Editor’s Note: This is a breaking news story and it will be updated throughout the day.

Protesters set up tents for a student-led pro-Palestine encampment in McCosh Courtyard at about 7 a.m. Thursday. After warnings from University officials, two Princeton students were arrested, and the remaining protesters packed away their camping gear and continued the demonstration as a sit-in that went through the night — without the protesters sleeping — and was still going Friday morning.

About 110 people were there at 9 a.m. Thursday, painting banners and sitting on the ground in the grassy area between Mather Sundial and Dickinson Hall. The crowd grew to about 300 by noon. Nearby stood large, white tents set up for next month’s Reunions and Commencement events. Organizers said the crowd was a mix of Princeton students, faculty members, community members, and some people from outside the University.

Jennifer Morrill, a spokesperson for the University, confirmed in a statement that pitching tents violated University policy and two graduate students were arrested for trespassing “[a]fter repeated warnings from the Department of Public Safety to cease the activity and leave the area.” The two graduate students “have been immediately barred from campus, pending a disciplinary process,” Morrill said, and the remaining tents were “voluntarily taken down by protestors.”

A document shared by protesters identified the arrested students as Achinthya Sivalingam and Hassan Sayed. Urvi, a first-year Ph.D. student who asked to be identified only by her first name, called the arrest “violent” and said zip ties were put around their wrists. “They’ve been evicted from their houses and were given under five minutes to get their stuff,” Urvi said.

Morrill said in an email that “no force was used by Public Safety officers when conducting the arrests, which occurred without resistance.” And the University later clarified that the students were ultimately permitted to remain in their non-dormitory housing; the few minutes they were given was just to collect what they needed to have until a decision was made.

Ariel, a Jewish first-year graduate student who also gave only his first name, said the group is using the “popular university model,” meaning “we are having this educational space for students to come learn about anti-Palestinian oppression and related oppressions. We have a liberation library going, we have art builds, we have food. And as much as it is about demanding that the University divest along with our other demands, it also is about building community toward liberation.”

People stand under a banner hung in a tree in McCosh Courtyard reads, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”
A banner hung in a tree in McCosh Courtyard reads, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”
Beverly Schaefer

Later Thursday morning, Max Weiss, associate professor of history, gave a lecture-style speech to coincide with his class, History of Palestine/Israel, that was scheduled to meet at the same time.

Weiss said he and members of the class were walking out in solidarity with faculty of the University of Texas Austin, who have stopped classes for the day to support student-led protests. The crowd grew as Weiss thanked the organizers for standing up in support of Gaza. Throughout his speech, local TV helicopters circled overhead. 

“Long live the solidarity, brilliance, and fearlessness of these brave Princeton students who put their bodies, privilege, and safety on the line when Palestinians are being subjected to unimaginable violence,” Weiss said.

Former New York Times Middle East bureau chief Chris Hedges also addressed the crowd but was asked to leave by Public Safety officers because he was speaking through a bullhorn. Protesters chanted “let him speak” and surrounded Hedges in an attempt to block officers. Organizers later said Hedges left campus so he could come back Friday, which he did, speaking in the early afternoon for about 20 minutes.

In the early evening Thursday, photos circulated on social media showing a flag for the terrorist group Hezbollah displayed at the sit-in. According to The Daily Princetonian, organizers said that when they saw the flag, they asked that it be put away.

Organizers are calling for Princeton to divest from companies that “profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s ongoing military campaign” in Gaza, end any University research “on weapons of war” funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, enact an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions, support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions, and publicly advocate for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The protest continues a series of walkouts and rallies by campus groups including the Princeton Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Princeton Palestine Liberation Coalition, and Princeton Israeli Apartheid Divest (PIAD). It also follows contentious encampments at other universities, most notably Columbia, where the New York Police Department arrested more than 100 students on April 18. 

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91, executive director of the Center for Jewish Life, claimed in an email Friday afternoon that the protest at Princeton is being run by a small group of "graduate students, professors, and outside actors.

"We continue to have much work to do here at Princeton and on all college campuses to fight the rising scourge of global antisemitism," he said. "I am gratified that I can share with you that our diverse and vibrant community of students at the CJL are 'on it' — expressing their wide range of visions for what we must do as a Jewish people to overcome these challenges and to thrive."

Also, on Thursday, Rabbi Eitan Webb of Princeton’s Chabad House told PAW he’s heard from both Jewish and non-Jewish students who have “a deep sense of unease about what is happening on this campus,” though he also commended University administrators for “attempting to consistently enforce” policies on protesting and freedom of expression.

Webb said he believes Princeton’s role in this situation should be to “create and maintain a culture of academic inquiry, a culture which promotes the discussion of ideas, and to put the kibosh on malign actors who try to prevent that.”

Some curious passersby watched on Thursday from the sidewalk surrounding the courtyard, as well as six people who held Israeli flags and signs with photos of Israelis who were kidnapped by Hamas in October. One of them, Lori Feldstein, a Princeton local, is not affiliated with the University, but said she took time away from work to attend. Feldstein said protesters chanting “from the river to the sea” were advocating for “the elimination of the Jewish state, and that is really viscerally upsetting for all of us.”

Protesters link arms at the pro-Palestine demonstration; a couple of them look down.
Beverly Schaefer

When reports of a potential protest encampment at Princeton were published by the National Review April 24, Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun sent an email to students that shared the University’s guidelines for free expression and said protests that involve “occupying or blocking access to buildings [or] establishing outdoor encampments and sleeping in any campus outdoor space” are prohibited because they are “inherently unsafe for both those involved and for bystanders.”

“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,” Calhoun wrote. “For students, such exclusion from campus would jeopardize their ability to complete the semester. In addition, members of our community would face a disciplinary process (for students this could lead to suspension, delay of a diploma, or expulsion).”

Urvi said the University email was an attempt to suppress student activism. “We remain committed to the fact that we haven’t done anything wrong. We’re speaking out in solidarity with Palestine. And we’re exercising our right to protest peacefully, and the University threatening us with arrest, suspension, expulsion, is part of a widespread pattern of repression of pro-Palestine student speech across the country.”

Nancy Coffin, senior lecturer in Princeton’s Near Eastern studies department and director of the Arabic Language Program, also told PAW that she viewed Calhoun’s message as threatening and questioned why an encampment on campus would be “inherently unsafe,” as the vice president wrote. “It really boggles my mind how it would be unsafe in this community,” Coffin said, “and if that is the case, how do we possibly send our students on Outdoor Action?”

Elisabeth H. Daugherty

President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, in an op-ed published by The Daily Princetonian Thursday, explained the University’s “time, place, and manner” restrictions and argued that they “are fully consistent with — indeed, they are necessary to — Princeton’s commitment to free speech. The purpose of our policy is ‘to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation’ not simply to maximize expression in all its forms, no matter how disruptive.”

Princeton students have led long-term demonstrations at various points in the University’s history. In 2019, Princeton IX Now, a group advocating for victims of sexual assault, rallied for nine days outside Nassau Hall. In 2015, the Black Justice League held a 33-hour sit-in at Eisgruber’s Nassau Hall office. Other sit-ins or blockades of Nassau Hall took place in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, for causes that included divestment from South Africa, the needs of minority students at Princeton, and adding courses in Latino and Asian American studies.

Two women paint a banner on the ground.
Elisabeth H. Daugherty

People brought Costco pizzas and casserole dishes to feed the protesters lunch.
People brought Costco pizzas and casserole dishes to feed the protesters for lunch.
Julie Bonette

Students paint a banner on the ground.
Elisabeth H. Daugherty