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Monday, June 24, 2024

One month later: Student distrust lingers at UW-Madison after pro-Palestine encampment raid

Low trust in campus administration remains in the month following the police raid on the UW-Madison pro-Palestine encampment.

One month after the May 1 law enforcement raid on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s pro-Palestine encampment, distrust in campus administration from students sympathetic to the protests remains high.

“We all felt betrayed,” said Muiz Aminu, a student who was at the encampment the morning of the police raid. 

34 protesters were arrested and four cited with felonies after UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin authorized campus area police departments to raid the Library Mall encampment organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA). 

“For us to see that the chancellor essentially put her stamp of approval on sending police out in riot gear to remove students was very disconcerting, like it was a betrayal in so many different ways,” Aminu told The Daily Cardinal.

The encampment started on April 29 and lasted until May 10, the day that campus administration and protesters reached a deal to end the encampment. Both SJP and YDSA are now under investigation by UW-Madison for their roles in organizing the encampment. UW-Madison Dean of Students Christina Olstad suspended YDSA during the investigation.

UW-Madison has a strong history of campus protest and civically-minded students, but that hasn't stopped law enforcement from breaking up those protests in the past, Kacie Lucchini-Butcher, director of the Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History, told the Cardinal.

“I think one of the things that the university should do is really think about protests as one of our grand traditions,” Lucchini-Butcher said. “Our students are very civically engaged, they're passionate, and they care about these issues, and they want to find a place to voice that care and concern and to educate other students.”

Lucchini-Butcher said police raids often cause protesters to rally stronger around their cause. 

“Generally speaking, when the university cracks down on student protests, it has the opposite effect,” Lucchini-Butcher said.

After the May 1 raid, elected officials and faculty members expressed solidarity with the encampment and condemned Mnookin’s decision to authorize the removal. 

Others expressed displeasure with the contrast in how they see the university uplifting protest history yet stifling it in the present.

“It's hard when they say that civil disobedience and protests are a part of their history, then they take action against it,” Aminu said.

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When the police left, all but two tents had been left standing, with the other 35 confiscated by law enforcement. Encampment organizers repitched more tents shortly after the removal.

“We will be prepared to continue fighting,” SJP media liaison Dahlia Saba said shortly after the police left. 

The encampment grew larger after the raid than before police action, with over 50 tents on Library Mall at its peak.

Solidarity between Badgers

In the past, many students and even some staff members rallied against violence they watched enacted against their classmates and colleagues. 

One professor at the encampment held a sign that said “Professor against hitting students” during the May 1 police raid, and faculty rallied in support of their students at the encampment. The April 29 protest began with a group of faculty walking down State Street holding a sign reading “Faculty and Staff support our students.”


Geography Professor Joe Mason called the police raid “shameful” in a tweet

“The administrators who ordered this all went through and praised the Sifting and Reckoning exhibit last year,” Mason wrote. “They know this was a peaceful protest. They know the ‘no tents’ rule is a ridiculous pretext.”

Many students also spoke out against the raid on social media, and organizations like the Teaching Assistants Association and Associated Students of Madison condemned the violence. 

“ASM deplores any violence against students, especially state-sanctioned violence, and recognizes the immeasurable harm that today’s events have on our community,” ASM wrote in a May 1 statement. “We stand with our students and defend their right to free expression under the first amendment. ”

Aminu also said that even students who have remained neutral on Israel-Palestine may have been compelled to speak out against police brutality against their peers. 

“There are a lot of people that hate police and police brutality,” he said. “They were like, ‘yeah, I don't really know much about Palestine and Israel, but I am an advocate for eradicating police brutality.’” 

Speaking out against the raid

In communication obtained by the Cardinal, faculty privately expressed concerns with Mnookin's actions.

Water@UW, a community of faculty, staff and student researchers who study water in Madison, held their annual Spring Symposium on May 6. 

Mnookin was originally scheduled to open the event with remarks. But in the days following Wednesday’s police raid, the group’s executive committee met to discuss whether her appearance at the event would help or hurt it, a source who was present in these discussions told the Cardinal.  

In communications obtained by the Cardinal, the Water@UW Symposium organizing committee expressed to the chancellor’s office on the evening of May 4 that several of their members had been affected by and had concerns about the treatment of students and faculty by law enforcement. 

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The email said a Water@UW-Madison faculty affiliate was injured and arrested on Library Mall, and students who were part of the Water@UW-Madison community had been bruised by police. 

“We want you to know that there will likely be members present during the Symposium that have felt and are continuing to feel impacts from the events of the past week,” the email read. “We hope to maintain a celebratory focus on our organization, but we also understand that it might be difficult for some of those among us during this time.”

The invitation to deliver welcoming remarks was not rescinded, however, and the two parties decided it would be best not to draw attention away from the event, the emails show. 

“It sounds like you believe her participation will distract from the event’s overall goal of celebrating 10 years of Water@UW-Madison. We certainly do not want that to happen, so unless we hear differently from you by tomorrow morning, the chancellor will not be participating in the event,” Jennifer Noyes, Mnookin’s chief of staff and senior advisor, wrote in response to Water@UW’s email. 

The Symposium’s opening remarks were instead delivered by Alison Mikulyuk, Water@UW’s research program coordinator.

“In discussion with the Chancellor's office who was originally scheduled to speak, we decided together to keep the focus on [the Symposium] and the water work that we do,” Mikulyuk said at the end of the opening remarks. 

The Water@UW Executive Committee was one of multiple campus organizations who shared concerns about the actions of administrators when authorizing the police raid. 

Shannon Hall in the Spotlight

The Union Council Executive Committee of the Wisconsin Union released a statement on May 6 decrying the use of Shannon Hall to hold arrested protesters during and after the police raid. 

“The selection of Memorial Union by the campus for this purpose was antithetical to the Union’s mission,” the statement said. “We do not support the decision that was made on May 1 and will not support any future decision to use Memorial Union or Union South for this purpose again.”

Campus buildings like Memorial Union are operated under the jurisdiction of administration, per Chapter 18 of Wisconsin Administrative Code.

The use of Shannon Hall by law enforcement was also mentioned during the Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement program’s Spring 2024 Graduation ceremony, also held in Shannon Hall. Multiple student speakers mentioned pro-Palestine protests on campus and the university response to them. 

“We continue to feel as though we come second to the comfort of our white and privileged peers,” Dana Giselle Escobar-Alviar, a student speaker at the ceremony, said. “We saw this during the university’s response to Audrey Godlewski’s hateful and racist words, and we see it now in their response to hold no opinion in the Palestinian genocide we are fighting against today.”

Cuauhtemoc Guizar of the Mercile J. Lee Scholars program spoke about his own experience growing up in the inner city of Milwaukee and the changes he experienced once coming to Madison for school. 

“I went from navigating the inner city to now a bureaucratic system, a different kind of volatile environment,” Guizar said. “At least the south side doesn’t hide behind the facade of the Wisconsin Idea.”

Guizar’s remarks, along with those of his fellow student speakers, were met with raucous applause and cheers from their fellow graduates.

Mnookin had delivered opening remarks at this ceremony and was seated behind the speakers on stage while they gave their speeches. Also present was Olstad, who had participated in negotiations with encampment protesters. 

“Let this be a reminder to university leaders, especially those who are here on this stage, who they are here to serve,” Guizar said. “The students.”

Looking forward

Aminu said the relationship between student protesters and administrators will be difficult to mend.

"I do think there is going to be a chilly reception,” he said. “I don't think it's a repairable relationship between students and administration, at least for the foreseeable future.” 

He said university officials would need to take initiative in addressing protesters’ demands to begin rebuilding student trust.  

“We have to see them at the wheel, not being forced or not having students protest,” Aminu said. “They have to, to their own determination, just decide to make changes to really repair the relationship.”

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Annika Bereny

Annika Bereny is a Senior Staff Writer and the former Special Pages Editor for The Daily Cardinal. She has written in-depth for state and campus news. Follow her on Twitter at @annikabereny.



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