Mecha members gave speeches as the group waited for graduates to walk out. 

University of Utah police talk to each other in front of the Jon M. Huntsman Center at the University of Utah after pro-Palestine protesters left to protest at the Salt Lake County Metro Jail on Thursday, May 2, 2024. (Photo by Marco Lozzi | The Daily Utah Chronicle) (Marco Lozzi)

The group was chanting “disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest” as graduates trickled out of the ceremony to join the demonstration. Roughly 20 graduates joined the protest, some with family and friends. 

“It’s not okay that our tuition dollars are going to support a genocide and that there’s police brutality on campus from peace protests,” said Evan Miller, a graduate that participated in the walk-out. “We’re just ignoring that to celebrate people and to listen to President Randall speak even though he allows this to happen.” 

“All of this graduation feels stupid and petty and inconsequential when it comes to the topic of genocide,” said Emma Quinn, another graduate.

Demonstrators remained gathered in front of the Huntsman Center for another 20 minutes before an organizer announced that Mecha leadership would be going to the county jail to support the arrested student. Graduates gathered in front of a banner and received cheers from protesters before the demonstration dispersed.

 

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About the Contributors
Josi Hinds
Josi Hinds, News Editor
(she/her) Josi Hinds is a senior at the University of Utah studying journalism with a minor in Spanish. She spent a year as an arts writer before moving to the news desk as editor. Josi grew up in Bozeman, Montana before moving to Salt Lake for school. In her free time, she enjoys climbing, arts and crafts and caring for her plants.
Emerson Hagy
Emerson Hagy is a news writer for the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is pursuing his two degrees in Psychology and Writing & Rhetoric at the University of Utah. Emerson grew up in Oklahoma and moved to Utah for college. In his free time he loves to rock climb outdoors and hike.
Marco Lozzi
Marco Lozzi, Photographer
(he/him) Born in Texas and raised by Italian parents, Marco Lozzi grew up with two vastly different cultures. Now at the U, he is majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism while also minoring in photography and Italian. He works as a photojournalist covering everything from protests on campus to scientific research in the Arctic. When he's not taking or editing photos, he can be found hitting the slopes, napping or making pasta.

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