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 29, 2024

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Loss of Position

Institution(s):Tulane University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

Between April 29 and May 1, 2024, university and city police arrested 20 people, including three students, at a pro-Palestine protest at Tulane University. In addition, Tulane University administration suspended seven students and the student group Students for a Democratic Society for their participation in the protest.

Prior to April 29, the Tulane University Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) requested permission to host a gathering on April 29. According to a statement from the university, the event was approved but the university informed the group that community members unaffiliated with the university could not attend. SDS then reportedly decided to cancel the event and instead hold a protest on Freret Street, a public space outside of campus.

On the afternoon April 29, 2024, a group of student protesters marched along Freret Street and attempted to set up tents on the lawn near St. Charles Avenue, demanding that the university disclose its financial investments, divest from businesses associated with Israeli military actions, and call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Shortly thereafter, Tulane University police officers and the New Orleans Police Department attempted to confiscate encampment materials, resulting in scuffles with some protestors. Police forced some protesters to the ground and arrested 6 people, including one student, on charges of trespassing and battery of an officer.

Despite the arrests, the protestors remained on the site, establishing an encampment and setting up a barricade of tires, chains and pallets around it. As the encampment continued into a second day, April 30, police maintained a perimeter around the area. On the afternoon April 30, the university informed protesters – including by displaying a warning on a large screen – that they would be prosecuted for trespassing if they did not disperse.

In a statement issued that same day, university officials announced the suspension of the student group, Students for a Democratic Society, because of their involvement in the protest. The university also noted that it had suspended five students related to the protest and that employees who participated in the protest would face disciplinary action, including the loss of employment.

On May 1, the Tulane University Police Department, along with the New Orleans Police Department and Louisiana State Police, engaged in a coordinated effort to disperse the encampment. During this process, police arrested 14 additional protesters, including two students, for trespassing, resisting arrest, and battery of an officer. In a statement released that day, Tulane’s administration announced that a total of seven students had been suspended, but did not elaborate.

On May 4, university officials released a statement, explaining its actions. The statement noted that the original protest had been unapproved by the university and that the university had received reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic behavior during the protests. The university stated that it had decided to clear the encampment to prevent further escalation and ensure safety.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the forcible arrest of students and a university’s disciplinary actions against students exercising their right to free expression and free assembly. While university authorities have a responsibility to prevent disruptions that hinder the functioning of higher education, they must ensure transparency, fairness, and proportionality in disciplinary actions. Such actions, beyond harming the immediate victim, have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.