The Daily Nexus spoke with UC Santa Barbara students about their sentiments on the pro-Palestinian encampment following its establishment on the lawn between North Hall — also known as Malcolm X Hall — and the library.

Students and community members have had mixed responses to the encampment set up on May 1. Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus.

An autonomous student group, known as UCSB Liberated Zone, espousing solidarity with “all oppressed peoples,” set up an encampment on May 1. While most of their signage has slogans relating to Israel and Palestine, some signs showcased solidarity for people in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Tigray, among others. 

The encampment has since grown in both population and area. Organizers stated that around 40 people planned to reside permanently in the encampment, but the number grew to 85 by the second night. Protestors set up tents on neighboring lawns and strung hammocks in trees. Organizers estimated that 60-70 people stayed in the encampment on the night of May 3.

Members of the group wrote messages in chalk art on the walking paths around the encampment, and have posted signs decrying the war in Gaza on nearby lampposts and the mountainside wall of the library. The front of the encampment features a whiteboard with a daily schedule, activist pamphlets and group guidelines.

Between the two lawns, protestors wrote “YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE LIBERATED ZONE.” On adjacent sidewalks, protestors drew a dove beside the slogan, “We won’t stop resisting until Palestine is free.” Nearby was scrawled the phrase, “DISCLOSE DISARM,” and in smaller letters, “BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS.”

Students observing the encampment had different perspectives about how it has affected the campus climate. Although most remarked that the campus climate is fairly relaxed compared to the climate on other campuses that have witnessed significant pro-Palestine protests, most were still concerned about the repercussions of expressing their opinions. 

Four of the eight encampment observers who spoke to the Daily Nexus were willing to go on the record, and eight students observing or visiting the encampment declined to speak to the Nexus.

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang responded to the encampment in an email statement on May 2. While he described the encampment as “unauthorized,” Yang also said that administration would be receptive to protests that do not disrupt education.

“I respect people being out here, getting active. It reminds me of the Vietnam War protests,” fourth-year economics major Jonathan Cataldo said. “The only concern is that there [will be] any impact on graduation and that the administration would hold [the encampment] over our heads.”

Second-year psychological and brain sciences major Nadiv Meltzer was more critical, saying that some of the encampment’s messaging was “ironic.”

“It’s ironic to have ‘globalize the Intifada’ next to a call for world peace because the intifadas were a series of violent terror attacks, … so saying to globalize these attacks next to a call for world peace is a microcosm of the greater misunderstanding that’s happening,” Meltzer said.

Two fourth-year economics majors, who requested anonymity, were also critical of the encampment, saying that encampments are an ineffective form of protest and that the university should not permit the encampment since Chancellor Yang stated in his communique that the encampment is “unauthorized.”

“Just because the university is not going to do anything at the end of the day, and even if they go for divestment, it doesn’t do anything in the grand scheme of things. At the end of the day, there’s going to be a private equity fund or investment bank [that] will happily take over the investment,” one of the students said.

“[Chancellor Yang] said it was illegal. So [I’m] just being concurrent with what he’s saying,” the other student said.

Other students, such as fourth-year Middle East studies major Ehsan Varnous expressed hope that the encampment will encourage UCSB to divest from Israel. Pro-Palestine groups have generally advocated for UCSB’s divestment from companies connected to Israel’s military.

“Divestment is a semi-lofty goal, but I think seeing the power that we have as people, as members of a democracy and what we were able to do to end the war in Vietnam, or the civil rights movement, [shows that] we have the power to do that,” Varnous said. “We have the power to start the wave to lead [divestment]. It might not happen this year or tomorrow, but I think step-by-step, as I see different campuses passing resolutions, attempting to divest, I think it’s a beautiful effort that I do see going somewhere,” Varnous said. 

Many were aware that the encampment calls for UCSB to divest from firms with ties to Israel, but many were relatively apolitical regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“I don’t really have an opinion,” Derek Uy, a third-year writing and literature major, said of the encampment’s aims.

Similarly, a third-year Spanish major, who requested anonymity, said, “I wouldn’t say I’m very educated on that,” when asked about the encampment’s messaging on those regions.

One point of agreement across ideological lines is that the campus climate is much less tense at UCSB than at other universities, such as Columbia University and UC Los Angeles, which have witnessed violent escalations in the past week.

“Frankly, I think it’s a little bit more laid back [at UCSB],” a fourth-year English major said.

Encampments at Columbia University, UCLA, UC San Diego and other campuses across the nation were shut down by police forces who arrested hundreds of students at the respective campuses. As a result, campuses have canceled commencement ceremonies and issued suspensions and other disciplinary actions to students.

UC Riverside agreed last week to increase transparency regarding its investment portfolio in exchange for protestors to clear their encampment, becoming the first UC to strike a deal with an encampment.

“I would say we have it better than universities like UCLA,” said the third-year Spanish major, adding, “I think our admin is not as aggressive as those campuses.”

Despite saying that “the police did what they had to do” to suppress the encampment at UCLA, the fourth-year economics students agreed that the campus climate is calm at UCSB.

“UCSB just has a very common chilling culture in general,” one said. 

“Fortunately for UCSB, even when people want to be active politically … it never gets too extreme,” the other economics major said.

A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the May 9, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.