The Israel-Hamas war has spurred protests on college campuses across the country. What has happened at Duke?

A flag of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, was temporarily displayed during the April 25 demonstration before administration asked for its removal, per a April 26 email.

Hundreds of students have been arrested at college campuses across the country amidst a flare-up of pro-Palestinian encampments and demonstrations in response to the Israel-Hamas war. Although Duke has not garnered the national attention of its peer institutions for on-campus demonstrations, student groups have organized several protests throughout the year calling for administration to address the ongoing war.

On April 25, beginning around 12:50 p.m., approximately 20 students participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration on Abele Quad. Protesters sat next to cardboard signs with messages including “End the Occupation,” “Ceasefire Now! Free Palestine!” and “Popular University 4 Gaza.” At 6 p.m., protesters chanted phrases such as “Justice is our demand — no peace on stolen land,” before the demonstration dispersed at 6:08 p.m.

“Today’s gathering was not a registered event,” wrote Frank Tramble, vice president of communications, marketing and public affairs, in an email to The Chronicle. “Long-standing Duke policy does not permit members of the campus community to register events after the last day of classes, and no attempt has been made to register an event for today or tomorrow.”

During the April 25 demonstration, a flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the Department of State, was displayed on a tree on Abele Quad.

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“Duke personnel on-site researched the flag when it was unveiled at Thursday’s gathering,” wrote Frank Tramble, vice president of communications, marketing and public affairs, in an email to The Chronicle. “Once we confirmed it represented an organization designated as terrorist by the U.S. State Department, we communicated that to the gathering on the quad, and they removed it.”

Duke Students for Justice in Palestine reposted a since-deleted Instagram post from the Durham Revolutionary Study Group on its story, which wrote that University administration was “indiscriminately” asking for demonstrators’ identification. The post also shared the demonstrators’ request that students gather nearby on the quad in solidarity.

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According to a comment by the Durham Revolutionary Study Group, Duke SJP did not organize the demonstration.

Durham Revolutionary Study

“Consistent with policy, Student Affairs asked those who gathered on Thursday to produce Duke identification simply to confirm if they were students,” Tramble wrote. “Duke policies do not provide the same level of access to campus to people who are not affiliated with Duke, and members of the Duke community are responsible for the conduct of their guests on campus.”

Tramble noted that “the gathering was quiet and dispersed peacefully at 6 p.m.”

Encampments emerge on college campuses

Pro-Palestinian encampments have arisen at over 40 college campuses, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The encampments follow over six months of demonstrations on campuses across the country since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants.

Over 100 people, including students and faculty, were arrested at a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Columbia University last week. The demonstrations on campus began a day after Columbia President Minouche Shafik testified on April 17 to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on the university’s efforts to combat antisemitism on campus.

Shafik announced in a Monday statement that the day’s classes would be held virtually due to “too many examples of intimidating and harassing behavior on [Columbia’s] campus.” Columbia has since provided students the option to attend the rest of their courses remotely.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students protested last Friday in support of the Columbia encampment, a demonstration that featured tents violating UNC's Facilities Use Standard.

At the University of Texas at Austin, over 50 protestors were arrested by law enforcement in riot gear during a protest calling for UT to divest from Israeli companies.

Over 90 people were arrested Wednesday for trespassing at the University of Southern California. USC proceeded to cancel its main stage commencement ceremony, citing new safety measures put in place following a pro-Palestinian demonstration.

The move came days after the university canceled its valedictorian address by Muslim and pro-Palestinian student Asna Tabassum to maintain “campus security and safety.” After the initial April 2 announcement by USC President Carol Folt, Tabassum was the subject of antisemitism accusations by student group Trojans for Israel based on her liking pro-Palestinian posts and resources amidst the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The decision provoked outrage from students who claimed Tabassum’s right to free speech was being violated.

Unlike public universities, private universities such as USC and Duke are not bound by the First Amendment. Still, the vast majority of private institutions “promise their students the right to free speech.”

Amidst the rising tensions, President Joseph Biden spoke to reporters Monday and condemned “antisemitic protests” and “those who don’t understand what’s going on with Palestinians.”

Demonstrations at Duke

Although there has not been an encampment on Duke’s campus in response to the Israel-Hamas war, multiple pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrations have taken place on campus since Oct. 7, some of which received response from the University.

Duke Academics and Staff for Justice in Palestine released a statement April 22, condemning the “violent repression and criminalization” of student protesters and organizers at “Gaza Solidarity Encampments.”

On Oct. 9, over 150 community members gathered for a vigil on the Bryan Center Plaza mourning the lives lost in the Oct. 7 attack. Professors, students and Jewish religious figures delivered speeches honoring the victims of the attacks and some speakers recited poems of mourning. Attendees were encouraged to leave the vigil in solemn silence.

On Oct. 19, the University painted over the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” on the Free Expression Bridge off of East Campus.

“Because the phrase, ‘from the river to the sea …’ is understood by many in our community and beyond as a call for violence targeting the Jewish community, the specific phrase was painted over,” wrote Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs, in an Oct. 19 email to Duke undergraduates. “At the same time, we are taking care to not alter other sentiments elsewhere on the bridge; these include images and words that advocate for Palestinian rights and call for Palestinian freedom.”

Palestine Free Expression Bridge

The bridge has been consistently used by pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students since Oct. 7. Expressions on the bridge have included Palestinian and Israeli flags, death tolls, anti-occupation poems and profiles of hostages held by Hamas.

On Oct. 20, over 250 community members gathered on B.C. Plaza for a vigil organized by Duke Students for Justice in Palestine (DASJP), the Center for Muslim Life and the Triangle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace to mourn the lives lost in Gaza. The vigil included speeches and recitation of verses from the Quran.

On Oct. 25, over 250 students gathered on Abele Quad in a student walkout calling for a ceasefire to the war.

The event included speeches and chants from Duke students and members of the UNC’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. The speeches described the experiences of Palestinian activists — nationally and at Duke — and criticized the responses by the two universities to those experiences.

On Nov. 8, over 100 attendees gathered on Abele Quad for a “die-in,” which called for action from Congress and the University toward a cease-fire in Gaza. Attendees gave speeches, read poetry and recited the names of people killed in Gaza.

The protesters laid down to “symbolize those that have passed” and held signs that read “Ceasefire Now,” “Stop the Siege” and “Justice for Gaza,” amidst a long printed list of names of those killed.

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On March 1, nearly 100 faculty, staff and students gathered in front of the West Duke building demanding that the University speak out against Israel’s actions in Gaza. After a speech, attendees moved to the front of Duke Chapel for a vigil organized by DASJP to mourn the death of educators in Gaza.

Candles and flowers were placed on the steps to the Chapel, surrounding framed photographs of deceased professors from Palestinian universities and schools. Protesters handed out zines which contained art, poetry, lists of universities destroyed by bombs and professors killed in Gaza.

On March 4, pro-Israel organizations Duke Students Supporting Israel, End Jew Hatred and Passages organized the display of 1,200 Israeli flags on Abele Quad to memorialize those killed in the Oct. 7 attacks. Over 100 students were on the quad at the peak of the demonstration.

The demonstration drew a pro-Palestinian protest, in which students held Palestinian flags and signs which included phrases such as “Resistance until Liberation.” The pro-Palestinian protesters also rolled out a large poster on the grass which featured the names of Palestinians killed by the Israeli Defense Forces since the Oct. 7 attack.

The protesters participated in chants including “SSI, you can’t hide — you’re supporting genocide” as well as statements targeted at “President Price” and “Duke University.”

The demonstration prompted debates among students and faculty members, who gathered along either side of the path across the quad. Duke security and at least one Durham Police Department officer were present.

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On April 3, over 50 community members gathered on Abele Quad for a “Bring Them Home” rally calling for the release of Israeli hostages. Student leaders of pro-Israel organizations and family members of hostages delivered remarks, highlighting the experiences of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas.

The rally drew over 50 pro-Palestinian protesters who gathered on the other side of the quad. The counterprotest was “not registered with University administration” and included “outside individuals who were not approved to be on campus,” according to Margot Cardamone, student affairs chief of staff. Cardamone wrote that the event was under investigation in an April 4 email to The Chronicle.

The counter-protest included chants such as “long live the intifada; intifada, intifada,” “ceasefire now” and “from the river to the sea.” Some demonstrators accused Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “committing genocide.”

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On April 26, approximately 150 students gathered on Abele Quad for a pro-Palestinian rally. Protesters delivered speeches and participated in chants calling for the University to divest from its holdings in Israel and release a statement in support of a cease-fire.

One attendee climbed the statue of James B. Duke, draping a keffiyeh around its neck and taping a Palestinian flag to its body.

Some participants chanted “President Price, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” and “Not another nickel, not another dime; no more money for Israel’s crimes.”

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On April 28, the University painted over two alterations to the Free Expression Bridge that were "understood by many in [the Duke] community to explicitly target Muslims and the Islamic faith," according to an email from Duke Student Affairs to all Duke graduate, professional and undergraduate students.

A Quranic verse — “Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful” — was altered to include the word “not” before “Merciful.” Additionally, posters of red cows were posted over paintings of flags of several Muslim-majority nations. According to the email, red cow imagery is connected to “calls to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque, the holy Muslim site in Jerusalem.”

The email stated that the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards is investigating the alterations for possible violations of the Duke Community Standard and the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct.

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Other University responses

On Oct. 10, President Vincent Price issued a statement condemning Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel and expressing support for students, faculty and staff affected by the violence.

“I encourage our Duke community to sustain an inclusive, understanding and supportive way forward, one that is respectful of different perspectives, condemning of brutality and hatred in all their forms and consistent with our mission and values,” Price wrote a statement published in Duke Today.

Price made a second statement in an Oct. 16 email to the Duke community urging respectful debate and discussion surrounding the Israel-Hamas war. He acknowledged the pain felt by various corners of the Duke community but condemned “personal attacks” and “antisemitic or anti-Muslim rhetoric.”

The University updated sections of the Community Standard in January. The updates included adding “doxxing” to the section on harassment as well as specific examples of what constitutes “disorderly conduct.”

The changes followed “an increase in on-campus demonstrations, bias reports and community events that might draw outside attention since Oct. 7, 2023,” wrote Latosha Williams, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Conduct and Community Standards, in a Feb. 6 email to The Chronicle.

On Feb. 12, Provost Alec Gallimore announced The Provost's Initiative on the Middle East, a year-long initiative intended to “foster constructive and civil dialogues” about issues related to the Israel-Hamas war.

The effort includes speaker events, small group forums, workshops and engagement opportunities which “strive to model thoughtful and civil engagement, provide a forum for different perspectives on the conflict and enhance understanding based on expertise and evidence-based scholarship,” according to Gallimore. The initiative takes input from experts from academic programs specializing in the Middle East and representatives from the Center for Muslim Life and Jewish Life at Duke.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated April 26 with information on a flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that was displayed during the Thursday demonstration, comment from Frank Tramble and information on Friday’s pro-Palestinian rally. The story was updated again April 29 with details about the investigation by OSCCS into alterations of the Free Expression Bridge.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Michael Austin | Managing Editor

Michael Austin is a Trinity sophomore and managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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