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Wayne State University stays remote for second day over Pro-Palestinian encampment impasse

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Wayne State University stays remote for second day over Pro-Palestinian encampment impasse

May 29, 2024 | 9:44 am ET
By Jon King
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Wayne State University stays remote for second day over Pro-Palestinian encampment impasse
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Members of pro-Palestinian encampment at Wayne State University in Detroit. Screenshot from Instagram account of U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit).

Story updated at 11:29 a.m.

Wayne State University in Detroit will operate virtually for a second straight day Wednesday following a pro-Palestinian encampment set up on campus.

The university alerted students and staff early Tuesday that due to what was termed “an ongoing public safety issue,” Wayne State would shift to “remote operations … until further notice.” Late Tuesday, another message said that they would remain on remote operations for Wednesday, as well.

Wayne State University stays remote for second day over Pro-Palestinian encampment impasse
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) joining the pro-Palestinian encampment at Wayne State University in Detroit. Screenshot from Tlaib’s Instagram account.

The encampment went up last week, with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) saying university President Kimberly Andrews Espy went back on an offer to meet with organizers. 

“I am shocked,” said Tlaib in an Instagram video made while visiting the encampment. “I’m so unbelievably disturbed by President Espy’s attempt to offer to come and meet with these students right here on this campus, literally saying ‘ASAP’ when all they said, and I watched them say ‘We’re missing two students, can you give us some time?’ and then they texted the contact person for her office and said they’re ready at 6. Guess what? She issued a statement and lies about her own student body.”

Tlaib further accused Espy of cutting short the ability to meet with students so she could attend the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Policy Conference being held this week on Mackinac Island.  

“Shame on her for choosing that policy conference over her own students to be here dialoguing, making sure that these students are safe, that they feel heard and seen on the campus,” said Tlaib. “We are a diverse campus on Wayne State University campus. I know this might be new to her, but it’s her responsibility to put her students first.”

Dr. Espy sent out a message Tuesday night calling it a “fluid situation” with walkways sometimes blocked by crowds and “small numbers of occupants (who) challenged public safety and security.” Espy said WSU was committed to free speech and the right to peacefully protest and that she has “repeatedly offered to engage with students, while also emphasizing the need to dismantle the encampment.” As for the claim that they spurned discussions with encampment organizers, she said that she invited two students for an in-person meeting with herself, Wayne State University Board of Governors Chair Shirley Stancato, and Vice President of Government and Community Relations Patrick Lindsey.

“As I waited in the Student Center with Governor Stancato, VP Lindsey extended the invitation here. Unfortunately, the students declined to meet with me,” said Espy. “Wayne State University is the most diverse campus in Michigan. We value diversity and inclusion, and we are responsible for ensuring the campus is welcoming and inclusive for everyone. For some in our community, the encampment has created an environment of exclusion – one where some felt unwelcome and unable to fully participate in campus life. This is another reason why the encampment must be dismantled.”

The pro-Palestinian encampment is organized by the WSU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who have made four general demands of the university; divestment from “war-profiteering companies”, full disclosure of WSU investments, and police “collaboration” with Israel, and issue a Gaza ceasefire statement that acknowledges a “genocide being carried out by the United States and Israel against the indigenous Palestinian population.”

Wayne State University stays remote for second day over Pro-Palestinian encampment impasse
Graphic of demand made by organizers of a pro-Palestinian encampment at Wayne State University in Detroit. Screenshot.

They have since added a demand, insisting a meeting be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. in which “all key representation is present,” adding that they denounced the administration’s “repressive tactics of deciding time and representation to discuss divesting from genocide supporting companies.”

Similar encampments, making similar demands, have also gone up on other university campuses in Michigan, including at Michigan State University in East Lansing and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The U of M encampment was removed last week by campus police, who took four people into custody before releasing them pending possible charges.

This story was updated to include a response from Wayne State University President Kimberly Espy.