Demonstration Ends After Protesters Refuse to Comply with University Policy

May 5, 2024
Image of the top of the Rotunda with mountains in the background

Photo Credit University Communications

A pro-Palestinian protest on Grounds came to an end Saturday after University, local and state police cleared the area following multiple and repeated violations of several University policies, including the use of tents and amplified sound. Aggressive conduct along with failure to follow law-enforcement directions led police to declare an unlawful assembly.

Before Saturday’s standoff with law enforcement, which resulted in 25 arrests as of Saturday evening, the demonstration that began on Tuesday had been peaceful and complied with University policies.

UVA President Jim Ryan was briefed on the protest during the week and was on Grounds Saturday with other University leaders monitoring the developments. In a letter to the University community sent after the demonstrators were removed, Ryan wrote that the tone of the protest changed Friday night, causing concern.

“We … learned last evening, after the protesters had made a public call for others to join, that individuals unaffiliated with the University – who also presented some safety concerns – had joined them,” Ryan wrote in an email to the University community. “Despite numerous requests to comply with multiple University policies, the protesters refused.”

University officials provided a timeline for the events that culminated Saturday:

On Tuesday, University officials learned of a group setting up tents and forming a “Liberation Zone” for Gaza. Representatives from Student Affairs and University Police told group members they were free to demonstrate, but tents were prohibited. The demonstrators complied.

On Wednesday, the pro-Palestine protest continued peacefully. A separate counterdemonstration near the Edgar Shannon Library was also held without incident. On Thursday, the original protest continued uneventfully.

On Friday morning, after several days of conversations with University leaders, demonstrators delivered a statement outlining their demands. Hours later, University officials responded. UVA leaders offered to continue conversations about how and where the University Investment Management Company invests funds.

The University also agreed that the demonstrators would not risk discipline for protesting, as long as the gathering remained peaceful and followed the law and UVA policies. However, the University declined demonstrators’ demand to cancel all academic programming involving Israel.

“To terminate study abroad programs, fellowships, research collaborations, and other collaborations with Israeli academic institutions would compromise our commitment to academic freedom and our obligation to enabling the free exchange of ideas on our Grounds, both of which are bedrock values of the University,” the response read in part.

On Friday night, demonstrators began erecting tents near the University Chapel and started using megaphones, both in violation of University policies that the group had previously agreed to comply with. However, because young children were present at the site, heavy rain was in the area, and the demonstrators remained peaceful, University officials allowed the tents to remain overnight.

On Saturday at 8 a.m., UVA Police Chief Tim Longo told the group the tents would have to come down or they would be collected by Facilities Management workers. The demonstrators became agitated, so officers disengaged.

Around 11:45 a.m., University police and local officers arrived to tell the demonstrators the group was in violation of University policies and gave the protesters 10 minutes to leave. Police were met with aggression and protesters swung objects at officers. University police then requested the assistance of Virginia State Police to assist in declaring an unlawful assembly. 

At about 2:45 p.m., police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and again urged protesters to leave. Most remained and some from the growing crowd of spectators joined. State police officers prepared to enforce the order and took more than two dozen people into custody.

In an operation that took about 90 minutes after police declared the unlawful assembly, officers moved demonstrators and spectators out of the area between the chapel and the Rotunda so members of Facilities Management could gather the tents and other materials.

On Sunday, University leaders fielded several questions about confusion over whether camping tents are allowed on Grounds.

University officials said camping tents or other recreational tents are not allowed on University property without permits under a policy that has been in place since 2005 and was last revised in January, 2023. However, the permit application – not the policy itself – contained contradictory language. According to University officials, a faculty member pointed out the discrepancy Saturday morning and the language on the permit application was edited to match the policy.

From the start of the demonstration on Tuesday afternoon and consistently until the area was cleared on Saturday, University officials made clear to those demonstrating at the site between the Rotunda and the UVA Chapel that tents were prohibited by University policies.

Also on Sunday, two additional protests occurred on Grounds, one on the Lawn near the Rotunda and the other near the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. Both were peaceful and ended without incident, University officials said.

Media Contact

Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications