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Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and Provost Chris Clemens Support Genocide More Than Students

A perspective from Florence Park


There are no universities left in Gaza.

On April 26, UNC Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) built the Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Polk Place, calling on our university to end its complicity in Israel’s destruction of Gazan universities and its genocide of the Palestinian people through the full divestment of endowment funds from Israel. We brought together students from UNC, Duke, and NC State, drawing on one another’s energy, knowledge, and skills to create an educational environment centered around a shared commitment to Palestinian liberation.

This community was open and diverse, or in the words of one encampment participant, “the most beautiful, unifying, [and] liberating thing” he has ever been a part of. On Friday evening, the Makom collective and Triangle Jewish Voices for Peace lead us in a Shabbat service. Just minutes after the service ended, the call to prayer rang out across the quad as Muslim community members assembled for Maghrib prayer. On Sunday, clergy from the Triangle chapter of Christians for Free Palestine gave communion to Christian students. Daily activities at the encampment included student- and faculty-led teach-ins, printmaking, and community meals.

Despite the peaceful nature of the encampment, in a university-wide email on May 3, Chancellor Lee Roberts and Provost Chris Clemens slandered it as “dangerous,” falsely claimed that SJP was somehow responsible for threats against a local Jewish institution, and said that our movement is composed of “outside agitators.” The first of these three claims is illogical and  unsubstantiated. They cite the fact that “members of this group have… broken into academic buildings after hours,” evidently their way of describing students in the encampment using the bathroom and heating up water for tea. The administration’s second claim, that the encampment was somehow anti-Semitic, is also unsubstantiated––and erases the fact that a large portion of organizing and participating students and faculty are Jewish. Our community reflected the diverse and varied backgrounds of the members who labored to make it possible. Finally, we categorically reject Interim Chancellor Roberts and Provost Clemens’s assertion that students from Duke and NC State are “outside agitators.” Our universities are tightly connected in a number of ways, and our student bodies are part of the same community.

Campus became dangerous on the morning of April 30 when Interim Chancellor Roberts and Provost Clemens called in heavily armed riot police to arrest students while they were sleeping. Because the Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments rightly decided that peaceful student protesters were not their purview, the UNC administration called in campus police and sheriff’s departments from across the state––outside agitators––to brutalize students. At 5:30am, students were given the order to disperse by 6:00am. The administration failed to cite the specific university policies students were violating and did not give them time to process the order before beginning mass arrests. UNC students who were arrested and detained have now been suspended without due process. Many will be unable to graduate, and some even face deportation.

That afternoon, students from across the Triangle rallied in support of these students and the people of Gaza, raising the Palestinian flag over Polk Place. In response, Interim Chancellor Roberts marched across the quad flanked by riot police who pepper sprayed and beat student protestors. Police officers and pro-Israel counter-protestors used homophobic and racist slurs against students. Members of UNC Police dragged multiple students by the hair, body slammed others, and threw barricades on top of a student in a wheelchair. Dozens of students were pepper sprayed, and a number received concussions. This violence also emboldened counter-protestors, who beat and bloodied a student who lay on the ground. All of this violence was unleashed at the specific direction of Lee Roberts and Chris Clemens. It has left our campus community reeling, as students and faculty realize that the administration is willing to inflict extreme brutality on students calling for an end to genocide.

UNC SJP built a community rooted in this place––Lee Roberts and Chris Clemens brought in the agitators. This university belongs to the students of North Carolina. Administrators’ commitment is supposed to be to those students. Instead, they put up barricades and sicced the police on peaceful student protestors, creating an environment of hostility and militarization.

It is our duty as a campus community to resist the repression of student activists by autocratic administrators who are beholden not to students or the people of North Carolina, but to their wealthy mega-donors. This is our university. This is your university. It is not theirs.

We call for amnesty for suspended students and an end to Israel’s genocide in Gaza, where after months of bombing there are no universities left standing.

Free Palestine.

Florence Park, UNC SJP, a suspended UNC-CH student organization


“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.