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Students in San Antonio and Austin join nationwide protests supporting Palestinians

Protesters face off with law enforcement on the UT Austin campus' South Lawn during a demonstration Wednesday in support of Palestinians.
Audrey McGlinchy
KUT News
Protesters face off with law enforcement on the UT Austin campus' South Lawn during a demonstration Wednesday in support of Palestinians.

Dozens of protesters gathered at the University of Texas at San Antonio's main campus on Wednesday for a “Gaza Solidarity Action” organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation San Antonio and Students for Justice in Palestine UTSA. It was the latest in a wave of demonstrations sweeping college campuses across the U.S.

In an Instagram reel shared by PSL San Antonio, rallygoers stood under UTSA’s Sombrilla surrounded by barricades and chanted “Free, Free Palestine.”

UTSA officials said via social media on Wednesday morning that there would be “a significantly increased presence of law enforcement vehicles and uniformed officers on and around campus” in anticipation of the protest.

“We support free and peaceful expression,” university officials said. “We will ensure a safe and secure environment for our entire community.”

In an earlier post about expected protests this week, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy also said the UTSA would “not tolerate disruptive behavior, vandalism, or antisemitism.”

In a statement posted to their Instagram page this morning, SJP UTSA said they “echo the sentiment against disruptive behavior, vandalism and any form of discrimination, including antisemitism.”

“Our aim is to engage in constructive discourse to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians and advocate for their rights in a just and equitable manner,” the student group said.

Also, on Wednesday, UT Austin students walked out of their classes to support Palestinians and protest the Israel-Hamas war. The daylong protest was organized by the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Austin.

PSC called on students to walk out of class starting midday, march through campus and occupy the South Lawn for the rest of the day. The student group planned a series of workshops and teach-ins as part of the occupation.

"Our universities have chosen profit and reputation over the lives of the people of Palestine and our will as students," PSC said in an Instagram post. "[W]e will take back our university and demand our administration to divest, for the people of Gaza!"

Crowds began to gather on campus shortly before noon Wednesday. Protesters, many wearing masks and Palestinian scarves, chanted, "Free, free Palestine. Killing children is a crime."

UT Austin student Ammer Qaddumi said the demonstration is a "continuation of our call against our institution's complicity in the ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza."

Qaddumi said UT Austin has also remained largely silent on the harassment and violence that Muslim, Palestinian and other Arab students have faced around campus.

"The university has not had adequate responses to really address our concerns and has sort of fostered this environment where racist individuals feel actually empowered to continue conducting these harassments against us," he said.

Earlier this month, a Muslim student was allegedly attacked by three men who yelled Islamophobic statements before punching him. UT said in an emailed statement that the Austin Police Department was investigating, and that the university "has no tolerance for violence or other hateful actions against any of our community members, including those in our Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab communities."

The day before the protest, UT Austin administration sent a letter to PSC warning organizers not to hold the event.

PSC "has declared intent to violate our policies and rules, and disrupt our campus operations," the letter said. "The University of Texas at Austin will not allow this campus to be 'taken' and protesters to derail our mission in ways that groups affiliated with your national organization have accomplished elsewhere."

The letter also said students and PSC may face discipline for protesting.

Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies, including state troopers, were present at the protest. They ordered students to disperse within 10 minutes shortly after the protest began. As the crowd began to disband, police largely funneled them onto one of the campus' main roads, and protesters regathered close to their original starting point.

Throughout the demonstration, Qaddumi repeatedly reminded students to remain peaceful. Once law enforcement ordered the crowd to disperse, he asked students to follow that order. Police then arrested him, and it is unclear why.

At around 2:30 p.m., officers ordered protesters to leave UT's South Lawn and said they were trespassing. Shortly after, they went into the crowd and began arresting people. At least a half-dozen protesters were detained.

The protests are part of the turmoil ignited on campuses throughout the U.S. since Israel began its offensive in Gaza. That was in response to a Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, which killed 1,200 people. Hundreds more were taken hostage. Gaza health officials claim Israel's operation has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians.

Camille Phillips and KUT's Audrey McGlinchy contributed to this report.

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Chelsey Zhu
Becky Fogel is the editor and producer of statewide newscasts for the Texas Newsroom. She previously worked for the shows Texas Standard and Science Friday. She got her start in radio at KWBU-FM in Waco.