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Protesters descend on Drexel University's quad to erect a new encampment

Max Marin, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

In an unexpected move on Saturday night, pro-Palestinian demonstrators broke off from a march and erected an encampment in the heart of the Drexel University campus, adding a new target to the growing encampment movement that has swept schools throughout region in recent weeks.

Amid steady rainfall, hundreds marched from Center City to University City to commemorate the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 “Nakba” after the founding of Israel. While the march paused to block traffic at 33rd and Market Streets, a group of protesters began setting up tents on Drexel’s nearby Academic Quadrangle, also known as the Korman Family Quad.

The encampment protest remained active as of 10:30 p.m., despite several tense clashes with police officers on scene in the hours after tents went up. No arrests were immediately reported.

At about 6:45 p.m., hundreds of protesters descended on the college green and locked arms in a circle while demonstrators erected more than a dozen tents. Lawn chairs and tables were also set up to create a barrier around the crowd.

Echoing the rallying cry at encampment protests from the neighboring Penn campus, the crowd directed chants toward Drexel leaders to “disclose and divest” from any military-related spending that could be seen as aiding Israel. Student organizers released a formal list of demands shortly after the encampment went up, which included disciplinary leniency for pro-Palestinian activists on campus. Protesters also asked Drexel leaders to identify Israel’s ongoing Gaza siege as a genocide.

“We demand that Drexel University declare the past seven months of attacks on Gaza and the West Bank a genocide carried out by a U.S.-backed settler-colonial occupying power,” the group wrote in a statement.

Drexel University president John Fry acknowledged the encampment in a statement and preempted what he described as “understandable concerns” it might raise for some at the university. Fry said school leaders are monitoring the situation and that police would ensure the encampment “is peaceful and nondisruptive to normal operations.”

“We will not tolerate the destruction of property; the harassment or intimidation of our students, faculty or professional staff; or threatening behavior of any kind,” the statement read. “Nor will we allow anyone who is not a member of the Drexel community to trespass into our buildings and student residences.”

 

Around 8 p.m., officers from Drexel and the Philadelphia Police Department set up a barricade to block people from entering the encampment area. During a lull, protesters pulled down the metal racks and set them up closer to the encampment. Officers intervened to take the barriers back, and several brief scuffles ensued.

Officers in riot gear arrived at quad, but retreated soon after police commanders appeared to regain their perimeter.

Tensions eased by 9:30 p.m., as protesters began to sing, play music, kick around a soccer ball, and continue setting up tents. More camping gear was eventually brought into the encampment zone, despite the restricted access. Around the corner on 33rd Street, police formed a staging area with a fleet of SUVs and two large white buses, where officers sat waiting with bundles of zip ties and riot shields.

Fry said campus buildings are on lockdown and only those with proper clearance can enter them. He would update the Drexel community as developments unfold, he said.

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(Inquirer staff writer Susan Snyder contributed reporting.)

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©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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