After a May 7 march on campus, demonstrators rally in front of Nassau Hall.
Photo: John Emerson
Princeton had largely avoided the national spotlight and major clashes on campus until the morning of April 25

During the three weeks that pro-Palestinian protesters established an encampment from late April to May, 15 Princeton University community members were arrested, others fasted for more than a week in a hunger strike, and University property was damaged in some of the most pronounced moments of tension on campus since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza. After a May 15 rally, protesters cleared out their encampment on Cannon Green, about 36 hours after Princeton had put up signs announcing the closure of the space in preparation for Class Day and the Graduate School hooding ceremony.

Led by the group Princeton Israeli Apartheid Divest (PIAD), protesters demanded that Princeton: financially divest and dissociate from companies that “profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s ongoing military campaign” in Gaza, end research funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, boycott Israeli institutions and end study abroad programs in Israel, affiliate with Palestinian institutions directly, release a public statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and condemning Israel, and provide amnesty for all students involved in the protests.

Princeton had largely avoided the national spotlight and major clashes on campus until the morning of April 25, when pro-Palestinian protesters first attempted to encamp in McCosh Courtyard; two graduate students, Achinthya Sivalingam and Hassan Sayed, were quickly arrested for refusing to adhere to warnings from the Department of Public Safety to remove their tents, while remaining protesters packed away their camping gear and continued the demonstration as a round-the-clock sit-in during the last few days of classes, reading period, and finals. (University guidelines prohibit protesters from sleeping in outdoor spaces on campus.)

“We’re speaking out in solidarity with Palestine,” Urvi, a first-year Ph.D. student who asked to be identified only by her first name, told PAW on April 25.

Things came to a head four days later when 13 people — primarily Princeton undergraduates and graduate students but also a postdoc researcher and a Princeton Theological Seminary student who was enrolled in a University course — occupied Clio Hall, which houses the offices of the Graduate School, for more than two hours while about 500 others rallied, chanted, and linked arm-in-arm around the entrances and exits of the building. 

After two of the protesters were removed from the building and put on a nearby University bus by Public Safety officers, the crowd banged on the bus, cracking the glass on a side door, and blocked its path. They chanted, “Admin, admin, talk to us. We hate your f------ bus.”

All 13 protesters from the occupation were eventually arrested, given summonses for trespassing, and barred from campus pending disciplinary proceedings. President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 wrote in an email to the community that night that the occupation was “completely unacceptable” and “deeply unsettling” to staff members in Clio.

Directly after the attempted takeover, the protesters moved their encampment to Cannon Green. 

Though Stephen Bartell ’25, student president of the Center for Jewish Life, told PAW via email in mid-May that he remained “fully comfortable walking past the sit-in,” he also said the Clio Hall incident was “incredibly intense and shook many students in ways that we haven’t really seen up until this point.”

PIAD has said in open letters and on social media that they are peaceful, though not everyone agrees. In particular, a Hezbollah flag that was spotted on the first day of the encampment caused alarm (the U.S. Department of State classifies Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization), and some of the protesters’ chants have compared police to the KKK and referenced “the intifada,” which some view as an incitement to violence, and “one solution,” which some believe alludes to Nazi Germany’s Final Solution.

Through daily programming, the protesters hosted speakers, curated a “liberation library,” and collected what seemed to be an enormous amount of food, thanks at least in part to solicited donations. They also held regular rallies, drawing at times up to 600 people, including many members of the news media and, at one event, students from Princeton High School who attended to show solidarity. At another rally, University students previously arrested on campus addressed their protesting peers from the sidewalk on Nassau Street, just outside FitzRandolph Gate.

More than a dozen Princeton students began a hunger strike on May 3; nine days later, PIAD announced the original strikers would be replaced by a second wave of seven new strikers “due to health concerns.” (According to PIAD, one of the original strikers was hospitalized after six days of fasting). Some faculty members who have been supportive of the protests (see story on page 11) participated in 24-hour solidarity hunger strikes. 

Demonstrators rally in front of Nassau Hall.
Protesters are pushing for the University to financially divest and dissociate from companies engaged in Israel’s military campaign.
Photo: John Emerson

Divestment from Israel seemed to lead the protesters’ list of demands. As the Clio Hall occupation was starting, students from the encampment disrupted the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) at its final meeting of the academic year. Professor Jay Groves, chair of the resources committee — which makes recommendations on divestment to the Board of Trustees — reported the committee had not received any divestment proposals this year, though he had received emails and phone calls on the day of the meeting.

After the 13 arrests at the Clio occupation, the fate of arrested protesters became a consistent rallying point. In an email to the University community on May 13, Eisgruber wrote that while Princeton could not grant complete amnesty “without breaching principles fundamental to the University’s governance and mission,” it was considering a “restorative justice” option for students facing disciplinary action that would allow them to graduate.

Eisgruber reported that he and other administrators had met multiple times with protesters in the preceding week to discuss their demands, and that the resources committee would hold a special meeting the following day for “an initial assessment” of the group’s requests, adding  that “issues of general interest to the University community must be addressed, whenever possible, through appropriate processes that respect the interests of multiple parties and viewpoints, not through negotiations with a single interest group.”

Eisgruber also wrote that the administration was “letting the protesters know that they need to clear Cannon Green and respect the University’s need for it and other common spaces, so that the University may prepare for and produce end-of-year events.” 

The next morning, on May 14, closure signs went up around Cannon Green and initially it seemed protesters were slowly decamping, though that activity stalled until after the group’s planned celebration of Nakba Day on May 15; during the event, protesters announced the imminent closure of the encampment. In a statement, they called their efforts not a camp but a movement and closed by saying: “See you at Reunions.”

By the morning of May 16, Cannon Green was empty, surrounded by temporary fencing. Light patches of grass showed the outlines of where the protesters’ tarps had laid. 

Throughout the protests, some alumni supported the pro-Palestinian encampment, speaking and joining protesters on campus, arranging for food and supplies, and signing a petition to advocate for the students who were arrested and facing University disciplinary charges.

Sandy Rea ’69 was among a small group of alumni who visited protesters on April 29, prior to the Clio Hall occupation. In the 1980s, Rea taught elementary school for a year at a Quaker school in Ramallah, in the West Bank — an experience that he said “cemented the Palestinians in my heart.”

“More than anything, because of the hatred and the fear that’s been generated on both sides of the issue, we just have to listen to each other — and that’s not easy,” Rea told PAW. 

Elisabeth Daugherty, Carlett Spike, Mark F. Bernstein ’83, Brett Tomlinson, and Peter Barzilai s’97 contributed to this article.