Pro-Palestinian protesters return to UT Dallas for prayer, urging change

More than 200 students and others gathered at the University of Texas at dallas just before Jummah — Friday prayer — as they continue efforts to urge school officials to divest from companies they say are contributing to the conflict in Gaza.

Ayman Taleb, who described himself as a preacher, acknowledged the students for their efforts to drive change despite threats of suspension or expulsion from school.

“We are inspired by you,” Taleb said. “We see that you know the risks. You know what your academic risks are, and the personal risks are, and you showed up anyway. That is to be admired, brothers and sisters.”

Students and others continue demonstrations urging schools to divest from companies contributing weapons and other supplies to the war in Gaza. (Jason Janik)

Police arrested 21, including students and faculty, on Wednesday as law enforcement dismantled an encampment set up overnight on campus. Nine of the 21 arrested Wednesday were not affiliated with the university, UTD officials wrote in a statement late Friday.

Related:Why are Texas college students protesting?

When they set up the tents and barriers made of tires, tables and other materials, police, state troopers and others arrived at the school to break down the encampment.

Those arrested face trespassing charges. However, late Friday, some cases reflected as being “closed,” according to online Collin County records. No other details were immediately available.

Speakers on Friday stated university officials sent out a notice mere minutes before law enforcement arrived. In between speakers and prayer on Friday, students and community members banged drums and chanted for takbir while the crowd responded with “Allahu Akbar!”

Students and community members protest at the UTD campus in Richardson, TX, on May 3, 2024. (Jason Janik/Special Contributor)(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

They shouted demands for divestment along with calling on school officials to reject threats against freedom of speech and to release a public statement calling for an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza while denouncing “the ongoing genocide against Palestinians.”

Some speeches broadcast over a loud speaker were said to be from UTD students who were arrested this week. They told the crowd they were not allowed back on campus unless it was for class-related activities.

Fatima Ahmed, a UTD student and an organizer with the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, said it’s telling that school officials allowed for state troopers to arrest students and staff rather than pull funds from investments.

”UTD does not care about their students. They do not care about their people. They do not care about their professors,” Ahmed said to a crowd. “All they care about is money. … This is our money that’s going into these companies, and until our university meets our demands we’re going to be out here.”

Students and community members protest at the UTD campus in Richardson, TX, on May 3, 2024. (Jason Janik/Special Contributor)(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

University officials said a statement that the Wednesday demonstrators violated rules against “constructing any type of temporary object or exhibit without prior approval from the university.” Officials noted that as more people joined that protest, the encampment moved onto walkways.

The protesters were handed a letter that day asking to remove barriers and structures.

“It was only after they refused to do so — and being fully aware of the consequences of that refusal — that UT Dallas and local and state law enforcement entered the area,” officials wrote in a statement. “We will continue to support and safeguard the free speech and assembly rights of everyone on our campus provided they follow campus policies.”

At Friday’s event, only a handful of campus police officers were on hand during the gathering, the only visible law enforcement presence.

Hundreds of students and others gathered at the University of Texas at Dallas for Jummah, Friday prayer. This came days after 21 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on campus.(Zaeem Shaikh)

One counterprotester holding an Israel flag could be seen walking along the outskirts.

Others at the university tried to move around the crowd as it was business as usual for them. With graduation nearing, a few students wore bright orange sashes — the school’s colors — and posed for photos in the afternoon.

Last week, UTD students held a sit-in at the university’s administration building as well as other protests recently.

UTD said Friday’s demonstration continued without incident and that demonstrators “followed university rules governing speech, expression and assembly.”

University President Richard C. Benson previously met with some student organizers on April 26. Students handed him a letter and left without further discussion, school officials said. The president had plans to meet with representatives from Jewish student groups as well.

Protests have been ongoing nationwide since Oct. 7 when Hamas-led militants stormed into Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage, according to Israeli officials. In the months following, Israel has bombed the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian death toll from the war has surged passed 34,000, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. The Dallas Morning News cannot independently verify these numbers.

Students and community members attend a prayer service and protest rally at the UTD campus in Richardson, TX, on May 3, 2024. (Jason Janik/Special Contributor)(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)Related:Do Texas universities fund Israel as student protesters say?

Hanan Hadian, a fourth-year UTD student, headed to the protest immediately after wrapping up a final exam on Friday.

Being far away from family in Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, Hadian said it’s important for her to support the pro-Palestinian movement locally.

It helps her feel connected to them when she feels so powerless.

She thinks about her family who worked as farmers growing olives, oranges, pears and other produce. Since Oct. 7, the 22-year-old said she’s lost an uncle, three young cousins and countless extended family members and friends.

“We shouldn’t be silenced because what’s happening is actually a genocide,” Hadian said.

(UTD is a supporter of the Education Lab.)

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.


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