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You’ve read the national headlines about the student-led protests at Columbia University and graduation ceremonies being canceled because of demonstrations at the University of Southern California.  

In both cases, and in similar protests including those at Yale, Rutgers and UCLA, the students are protesting the war in Gaza and demanding that their universities cut financial ties with Israel and call for a ceasefire. No doubt, what’s happening on these high-profile campuses is worth paying attention to.  

But protests are happening on campuses all across the country, and some of the most dogged reporting on demonstrations has come from the student journalists who are covering their own classmates and administrations. 

As of May 1, these protests were happening on at least 80 college campuses, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education tracker

At Virginia Commonwealth University, the situation suddenly went from sidewalk chalk messages to officers in riot gear when students set up a “liberated zone” encampment near the campus library, and refused to leave at night when college leaders asked them to. According to reporting by The Commonwealth Times journalists, state police, city police and campus police officers used pepper spray* to control the situation, and arrested several students.  

The situation developed rapidly. Four days earlier, in an email to The Hechinger Report, student editor Peggy Stansbery had said: “I wouldn’t say there is unrest, but students using their voices in unison to try to make a change and hold people in power accountable, including our university’s president. To note, the president has not tried to silence anyone on campus.” 

Some students returned to the encampment site the day after the arrests, but so did police. University leaders also handed out fliers with a “major events policy” that said any gathering of more than 50 people, any installation of tents or other structures or use of speaker systems could result in being “excluded from university property,” criminal penalties for trespass, or other university disciplinary action.  

At the University of Delaware, students staged a three-day “Walk Out, Die In” event, in which they marched across the campus and then lay on blankets outdoors in silence to honor the Palestinians killed in the conflict, according to reporting in the The Review

The university has permitted the protests so far. The Review reported that police were present during at least one demonstration, but the protest was peaceful and officers didn’t get involved.  

 In early April, The Review wrote about a display of hundreds of small Israeli flags placed on campus lawns, which another group of students removed and threw in trash cans. The university said there would be “repercussions” for those responsible and allowed the display to remain on the green for a week.  

At the University of Portland in Oregon, student journalists for The Beacon have written about very tall graffiti on campus buildings that read “Palestine” and “Free Palestine.”  

The university is removing the graffiti, but the director of campus safety and emergency management, Michael McNerney, told The Beacon, “We’re not doing [the cleanup] because of any judgments placed on the message or the meaning [of the vandalism], although the University has chosen to take a more neutral position on the conflict, but because this is something that has significant repercussions for the campus community.” 

Beyond dealing with the graffiti, the university administration has not addressed the conflict or the protests, except for a Palm Sunday email to students. In it, the vice president of student affairs, Rev. John Donato wrote “May this upcoming Holy Week be remembered by prayers for peace and action. Let’s be focused on ending war, death, and destruction in Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan and Haiti, and at home in the United States.” 

Last week at the University of Minnesota, student journalists for The Minnesota Daily covered a protest related to “the political repression of Palestine activists on campus,” during which the campus police cleared out a student tent encampment. The student publication reported that six students, two former students and one faculty member were arrested.  

Student activists have since called for “an escalation of support,” and the university has closed 12 campus buildings. The Daily reported that, in an email to students, executive vice president and provost Rachel Croson said protestors are expected to adhere to student and employee conduct policies while engaging in freedom of expression. 

*CORRECTION: An earlier version misstated what police officers at Virginia Commonwealth University used to control protests on that campus. It was pepper spray. The Commonwealth Times student newspaper updated its story with this corrected information.

Reporting was contributed by Peggy Stansbery, Ella Holland, Kate Cuadrado, Konner Metz and Alex Steil.  

This story about student journalists covering protests was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our higher education newsletter. Listen to our higher education podcast. 

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