Updated: Middlebury students end encampment, strike deal with administrators

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College students early this week dismantled the pro-Palestinian encampment fon campus after reaching an agreement with college officials.

Students at the college last week had joined thousands of others throughout the country in protesting Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas and calling on higher-ed institutions to divest from holdings tied to Israel, as well as take other action in response to the war.

Now, Middlebury students have agreed to end their encampment after finalizing a written agreement with college officials on Monday that calls for an immediate ceasefire and outlines next steps.

“Generally, the administration agreed to our demands in the sense that they gave us as much as we could realistically have asked for without the underlying structures, such as the profit motive of keeping the endowment maximized, having change,” said Joshua Glucksman, a Middlebury student who took part in the encampment, told the Independent.

Middlebury College President Laurie Patton announced the completion of the written agreement, “A Commitment to Common Educational Values,” in a May 6 letter to the college community.

“We still disagree about many fundamental issues, but we share concerns for the devastating effects of the violence in Israel and Gaza on educational opportunity for all in the region,” Patton wrote. “The document is future-oriented, outlining pathways for fruitful deliberation at Middlebury on the profoundly painful issues that the violence raises.”

Students at Middlebury launched the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on April 28, pitching tents on McCullough Lawn, the central campus lawn where Middlebury’s commencement ceremony is set to take place later this month. By mid-week, the demonstration had grown to include 75 tents and around 150 students were involved in the encampment in one way or another.

Middlebury students had listed five demands for college officials, building off of the Middlebury Energy2028 divestment campaign and mirroring the pleas of other student demonstrators around the country.

Students called on the college to divest its endowment from companies “that profit from or engage in Israel’s ongoing military campaign, occupation, and apartheid policies” and commit to full transparency in all investments and ensure freedom of expression and amnesty for protestors and supporters of Palestine liberation.

Students also demanded college officials not associate with Israeli institutions and businesses; create affiliations with Palestinian academic and cultural institutions; and release a public statement “calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and condemning Israel’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people.”

The written agreement reached by students and administrators on Monday addressed a few of those demands.

In the document, college officials call for “an immediate ceasefire and an end to the violence,” and went on to say they “condemn unequivocally the killing of all innocent civilians in Gaza and Israel, where no civil society, including educational institutions, can continue in the midst of such destruction. Palestinians and Israelis cannot learn in an environment torn by war.”

Administrators in the document also agreed to expand opportunities for students to weigh in on the college’s investments. College officials noted the institution “regularly and openly shares information” about its investments through the appointment of a Student Government Association representative on the Investment Committee.

“We are open to giving access beyond the Student Liaison to Endowment to expand the conversation. We also meet regularly with the Student Investment Committee (SIC) and the Research & Investment in Sustainable Equity (RISE),” the statement reads. “Together we will continue these practices. We invite student participation in open discussions about how our endowment works.”

Administrators added that trustees often meet with students to discuss common concerns and would continue conversations about investment practices beginning this month and throughout the next year.

College officials in the document also clarified that Middlebury does not currently invest in arms or arms manufacturers.

“We resolve to talk with trustees about sustaining and codifying our investment strategy of not investing in armaments. We will also share the details of this commitment and provide regular updates,” the statement reads. “Following the Middlebury tradition of regular conversations between students and trustees, we will discuss and debate openly the complex questions involved in managing an endowment.”

The documents also addressed the war’s impact on educational institutions in the region and efforts to support the education of those affected.

“Following Middlebury’s tradition of creating hospitable educational environments for those affected by violence, together we will explore avenues to host all students in the region displaced by war and violence. We appreciate the encampment’s focus on the displacement of Gazan students,” they wrote.

Administrators also committed to working with students to explore ways to support organizations and NGOs working in the region.

Glucksman, the student, said he and his colleagues will make sure that happens.

“Moving forward, students are still ready to pressure the administration to follow through with these demands, and to also turn our attention towards the board of trustees, who we know hold the real power in making decisions on the endowment,” he said.

In her May 6 letter, Patton acknowledged the document is only one part of the college community’s ongoing work in addressing “one of the most challenging issues of our time.”

“Throughout this process some members of our community have been impacted differently than others,” she wrote. “We owe everyone in this community care and attention, and we have a responsibility to recognize and respond to varied experiences. This is the way we build a shared sense of a Middlebury community.”

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