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More Students Placed on Involuntary Leaves of Absence for Involvement in Pro-Palestine Encampment

Above, the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard as it appeared on May 7. The encampment has lasted for nearly three weeks, even as at least 22 students were placed on involuntary leave for their involvement.
Above, the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard as it appeared on May 7. The encampment has lasted for nearly three weeks, even as at least 22 students were placed on involuntary leave for their involvement. By Julian J. Giordano
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard placed two more undergraduates on involuntary leaves of absence on Saturday morning for their involvement in the ongoing pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The additional notices came just one day after Harvard sent 20 students involuntary leave of absence notices on Friday morning for their participation in the encampment, bringing the total number to at least 22.

At least 14 undergraduates have received involuntary leave of absence notices to date — including one Crimson reporter covering the encampment who erroneously received the notice on Friday before the College swiftly retracted the letter.

The error raised concerns about the University’s process for identifying members of the encampment. While administrators have checked protesters’ IDs regularly since the demonstration began, they have not returned since last Tuesday — indicating that students placed on involuntary leave were likely identified earlier on in the encampment.

The notices mark the most extensive and forceful disciplinary action the University has taken against the demonstrators since the encampment began nearly three weeks ago and come after repeated warnings from administrators that continued participation would lead to disciplinary action.

The letters notifying students that they had been placed on leave did not specify when students would be allowed back to campus, instead pointing towards a second letter to follow with the conditions for return.

The involuntary leaves of absence notices operate separately from disciplinary action. More than 60 students are also facing charges before the Administrative Board — a body responsible for the application and enforcement of their respective schools’ policies — according to HOOP organizers.

Previously, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — the unrecognized coalition of pro-Palestine student groups that mounted the Yard encampment — gave the University a deadline of 5 p.m. on May 6 to initiate negotiations on the group’s demands that Harvard disclose and divest from its investments in Israel.

The deadline passed without any action from the University.

Garber has made it clear that he will not entertain calls for divestment. Instead, he met with organizers on Wednesday evening and proposed that they end the encampment to avoid involuntary leave notices. The students rejected the off-ramp and instead put forth a counterproposal, which Garber did not accept.

With the University and organizers at a stalemate, it is unclear for how many more days the encampment will continue.

As of Monday, the encampment remains in Harvard Yard, though it has been mostly deserted.

HOOP wrote in an Instagram post on Friday morning that the involuntary leaves put students at risk of “eviction, food insecurity, degree withholding, and deportation.”

Though involuntary leave does ban students from campus after a 24-hour window, the second round of notices also came just one day before all undergraduates — unless approved for extended housing for Commencement — moved out of their dorms for the summer and lost ID access to most Harvard buildings.

The move to continue placing students on involuntary leave and bar them from campus further opens the door to police intervention, allowing officers to clear the encampment on the grounds of trespassing. Harvard University Police Officers entered the encampment on Monday evening to photograph students, HOOP said in a Monday Instagram post.

Still, Garber has previously said that there is a “very high bar” for the University to resort to police force.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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