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Penn calls for de-escalation as pro-Palestinian protest encampment enters 12th day

Penn's interim president says pro-Palestinian protest encampment on campus "should end"
Penn's interim president says pro-Palestinian protest encampment on campus "should end" 03:03

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The University of Pennsylvania's interim president called for de-escalation and reiterated the pro-Palestinian protest encampment set up on College Green violates university policy.

In a new statement released Monday, interim President J. Larry Jameson said he has met twice with protesters and claimed they reflect "an unwillingness to negotiate on reasonable terms to a conclusion."

"The encampment should end," Jameson wrote. "It is disrupting campus operations and events, and it is causing fear for many in our large, diverse community, especially among our Jewish students. But any response to the encampment must balance possible escalation of the current situation with the need to protect the safety and rights of everyone."

Penn's interim president said the university remains actively discussing a path forward with local public and law enforcement. Jameson said local officials continue to recommend de-escalation rather than taking any steps that could "inflame tensions."

The pro-Palestinian encampment on Penn's campus entered its 12th day Monday.

Interim Penn president calls for pro-Palestinian encampment on campus to end 01:58

On Monday, Columbia University canceled its main commencement ceremony after weeks of protests and turmoil on campus. The Ivy League university in New York City will hold smaller, individual ceremonies instead.

At Penn, final exams began Monday and graduation remains scheduled for May 20.

"I think the university is in a very difficult position here," Rebecca Stein, the executive director of the online learning initiative at Penn, said. "I think the community, as a whole, would do well to stand by all parts of the community, including the Jewish students who honestly feel very alone right now."

Jewish students and faculty have expressed concerns about harassment and antisemitism.

"We remain hopeful, however, that the university will either get back to us or follow through and remove the encampment," Dr. Benjamin Abella, who works at Penn Medicine, said. "Because not doing anything is indeed a decision."

The protesters want Penn to disclose its investments, divest from "companies profiting off the Israeli apartheid" and protect the speech of Palestinian student protesters," Penn student Eliana Atienza said last week.

"We're taking it day by day at this point and I believe that the administration is kind of doing the same thing," Emma, a senior at Penn, said Sunday, "which we're hopeful that at a certain point, the administration will grow a conscience and meet us at the negotiations table in good faith."

On Monday, CBS News Philadelphia attempted to speak with protesters inside the encampment but were turned away because it was outside media hours.

Instead, members pointed to a response on Instagram stating, "We are disappointed that you have publicly misconstrued and disparaged our efforts to ensure good faith negotiations, rather than directly respond to our attempts to engage in conversation around our demands."

Last week, counter-demonstrators from the Philadelphia chapter of the Israeli-American Council delivered a petition to Jameson's office, asking for the encampment's removal. Organizers said the petition was signed by over 3,000 people, including students, faculty and alumni.

Abella on Monday applauded the interim president's latest statement.

"I think [Jameson] is really in full realization now that this isn't a free speech issue," Abella added. "This is a conduct and safety issue. He's highlighted that the encampment has violated a number of university policies. The encampment has impacted the safety of students and faculty. And I think he is laying the groundwork for subsequent steps."

Penn has posted trespassing notices to encampment protesters and signs about the violation. Last Wednesday, police were seen removing zip ties that held metal barriers together around the camp.

The university said last week a man was charged after he sprayed "stink spray" on the Penn encampment protest. The man allegedly was seen carrying a canister with an unknown liquid and spraying it around the protest camp last Wednesday.

Nationally, police arrested nearly 70 people at Chicago's Art Institute over the weekend. Last Thursday, police moved in on pro-Palestinian protesters camped at the University of California, Los Angeles. Last Tuesday night, the NYPD took hundreds of protesters at Columbia into custody after the university president asked them to.

Across the country, more than 2,000 demonstrators have been arrested in recent weeks.

A group of Princeton University students began a hunger strike Friday in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. The participating students claim they will not have any food or drink, except water, until the university meets with students to discuss divestment and a cultural boycott of Israel.

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