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As UC Regents meet in Merced, students bring Gaza protests to them

Students at University of California, Merced, set up tents as part of a protest over the war in Gaza on Sunday, May 12, 2024.
Rachel Livinal
Students at University of California, Merced, set up tents as part of a protest over the war in Gaza on Sunday, May 12, 2024.

MERCED, Calif. — The University of California Regents met Tuesday for the first of a three-day meeting at UC Merced.

It’s the first time the governing board of the 10-campus university system has ever met at the UC Merced campus. The meeting also comes amid numerous protests and encampments on college campuses nationwide to protest the war in Gaza.

Tuesday night, members of the group Students for Justice in Palestine met at the encampment with UC Merced administration to discuss terms for ending the protest. Administration said they would like to negotiate with up to four UC Merced students privately, but the group insisted they meet publicly at the encampment.

Earlier in the day, students from UC campuses across the state used a 30-minute public comment period to voice their protest. Few onlookers attended the meeting.

Along with calls for divestment from the state of Israel, students and alumni called out the police response to recent encampments.

“I understand the impact this can have on young people in our communities when the institutions that are supposed to serve us harm us rather than keeping us safe,” said Holly Yu, a UC Merced student who is originally from Oakland.

Nooralain Arshad, who is among the protestors at the encampment inside UC Merced, said students want to remain peaceful but are committed to demanding the university divest from funding that goes to the nation of Israel.

“We intend for the Regents to hear our demands,” Arshad said.

Students also joined nationwide calls for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, as well as asking that the UC not penalize students for protesting.

More broadly, pro-Palestinian students are also criticizing what they call apartheid by Israel. Amnesty International, an international human rights group, has also criticized Israel for “a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians across all areas under its control.”

Meanwhile, some Jewish students on campuses nationwide have argued Israel has a right to defend itself following the brutal attack Oct. 7 by Hamas. Others have expressed fears that encampments and protests are leading to an increase in anti-Jewish hate and bigotry.

At the encampment, at least one person was waving an American and Israeli flag, but events were mostly peaceful.

UC Merced officials said the encampment violates campus policy, though they’ve maintained communication with protesters.

Spokeswoman Alyssa Johanson said in a statement to KVPR the university is “committed to ensuring all persons can exercise the constitutionally protected right of free expression and assembly.” She added, “The university also has an obligation to balance these considerations with the responsibilities and rights of all members of the university community.”

Since the encampment was set up Sunday, it remained low in numbers as of Tuesday. Student protests at UC Merced have been ongoing since last week. Leaders from the local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine also held a letter writing workshop two weeks ago, followed by multiple rallies and workshops on campus on the same matter.

The group also addressed a letter to UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz, asking the university to refrain from over-policing their protests. UC Merced Associate Chancellor Luanna Putney said last Wednesday the administration would consider the students’ demands. Officials who met with the group Tuesday night also acknowledged the letter.

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.