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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our host, WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami.

A UF student journalist talks about covering pro-Palestinian protests on campus

A black sign that reads "To A Free Palestine In Our Lifetime" standing diagonally inside a blue folding wagon.
Ari Herrera
/
WUSF
Pro-Palestinian protestors at USF gathered on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on April 30, 2024.

Protesters at the University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida and University of North Florida are demanding the schools divest from Israel.

Students around the world are holding pro-Palestinian protests and setting up encampments at their universities.

In Florida, protesters at the University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida and University of North Florida are demanding their schools divest from Israel.

Police have arrested several people since protests began, including nine protesters at UF on April 29. At USF, law enforcement arrested 10 people on April 30 after using tear gas to disperse a crowd. Authorities arrested five people at FSU that same day. On May 2, police arrested 16 protesters at UNF.

Despite the arrests, protesters at UF continue to occupy the Plaza of the Americas. A rally drawing in a crowd of about 150 people on April 24 began the occupation, according to Zoey Thomas, a reporter for The Independent Florida Alligator. Thomas covered the protests leading up to the April 29 arrests.

“A group of about 30 or so students at a time have just been coming to the plaza in shifts. They sit on blankets and tarps because tents of any kind aren't permitted,” Thomas said Friday on The Florida Roundup. “And they've just been there eating, talking, doing homework, just kind of peacefully occupying the space.”

The UF Divest Coalition, a pro-Palestinian student group, demands the school sever ties with companies directly implicated in human rights violations, disclose their investment portfolio from 2014 to 2024 and create a student oversight committee for future investments. They also demand UF President Ben Sasse call for a ceasefire in Gaza and publicly denounce violence and discrimination against pro-Palestinian students.

So far, Thomas said there hasn’t been any developments on whether UF will divest and accept the coalition’s demands.

Prior to the April 29 arrests, the university had threatened to suspend or banish students from campus for three years if they violated a list of prohibited activities, including camping or sleeping.

“One of the things that has been brought to the university's attention is that, for example, tailgaters for football games at the university have a long history of camping out the night before the game or of setting up lawn chairs,” Thomas said. “Students take naps in Plaza pretty frequently, and the university is telling the protesters that sleeping of any kind is not allowed.

“So there's been a question of whether these rules are being unequally applied to the pro-Palestinian protesters and whether that could present itself as an infringement on their First Amendment rights.”

Shortly after the arrests, UF released a statement attributed to Associate Vice President of Communications Steve Orlando. It reads in part:

“This is not complicated: The University of Florida is not a daycare, and we do not treat protesters like children — they knew the rules, they broke the rules, and they’ll face the consequences. For many days, we have patiently told protesters — many of whom are outside agitators — that they were able to exercise their right to free speech and free assembly. And we also told them that clearly prohibited activities would result in a trespassing order from UPD (barring them from all university properties for three years) and an interim suspension from the university.”

Thomas said the statement took some people by surprise.

“… perhaps people found it a little bit more blunt than statements made in the past. It was also made only about 15 minutes after the arrests actually happened,” she explained. “And so it mentioned, for example, that the presence of outside agitators might have influenced the protest. And later on, it was discovered that seven of the nine people arrested were affiliated with the university rather than outside agitators.”

As WUSF’s digital news producer, I strive to serve others by sharing stories on our online platforms.
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