SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 24, 2024

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Southern California

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 24, 2024, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested 93 people, including 51 students, at a Gaza solidarity encampment in the University of Southern California’s (USC) Alumni Park.

Demonstrators set up tents in Alumni Park during the early morning hours on April 24. Throughout the day, they held signs that included phrases like “free Palestine” and “liberated zone”, banged drums, and chanted. The protest was largely peaceful, with moments of heightened tension throughout the day. According to Carol Folt, USC’s president, the university and police gave the protesters three dispersal warnings before police, dressed in riot gear and carrying less lethal weapons (e.g. guns with rubber bullets), entered campus and encircled the park. The dispersal operation lasted for several hours. Students later re-established the encampment.

During the protest, and in the days that followed, USC closed its campus to all without university IDs. As of May 3, President Folt reported that the university had taken no disciplinary action against the protesters.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a university’s decision to request a police response to an apparently nonviolent protest and about the arrests of student protesters. While university authorities have an obligation to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of students and university personnel and should endeavor to prevent disruptions that inappropriately inhibit the functioning of or access to higher education, they must do so consistent with their responsibility to ensure academic freedom and free expression on campus. The punishment of nonviolent student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

Sources:
https://ktla.com/news/california/usc-imposes-campus-restrictions-after-nearly-100-arrested-during-pro-palestinian-protest/
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2024-04-24/usc-pro-palestinian-encampment
https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/03/us/usc-ucla-criticism-campus-protests.html
https://www.uscannenbergmedia.com/2024/05/02/51-student-arrests-an-apology-no-pressure-from-donors-and-a-quite-lovely-free-speech-zone-a-qa-with-folt-and-guzman/
https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/05/09/us/college-campus-protests
https://abc7.com/police-clearing-out-pro-palestinian-encampment-at-usc-after-university-issues-warning-to-protesters/14769047/