UPDATE: Case Western Reserve University reversed its decision Monday evening and agreed to let students and faculty camp out overnight on campus. Leaders had previously said the space would be cleared by 8 p.m.

Case Western Reserve University students are planning to stay “as long as it takes” to protest the war in Gaza and show support for Palestine. 

Dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators assembled around 9:30 a.m. Monday in front of the university’s Kelvin Smith Library. Almost as quickly as they put tents up on a grassy oval at the University Circle campus, the school’s police officers removed them and erected barricades.

Authorities detained about 20 people, who were seated on the ground with their hands restrained. Everyone was later released.  

University officials later reversed their decision about those tents, allowing students and faculty to camp out overnight in those coverings. That was a change, too. Leaders had previously said the space would be cleared by 8 p.m.

What are Case Western Reserve students asking for?

Senior Jad Oglesby told Signal Cleveland students expected to have “more of a dialogue between the two parties [and] a little bit more respect.” But it’s not deterring them, he said. 

“We are going to stay right here until the demands of our students are heard and understood,” Oglesby said. 

Many of those demands align with what their peers at institutions across the country are calling for right now. That list includes asking the private university to divest any financial interests in Israel and restore the rights of its Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. University officials suspended the chapter earlier this year for posting flyers in restricted areas. 

Senior Jad Oglesby poses for a photo. Credit: Kenyatta Crisp for Signal Cleveland

“We are a splendid academic institution,” said Oglesby, who’s the current vice president of the university’s SJP chapter. “However, it is also an institution that has failed to respond to social justice issues, particularly with Israel and Palestine.” 

Campus life continues despite demonstrations

This isn’t a new conversation at the university that enrolls a total of roughly 12,250 students. Case Western Reserve’s undergraduate student government passed a resolution asking, in part, for leadership to divest its assets in November 2022. The university’s president, Eric Kaler, called that resolution “profoundly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic” at the time.

It’s part of the reason why students, according to Oglesby, feel like the only people university officials want to “represent are their donors.”

Campus life continued amid Monday’s demonstration. People on the grounds crews cut grass. Students buzzed in and out of the nearby campus center. A tour guide led a handful of prospective students and parents through the area.

That last group is important to the university. In fact, a bold banner currently spells it out on top of the university’s website: Congratulations to our admitted undergraduates! The deposit deadline is May 1.

If officials want to “champion the model to ‘Think beyond the possible,’” Oglesby said, referencing the university’s slogan, “they’re going to have to make a change, or otherwise students aren’t going to believe a word they have to say.” 

Dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators on Case Western Reserve’s campus.

Case Western Reserve protests to continue through Wednesday 

In an email to the university community Monday, Kaler said “open discourse and the free exchange of ideas are hallmarks of higher education.” He called those ideals “central to all that we do at Case Western Reserve.”

Kaler’s note outlined the university’s policies about demonstrations. Hate speech in any form won’t be tolerated, the president wrote. 

His email continued: “Protestors must follow specific restrictions regarding the time, place and manner of such activism—including ensuring their actions do not unreasonably interfere with university operations (this includes setting up encampments on campus property and the use of disruptive sound).”

Classes have already finished for the semester. It’s now finals week. 

Students, though, said they are planning to continue these demonstrations at least through Wednesday.

This story was updated Tuesday to reflect university leadership’s decision to allow students and faculty members to spend the night.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.