California college campuses become lightning rods for pro-Palestinian protests

Pro-Palestinian protester framed under a supportive flag while attending a demonstration next to an encampment at UC Irvine.
A pro-Palestinian protester waves a flag while attending a demonstration next to an encampment at UC Irvine.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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Pro-Palestinian protesters, who are demanding divestment from Israel and an end to the country’s military actions in Gaza, have set up several new tent encampments at colleges and universities across California this week.

Tensions have escalated and arrests have been made as protesters continue to stake out areas on the campuses of UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Occidental College, Sacramento State, San Francisco State, Cal Poly Humboldt and others.

For the record:

9:11 a.m. May 2, 2024A previous version of this story referred to UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox on second reference as “she” instead of “he.”

At least 25 people were arrested early Tuesday at Cal Poly Humboldt. Protesters at USC have also been arrested, and those at UCLA are facing disciplinary action from the college.


Here’s a look at what’s happening across the state:

Pro-palestinian protesters demonstrate next to their encampment in the central part of the UC Irvine campus.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

UC Irvine

Protesters at UC Irvine on Tuesday faced off with campus police, who were handing out citations.

The situation marked an escalation in tension at the Orange County campus and mirrors intensifying protests unfolding at universities across the nation.

A group crowded around campus police as they wrote a woman who was unaffiliated with the school a ticket for her role in the demonstration. The woman, who was not identified, was told she needed to leave campus immediately.

As pro-Palestinian protests grow at California colleges and universities, counterprotesters spark clashes at UCLA.

May 1, 2024

More than two dozen demonstrators formed a line in front of the encampment and chanted “UCPD, KKK, IOF you’re all the same,” and, “Shame, shame, shame on you, you have blood on your hands too.”

Campus police erected additional barricades around 3 a.m. Tuesday to enclose the encampment, which went up Monday, but did not order anyone to disperse.


Protesters responded by expanding the encampment’s footprint to the barricades. In the past day, the encampment, which sits between John V. Croul Hall and Rowland Hall, has grown from roughly a dozen tents to more than 20.

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a statement late Monday that administrators have reached out to the students in “the existing illegal encampment” and have asked them to move to another location. The space they have occupied is in an area where classes are taught and research is conducted, Gillman said.

“We hope that our students and other affiliates do not insist on staying in a space that violates the law, violates our policies and disrupts our mission,” he said.

Cal Poly Humboldt’s students have engaged in more vigorous disruption, occupying an academic and administrative building, painting buildings with graffiti and twice forcing police to retreat.

April 30, 2024

But Sarah Khalil, 21, a fourth-year student, said protesters have no plans to move or dismantle their tents.

The group posted a banner listing their demands: End “violent extremism” funding, promise amnesty for student protesters, commit to an academic boycott of Israel and remove what the group calls “Zionist programming.”

“We’re here for something bigger than ourselves. We’re here because of a genocide and we don’t want our money to go toward that genocide,” Khalil said.



At UCLA, demonstrators clashed in a large, but mostly peaceful assembly over the weekend, not far from where pro-Palestinian students have maintained a tent encampment for days.

Physical altercations between demonstrators Monday prompted the university to increase its law enforcement presence, officials said.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold a student- faculty rally at Dickson Plaza
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold a student-faculty rally at Dickson Plaza at an encampment on the UCLA campus on Monday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Administrators also are taking disciplinary action against several demonstrators after reports they blocked a student’s access to class, Mary Osako, a spokesperson for UCLA, said in a statement.

“This kind of disruption to our teaching and learning mission is abhorrent, plain and simple,” she said. “While the demonstration remains largely peaceful, our campus must remain a place where we treat one another with respect and recognize our shared humanity — not a place where we devolve into violence and bullying.”

Encampments and protests took place at UC Berkeley and Cal Poly Humboldt, and plans were shaping up for more pro-Palestinian protests at California colleges and universities.

April 24, 2024

UC Riverside

While students at UC Riverside are also protesting the Israel-Hamas war, a spokesperson said “all operations on campus are proceeding as usual.”


UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox said Monday in a letter to the campus community that “the crisis has affected many on our campus in a personal and profound way.”

But, Wilcox said, “speech and activity that disrupts campus operations is not protected.” Large signs and banners will be removed, and the blocking of access to campus venues will not be tolerated, he said in a statement.

Pitzer College

At Pitzer, where students have been inhabiting an encampment of about 25 tents for five days, tensions between protesters and the administration have remained low.

Although campus safety vehicles occasionally park near the encampment, no college or local law enforcement officials have interfered.

“The atmosphere is really joyful,” said Sophie McClain, a senior and protest co-organizer. “We’ve been really lucky that we’ve had limited to no repression from the college.”

A protesters paints part of a pro-Palestinian mural
A pro-Palestinian Jewish activist paints part of a pro-Palestinian mural on the side of Mead Hall on the Pitzer College campus in Claremont.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

McClain said many students spend time at the encampment during the day, socializing, working on final assignments and playing music. At night, 20 to 30 students sleep in their tents. The encampment is growing, she said, with a few new tents added each night.

There are community meals, study sessions and other programming throughout the day.

“Pitzer respects the rights of students to protest and express themselves peacefully,” Vice President and Dean of Students Jan Barker Alexander wrote in a statement to the campus. “It is our expectation that safety will remain the primary concern of everyone.”

As sprawling pro-Palestinian protests and encampments escalate on university campuses across the United States, administrators respond with more discipline.

April 23, 2024

Occidental College

About 60 students set up an encampment around 4 a.m. Monday at Occidental College.

Protesters worked in the pre-dawn dark to avoid potential issues with campus security, said co-organizer Matthew Vickers, a junior studying diplomacy and world affairs.

“We wanted to be as clandestine as possible to not be interrupted,” said Vickers, a member of the Occidental chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Dozens of tents occupied the quad at the center of campus. Students lounged on the grass, chatted with friends and worked on laptops in tents. Vickers said that campus security officers stopped by Monday morning but were respectful and did not interfere.

In an email to faculty and staff Monday afternoon, Occidental President Harry J. Elam Jr. said the encampment had “so far engaged in peaceful demonstration” and the college would “remain steadfast in [its] commitment to ensure that any dialogue or demonstration remains safe and peaceful.”



At USC, where Los Angeles police arrested 93 people on suspicion of trespassing last week as they cleared an encampment at the center of campus, a reestablished campsite was mostly quiet this week.

Each day starts with a daily briefing and includes teach-ins, poetry readings hosted by professors, yoga and crafts. Volunteers have provided enough food for campers to have three meals a day.

USC students protest the war in Gaza on campus.
USC students protesting the war in Gaza spend time at a tent encampment erected at Founders Park.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Participants declined to provide their names, citing safety concerns.

“I think the narrative is that we’re a security issue or we’re scaring other people, when in reality it is a place of care and love,” said one participant who is involved with the USC Divest from Death Coalition. “We are all here because at the end of the day, we believe in humanity.”

Cal Poly Humboldt

After a tense standoff overnight with Gaza war protesters at Cal Poly Humboldt, police moved in early Tuesday and arrested at least 25 people, including students and professors.

As part of the operation, officers said they cleared Siemens Hall and Nelson Hall East, which had been occupied for a week. The campus remains closed and it was unclear when it would reopen.


“This is a difficult day. It breaks my heart to see it, and truly nobody wanted to see things come to this. We’ve all watched this with great concern, and always with the sincere hope that it would be resolved peacefully,” Cal Poly Humboldt President Tom Jackson Jr. said in a statement. “Unfortunately, serious criminal activity that crossed the line well beyond the level of a protest had put the campus at ongoing risk.”