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Three people are arrested during a pro-Palestinian protest at USF

students sit on blanket with the flag of Palestine in the background
Nancy Guan
/
WUSF
A group of students, staff and community members gathered for a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the University of South Florida.

The USF Tampa campus joined the wave of demonstrations sweeping across university campuses, calling for divestment from Israel.

Protesters of a pro-Palestinian rally at the USF Tampa campus clashed with law enforcement Monday afternoon, resulting in three arrests.

A member of WUSF's administrative support staff was among those taken into custody. University police also arrested a student and a person who is not affiliated with the university, according to a USF statement.

WUSF staff assistant Maria Hollenback, 29, faces a felony charge of battery on a law enforcement officer and a misdemeanor count of trespassing. Student Sebastian Martinez, 18, was charged with a misdemeanor count of resisting an officer without violence and a misdemeanor count of trespassing. Simon Rowe, 23, was charged with a misdemeanor count of trespassing.

RELATED: Police arrest 9 during a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Florida

Martinez and Rowe were released Monday night, while Hollenback remained in jail as of early Tuesday morning.

The protest comes amid a wave of similar campus demonstrations across the country and the state — including at the University of Florida and University of Central Florida — calling for higher education institutions to cut ties with Israel, or divest from companies supporting the military conflict in Gaza.

Nine protesters were also arrested Monday evening on the Gainesville campus of the University of Florida.

Students rallying across the nation have been arrested and face potential consequences such as suspension or expulsion.

The Oct. 7 Hamas attacks killed 1,200 in Israel and resulted in more than 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

The Gaza health ministry says Israel's military response has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians.

USF officials sent out an email to students Sunday night informing them that tents could not be set up on the Tampa campus without university approval. The email also outlined that demonstrations were not allowed to take place near academic buildings such as the Marshall Student Center, information commons, or libraries, as students are studying for final exams.

Violating those policies, the email stated, would result in an "immediate interim suspension of a student organization and potentially additional sanctions for groups or individuals through the student conduct process."

A group of students, which included members of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), gathered near the library around noon Monday.

After a tense exchange with the university's event support team lead, Matt Marshall, the group moved away from the library, and eventually made their way to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza lawn.

There, people attempted to set up an encampment on the lawn. That's when police clashed with the group and made arrests.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators with Palestinian flag on USF Tampa campus
Nancy Guan
/
WUSF
Pro-Palestinian protestors formed a circle on the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza lawn at the USF Tampa campus.

Tampa Bay SDS had advertised the event on social media despite the group being placed on an interim suspension by the university last week for a previous protest over diversity demands.

According to the university, "suspended student organizations are not permitted to host events and activities, which the group was made aware of several times prior to today’s protest, including another reminder this morning."

Tampa Bay SDS members, however, disputed that they had caused disruptions on campus. Tyler Ramirez, a USF student and SDS member, said, while the group was suspended, "individuals still have a right to protest."

The gathering included members from Tampa Bay SDS and people unaffiliated with the group. Community members and other USF employees were present as well.

Two people wearing vests labeled with "ACLU legal observer" stood by.

Students chanted phrases in support of Palestinians and called for a ceasefire in Gaza. Members of another group, USF Divest Coalition, were present, and recited testimonies from Palestinian survivors of the Nakba — which refers to the 1948 mass displacement of Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli war.

Speakers demanded that the university make its investment portfolio public and to cut any potential ties with companies supporting Israel. Student groups have previously called out companies Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Caterpillar.

USF Divest members, as well as a number of other students made similar demands in a 17-day hunger strike in March and earlier this month that resulted in an undisclosed number of students being hospitalized.

sleeping bags and blankets on USF Tampa Campus MLK Plaza lawn with protestors
Nancy Guan
/
WUSF
Some laid down blankets and sleeping bags after police arrested three demonstrators for attempting to set up the encampment.

Will Weatherford, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, previously told students that USF doesn't "actually invest directly in the stocks that have been portrayed."

Joseph Charry, a member of Tampa Bay SDS, said they're also calling on the university to share a statement of support for Palestinian Arab and Muslim students, and to "stop attacks on the student movement."

"They're scared of what an encampment would do," said Charry, "They want us to stop because we're strong, but we'll continue because we're strong, because we have the numbers and we're on the right side of history."

students on USF with Israeli flag
Nancy Guan
/
WUSF
Several people holding up Israeli flags stood on the outskirts of the demonstration.

A smaller group holding up the Israeli flag stood on the outskirts of the event. USF senior Jake Kamp, who identifies as Jewish, said that he was "not counter-protesting" because they were "not chanting." Kamp said he and others were seeing if university officials would stop the encampment.

"We don't want to see anymore innocent lives gone, but we have to look at who started the October 7 [attack] when Hamas invaded Israel," said Kamp.

Protesters said they planned to continue their demonstration with blankets and sleeping bags Monday evening. However, they dispersed after university officials warned of trespassing charges.

The group indicated they will return Tuesday morning.

In relation to Monday evening's arrests at the University of Florida, a statement from UF spokesman Steve Orlando said, “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."

Gainesville campus police gave protesters a list of banned activities last week, saying that they faced suspension and banishment from campus for three years if they violated those rules.

"For days UPD patiently and consistently reiterated the rules," Orlando's statement continued. "Today, individuals who refused to comply were arrested after UPD gave multiple warnings and multiple opportunities to comply.”

Reports from Fresh Take Florida indicate that it wasn’t clear late Monday whether the nine who were arrested were students or otherwise affiliated with UF.

The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg released a statement in response to college protests, and condemned antisemitism on campuses.

"The Florida Holocaust Museum was heartened to see the University of Florida firmly enforce its own code of conduct while upholding free speech rights, and applauds the University of South Florida for sending a strong message that it will follow suit," read the statement.

Additional reporting on this story came from WUSF's Mark Schreiner and Fresh Take Florida/WUFT.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.