Additional context on the protest at Kelvin Smith Library Oval: May 6, 2024 | Office of the President | Case Western Reserve University (2024)

To the Case Western Reserve community,

Today marks one week since protesters began an encampment on the Kelvin Smith Library Oval. The ongoing conflict at the center of this protest is a complex, often personal issue about which many in our university community feel passionately, but the devastating loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives should be a distress we all share.

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with elected undergraduate student leaders, who shared with me their perspectives—and those of the wide range of students they represent. I want to thank them for taking the time to have this discussion amidst finals, and for the care and commitment they show in their roles.

During our meeting, these leaders noted that many members of our community, especially students, are unaware of the history of administration’s attempts over the years at discussion with CWRU Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student organization whose leaders are heading the protest on Kelvin Smith Library Oval. At the elected student leaders’ suggestion, I wanted to provide additional context that may help explain the ongoing encampment and the university’s response.

The protesters have issued a series of demands, several having to do with a 2022 resolution passed by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) about which many current students may not be aware. To enable fuller understanding, I wanted to recap the situation briefly.

USG Resolution 31-51 called for the university to divest assets from “Israeli apartheid,” among other requests. In response, I sent this communication to the university community, and subsequently I met with USG leadership as well as leaders of CWRU SJP to more clearly express my intentions. Divestment—a key component of the protesters’ demands—is and remains something the university will not do.

I want to reiterate that individuals are free to express their opposition to the university’s position on any range of issues—including this one—in accordance with the guidelines in our freedom of expression policy. It is never acceptable, however, to protest with signs, chants or other actions that are intimidating to members of our campus community, as has occurred in some cases this past week at the Kelvin Smith Library Oval.

This academic year, there have been multiple instances in which CWRU SJP’s advocacy has violated the university’s community standards, including vandalism. Ultimately, after multiple attempts at engagement with CWRU SJP leaders, some of these actions led to an interim suspension of its student organization status, which our student conduct team has tried to work toward resolution.

On Monday, April 29, members of CWRU SJP and their allies formed an encampment on Kelvin Smith Library Oval—an act that violates multiple aspects of the university’s freedom of expression policy regarding the appropriate time, place and manner for such activities, including disruption of university operations.

Still, appreciating their commitment and in a gesture of trust, members of the administration worked with CWRU SJP leaders and made an exception on Monday to rules to allow students, faculty and staff (with CWRU IDs) to remain overnight if outside community members left by 8 p.m.—an approach that was followed effectively Monday night. On Tuesday afternoon, members of the administration held conversations with CWRU SJP leaders that yielded promises that were promptly broken, and by Tuesday evening, they violated the fundamental agreement when they allowed—and continue to allow—non-CWRU individuals to stay at all hours.

As a result, on Thursday afternoon, I communicated that protesting in the oval was no longer permitted, and charges and/or sanctions will be invoked. Since Thursday, protesters have escalated their actions, including expanding the perimeter of the protest to block access to buildings and disrupting campus operations in multiple ways. Case Western Reserve University police continue their presence, providing protection for the protesters and the rest of our community.

I share this information to assure you that the university is committed to working with student leaders—but working together requires all parties to work in good faith. As I noted in my email Thursday, we will not engage in discussion on the demands made until the encampment ends and protesters have completed any relevant conduct processes.

I hope this email provides more clarity on this evolving situation. Again, I want to thank the elected student leaders who met with me last weekend. Their constructive feedback, openness to discussion and advocacy for their peers are testaments to the strong leadership they display.


Eric W. Kaler

Additional context on the protest at Kelvin Smith Library Oval: May 6, 2024 | Office of the President | Case Western Reserve University (2024)


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