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 25, 2024

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Princeton University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 25, 2024, Princeton University police arrested two graduate students on charges of trespassing at a peaceful pro-Palestinian encampment on campus.

The arrests took place six months after a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of early June 2024, has reportedly killed more than 36,000 Palestinians. In mid-April, students across the US began setting up tent encampments on their campuses, often advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza and that their universities divest from companies that do business with Israel.

Princeton’s administration learned on April 24 that students planned to set up an encampment on campus the following day to protest Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and to demand that the administration divest from companies that profit from Israeli military action. In an attempt to prevent the encampment, Rochelle Calhoun, the Vice President for Campus Life, announced that “Any individual involved in an encampment, occupation, or other unlawful disruptive conduct who refuses to stop after a warning will be arrested and immediately barred from campus.”

Around 7 am on April 25, despite Calhoun’s warning, a group of students began setting up six tents in McCosh Courtyard on campus. Shortly after that, the university’s Department of Public Safety told them to remove the tents and disperse. When the group refused to leave, Princeton university police arrested two graduate students for trespassing. The remaining protesters disassembled the tents, but continued a sit-in protest. Videos taken that day show the students had set up an art project, a library, and an area for yoga in the courtyard.

A spokesperson for the university confirmed the two graduate students were arrested for trespassing “after repeated warnings from the Department of Public Safety to cease the activity and leave the area,” and that they “[had] been immediately barred from campus, pending a disciplinary process,” for violating the university policy surrounding erecting tents on campus. It was not clear why the two students – and no others – were arrested.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrests of apparently peaceful student protesters by police. 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.