U.S. University Did Something Crazy: Listened to Student Protesters Instead of Calling the Cops on Them

Sacramento State announced that it will divest from “corporations and funds that profit from genocide” and said, “Student protests and political action are cornerstones of higher education and democracy.”

U.S. University Did Something Crazy: Listened to Student Protesters Instead of Calling the Cops on Them

Last week, Columbia University summoned an army of heavily armed, riot gear-clad police officers to attack its own students for peacefully protesting Israel’s war on Gaza and the university’s financial ties to Israel. On Monday, the university announced it was punishing protesters by canceling its commencement ceremony for all students on May 15. Columbia’s actions come as college students across the country have been suspended and punished by their schools for similar protests and encampments,  and in numerous cases, attacked by police or counter-protesters. 

As of Wednesday morning, California State University Sacramento (CSUS)—one of the largest schools in the California State system—announced it would take a different approach and listen to its students’ demands for divestment from Israel. “Student protests and political action are cornerstones of higher education and democracy, and we unequivocally condemn hate and bias in all forms,” the school’s president, Luke Wood, said in a statement. The university then pledged it would no longer have “direct investments in corporations and funds that profit from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and activities that violate fundamental human rights.” Since October, Israeli forces have killed over 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

Sacramento State’s updated policy states that it “does not have any direct investments in these areas” right now but, in accordance with students’ demands, its investment portfolios will “remain free of such direct investments.”

Shortly after the university’s announcement, the CSUS chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine shared an Instagram post with the caption, “ALL of our demands have been met by [the university]. Sacramento State has officially divested and will stop using our tuition money to fund genocide.” The group, which set up their encampment last Monday, shared that in addition to divestment, the university also met their demand to appoint “a faculty member from Faculty for Justice in Palestine to sit on the finance committee, ensuring that investments remain ethical every year.”

“Campus President [Wood] has never called the police on any protesting students, has actively kept them away, and has publicly declared amnesty for all protesting Sac State students,” the caption continues. “Please DM him all your thanks.” In a statement shared with CBS News, the group wrote, “The students encourage the larger community to understand that the fight for divestment does not stop at Sacramento State but continues on to other universities in the CSU system and across the nation.”

Prior to CSUS, a few other universities publicly reached agreements with student protesters to close encampments and announced, err, steps toward divestment. Last week, in exchange for the closure of an encampment demanding university divestment from Israel at Brown, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said she’ll ask the school’s Advisory Committee on University Resources Management “to provide a recommendation on the matter of divestment by Sept. 30, and this will be brought to the Corporation for a vote at its October 2024 meeting.” Administrators at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and Northwestern University announced they, too, would consider divesting from Israel at a future time, in exchange for student protesters to close their encampments.

CSUS has taken this a step further with an explicit policy against financial ties with businesses or corporations that are associated with genocide and human rights violations. The university’s communications office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Jezebel on whether it is referring explicitly to Israel, or whether it regards Israel’s actions in Gaza as falling under the umbrella of “genocide, ethnic cleansing, and activities that violate fundamental human rights.” Nonetheless, the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine have recognized the president’s statement and the university’s new policy as divestment. 

This pledge by Sacramento State, and the university’s recognition of student protest as a common good where other schools have treated peaceful protests as an existential threat, is in stark contrast with what we’ve been seeing across the country. For decades, college campuses have been the sites of powerful protests against war and injustice. So, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that so many young people across the country are mobilizing against what protesters have called Israel’s genocidal campaign against Gaza, and the financial complicity of their schools—and the U.S. government—in this war. 

Yet university leaders and American politicians across the political spectrum have been punishing and smearing students at every turn—which makes CSU Sacramento’s actions, if not the bare-fucking-minimum, feel like a sign of actual progress.

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