‘Disclose and divest’: New encampment established at UNC Asheville
One of the banners erected by students at the UNC Asheville encampment. | H.V. Leaven / People's World

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Despite the many violent crackdowns against peaceful encampments across the nation, students at the University of North Carolina Asheville have chosen to take a stand, calling out repression of democratic rights as well as their own university’s culpability in the genocide of Palestinians.

Beginning at 2 p.m. on May 2, students gathered on campus and began putting up signs in solidarity with Palestine, demanding an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza, a campaign that has claimed nearly 35,000 as of this writing.

The establishment of the encampment couldn’t have been better timed, as the university was holding what the administration called a faculty senate meeting to discuss the future of several degree paths offered at the institution. The meeting was attended by the chancellor of the university herself, Kimberly Van Noort, as well as several others, including Toby King, a professor of music at UNC Asheville.

King came to speak with many of the students in the encampment, discussing the reasons behind their demonstration, before returning to the faculty senate meeting. Many students had hoped that King would relay their demands to the chancellor: Divest from companies aiding in the genocide and institute a system of greater transparency to show how tuition money is spent.

However, when the time came, King did not speak up, and a student sitting in on the meeting, Alexander Severa, had to relay the message instead.

The students of UNC Asheville did not initiate their encampment action without a plan. Almost immediately upon setting up, many students began working on their pre-planned ideas. Their civil disobedience got off to a strong start.

One tactic was writing the names of murdered Palestinians onto the pathways of the university leading to the building where the meeting was taking place. Next to every person’s name was the age at which they were killed. The numbers ranged from people in their 40s down to just infants were who weeks or even just days old. Students intended to force administration officials to walk over the names, which at a certain point numbered too many to count.

Students also came together during the meeting to hold up signs showcasing their demands. Placards called for ending the genocide, opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and for the freedom of Palestine itself. They made their demands known to the administration in as peaceful but firm a manner as possible. They declared they would not rest until the university divests.

When asked why they were participating in the encampment, students gave direct reasons for the protest action—and they had to do with the fight for peace. Supporters of Israel have claimed that the student protests around the country have been anti-Semitic and completely disorganized. This encampment, like pretty much every other one around the U.S., was anything but disorganized or anti-Semitic.

One student, Wolfie Layne, told People’s World: “We are here peacefully organizing the student body, to disclose any ties this university has to Israel or Israeli companies. Definitely including weapons companies, especially local companies like Pratt and Whitney, who make jet engines.”

A UNC Asheville official steps over the names of Palestinians killed in the genocide. Student protesters had written the names and ages of the dead in chalk along a path leading to a faculty senate meeting. | H.V. Leaven / People’s World

The Pratt and Whitney power plant recently built in Buncombe County has been a topic of controversy within the community, as the county itself subsidizes the company.

When asked about the demands of the encampment, Layne, who is a member of the Communist Party USA, continued: “Disclose, divest, so any company that UNCA either gets funding from or sends students to needs to stop immediately.”

Alexander Severa—the student who spoke out at the faculty senate meeting—said: “We’re your sons, we’re your daughters, we’re your kids. We’re out here! We’re supporting this! This does not survive on campus alone, this is the amalgamation of so much community effort.”

Severa said that students were putting themselves and their futures on the line. “My message to the American public is to come out here and struggle with us!”

As for university officials, they offered no comment on that first day of the encampment. Before the meeting ended, Chancellor Van Noort slipped out the back door of the building, hoping to avoid the protesting students and their questions.

This did not stop the demonstrators from finding her and her police escort, however, and she was met with a group of them chanting.

The chancellor drove away before People’s World could interview her, and the police officers had no comment for the newspaper either.

As the administration gave no stance on the genocide in Gaza, as well as the policy for faculty to not take an official stand on behalf of the university on the issue – according to Toby King – the protesting students and the administration have come to a silent impasse. With no engagement from the administration, the students continue to camp out on university grounds, holding out until their demands are heard and met. The plan is to continue the encampment until demands are either met, or the students have been sufficiently removed by the police and forced to end the protest completely.

Currently, no attempts to end the protest have occurred. The protestors hope that this conflict between the administration and the student body will be resolved peacefully, with the demands of divestment and disclosure being met.

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H. V. Leaven
H. V. Leaven

H. V. Leaven is a member of the CPUSA in western North Carolina.