Facts about the removal of the encampment

May 31, 2024

The university is committed to creating a vibrant community of learning, one that is enriched and empowered by diverse perspectives on the issues of the day. We believe civil and constructive dialogue sharpens minds and ideas, and that speech and expression ought to be protected to the greatest extent possible. We encourage all members of the university community to continue engaging in an open dialogue with each other and university leadership on the issues facing our campus, our country and the world.

As we have said many times before, our commitment to freedom of expression does not extend to speech or conduct that violates the law or university policy, including conduct that introduces the risk of physical harm to members of the university community or targeted speech that involves bullying, defamation, destruction of property, harassment or threats.

We understand that some in our community disagree with the removal of the encampment on the Diag May 21. The university took this action to ensure the safety of the people in the encampment and our larger community, and we did so only after encampment occupants ignored or rebuffed numerous requests to follow university policies and leave voluntarily. We stand by the decision.

Unfortunately, several false or misleading narratives have surfaced recently. To keep our community informed, the university is offering the following information to ensure everyone has the facts.

Details of the Encampment Removal

On April 22, a group of protesters established an encampment of 20 tents in the center of the Diag. While the encampment violated university policies regarding reserving the Diag and placing tents, canopies, and other prohibited items in this area, the university did not immediately seek to remove it. Over time, the encampment changed dramatically, growing eventually to include more than 60 tents and 10 canopies, as well as individuals who were not part of the university community. In addition, occupants overloaded nearby power sources and reinforced the borders of the encampment with ropes, fabric and chicken wire. This led the university fire marshal to conduct an inspection and to conclude that, were a fire to occur, a catastrophic loss of life was likely.

Officials from Student Life and the Division of Public Safety & Security (DPSS) relayed these findings to a representative of the encampment May 17 and a fire inspector followed up with an in-person visit later that day to underscore the risks and to request that the encampment comply with policy. These requests were ignored, as were other requests conveyed in nine previous in-person visits by university officials over several weeks. The university acted out of an obligation to ensure the safety of our community and visitors.

The morning the encampment was removed on May 21, DPSS issued three additional requests to vacate the encampment and again the approximately 50 protestors present on the Diag refused. Some individuals began pushing DPSS officers and throwing objects including furniture and metal projectiles at the officers. When that occurred, DPSS deployed a mild form of pepper spray – with a lower concentration than what is sold through public retail outlets – in a targeted manner to restore order, avoid further escalation and to minimize the risk of serious injury to the officers and to the protestors. The individuals in the encampment disbanded and the safety hazards were removed from the Diag. Contrary to some claims, only DPSS staff were involved in the removal of the encampment. The university defers to prosecutors on what charges, if any, are ultimately brought against those who were arrested for criminal acts.

Michigan Medicine received fewer than five individuals who came to the emergency room and reported exposure to pepper spray. They were treated and released. No one was hospitalized. There was no indication on the scene that anyone was seriously injured. Likewise, university officials have not received any reports or evidence that anyone was rendered unconscious, suffered a concussion or sustained any kind of serious injury.

The Use of the Diag

The Diag is and must be a place that belongs to everyone. The university maintains a reservation process that ensures it can be accessed by groups representing a multitude of perspectives. The individuals in the encampment ignored the reservation process – thereby flouting a system meant to protect access and equity for all. Some people have pointed to the fires that broke out during celebrations of the university’s college football championship to argue that there was no university response or discipline akin to the removal of the encampment, however those fires did not occur on campus and thus were beyond the jurisdiction of the university. Others have pointed to HashBash as an example of a group that has been allowed to use the Diag; however it must be noted that the organizers of HashBash filed a request to use the Diag, in accordance with university policy.

Communication with Student Protestors

Claims that university officials have declined to meet with students and other community members to discuss issues related to the Israel-Hamas war are false. Since November 2023, President Ono, representatives from Student Life and other campus leaders have met with groups on all sides of the issue, including 18 meetings with representatives of the TAHRIR coalition, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), the Islamophobia Working Group, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) Student Government, as well as parents, alumni, and faculty members who have been supporting students involved with the protests.

Similarly, the Board of Regents has on multiple occasions engaged on these topics with students and other members of the university community during the public comments portion of regents meetings. The board welcomes and encourages public comments – in person at its meetings and via the submission of written public comments, emails, videos, or phone calls – and will continue to do so. At its monthly meetings in October, December, February, March, and May, the board heard comments related to the Israel-Hamas war from students, staff, faculty, alumni, and other university community members.

In March, the regents publicly announced that they had heard calls for divestment, had carefully considered the issue and had decided against making a change in their investment approach.