Girod describes balancing act KU undertook in response to campus protests, says camping created concerns

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Participants in a Palestine solidarity event sit on the lawn of Fraser Hall at the University of Kansas on May 1, 2024.

Peaceful protests were fine, but attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to camp on the KU campus recently were a step too far, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a recent interview.

“For the most part, they did a really nice job of holding peaceful protests, and I commend them for that,” Girod said in a brief interview outlining the philosophy he used in addressing campus protests that emerged during the final two weeks of the school year on the Lawrence campus.

Girod said the university tried to take a balanced approach to the campus protests and solidarity events.

“Our philosophy is two-fold,” Girod said in an interview during a break in the monthly meeting of the Kansas Board of Regents last week. “We fully support free speech and people’s right to protest. I think that is a healthy part of the college experience.

“But we also look at it from both a safety and function standpoint. All of our students are paying to go to school to get their education. You can’t let a minority disrupt the operation piece of that.”

When protests turn into a campsite that continuously occupies a piece of university property, that’s problematic, Girod said. He also acknowledged his thinking was influenced by what he was seeing at campsites on other universities across the country.

“We really didn’t want to see that happen on campus,” Girod said. “It was not safe for people what happened at other places. For student and staff safety, we just needed to make sure it was kept in a safe environment.”

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Two University of Kansas 2024 graduates raise Palestinian scarves and walk out of graduation ceremonies during greetings by KU chancellor Douglas Girod at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Sunday, May 12, 2024. A handful of graduates displayed their pro-Palestinian support during Sunday’s event.

On the night of May 9, three days before KU’s large graduation ceremony on campus, several dozen police officers from KU and surrounding law enforcement agencies descended upon the area in front of Fraser Hall, where about 100 protesters had been stationed at various times since May 1.

Law enforcement officials ordered the protesters to leave the area because they had violated the university’s camping policy. Protesters decried the action, particularly law enforcement’s confiscation of food, water and other such supplies that had been stored at the site.

Ultimately, three KU students were arrested that evening on suspicion of criminal trespass, after reportedly causing a disturbance at a campus library.

In the days following the May 9 incident, the Journal-World did reach out to individuals associated with the organizing group for the protests, KU Students for Justice in Palestine, including three students who were staffing an informational table near KU’s Commencement ceremonies. They each directed the newspaper to the group’s Instagram page for any comments related to the May 9 actions.

That page included a multitude of short comments attributed to the group regarding the police and university actions.

“We have been peaceful and communicative with administration and we are treated with excessive amounts of police intimidation,” one post from Kansas SJP reads. “Are these the principles KU stands by? Bringing the hammer down on our free speech rights? Why does KU refuse to condemn genocide?”

In another post, Kansas SJP argued that KU’s history gives it no right to declare any students as trespassers on the campus property.

“We want to remind you all that KU has been trespassing on the Kaw/Kansa, Osage, Oceti Sakowin, and Kickapoo land since 1864,” Kansas SJP posted on Instagram. “KU’s erasure of indigenous heritage is intimately connected to their current ties to genocide and apartheid in Occupied Palestine.”

KU Students for Justice in Palestine is affiliated with the National Students for Justice in Palestine. That group has been cited as an organizer of many of the largest, and sometimes disruptive, protests on university campuses.

The website for the national chapter makes it clear the group’s interests extend beyond Palestine and involve issues of occupation and colonization more generally. The website refers to the United States and Canada as “occupied Turtle Island.” Turtle Island, reportedly, is a phrase that Native Americans historically used to identify the lands that now make up the U.S. and Canada.

In its value statement on its website, the national chapter promotes its broader view of occupation.

“We seek a political framework that addresses collective liberation from Palestine to the Rio Grande,” according to the website. “We believe the struggle for a free Palestine is also the struggle for Black liberation, gender and sexual freedom, and a livable and sustainable planet. All pursuits of freedom, justice and equality are materially connected and require us to struggle against state violence, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism, in all their forms.”

Girod did note that KU believed national organizers were involved in assisting the protests at KU.

“It was such an issue on so many other campuses, and we saw what had happened at other places,” Girod said. “The same organizations were involved across the country, and we really didn’t want to see that happen on campus.”

While the demonstrations and protests have subsided as classes dismissed for the spring semester, it is unknown whether they will resume as classes and campus activities pick up in the coming weeks. Girod said the protests and the university’s response to them were a learning experience, and he said the timing did create challenges.

“It was in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year,” Girod said. “It was in the middle of a really challenging time for everybody to get into finals and get out, and that makes it a little more challenging.”

But Girod said he thought university staff did a good job of trying “to be as fair and even-handed as we could.”

“The team worked really hard to engage with students,” Girod said. “We understand where they are coming from and what their concerns are, and they have every right to voice them.”

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

A flag of Palestine is wrapped around two University of Kansas graduates as they enter David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium and participated in the 2024 University of Kansas Commencement on Sunday, May 12, 2024.


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