Pro-Palestine students to meet with President Benson after seven-hour long sit-in for divestment

A coalition of UTD student organizations hosted a walkout April 23, which began in the Plinth and evolved into a seven-hour sit-in occupying the admin building

Surjaditya Sarkar | Mercury Staff


At the climax of a nearly 10-hour long demonstration April 23, representatives from Students for Justice in Palestine and UTD’s Cabinet of the President agreed to a meeting to discuss the concerns of Palestinian students, according to an email from Vice President and Chief of Staff Rafael Martín.

The agreement comes after almost six months of protests at UTD calling for administrators to acknowledge the onslaught on Gaza during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Yesterday’s demonstration, called “UTD Take Back Our Campus,” was hosted by SJP, Palestine Youth Movement and UTD Divest. Demonstrators had three demands: first, for UTD to reject Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order GA-44, which specifically singles out SJP organizations when obligating universities to punish antisemitism and is a threat to freedom of speech, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Second, for President Richard Benson to release a public statement denouncing the “ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people” and call for an immediate permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Third, for UTD to divest from military contractors — particularly those that sell weapons to Israel, such as Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics. 

“After consistent divestment efforts, two passed Student Government resolutions, dozens of events and literally hundreds of tablings, we have heard nothing from administration until today,” alum Nidaa Lafi, a former president of SJP, said in a speech during the sit-in. “If this shows us anything, it shows us that pressure works. Being in this building, this disgusting overheated building for [hours] does something right.”

Approximately 100 protesters gathered at the Plinth around 1 p.m., calling for an end to the war in Gaza and for UTD to divest from military contractors. After marching down the Rutford pedestrian walkway, demonstrators gathered to pray for Gaza in front of the Administration Building before entering the building at 3 p.m. and staging a sit-in on the second floor — which leads to Benson’s office — until 10 p.m. UTDPD maintained a presence throughout the entire event and began blocking two out of the three main entrances into the building due to fire hazard concerns. While in the building, students made phone calls en masse to Benson, Vice President of Student Affairs Gene Fitch and Dean of Students Amanda Smith to force administrators’ attention onto the items of interest. Demonstration leaders announced they spoke with Vice President Rafael Martín later that night, who confirmed in an email around 9 p.m. that he’d be in touch before the end of the day April 24 to schedule a meeting between Benson, two members of his leadership team and pro-Palestinian student representatives.

“We are still here making Palestine unavoidable on this campus,” Nour Saad, a healthcare management senior and SJP Secretary, said during the sit-in. “We mobilize to illustrate our devotion to the cause and our belief in liberation. In mobilizing, protesting and keeping the conversation about Palestine alive, we students stand as the beating heart of the movement.”

In a statement to the press, the university said it would also meet with a separate Jewish student group for the same purpose. Jade Steinberg, a psychology freshman and President of UTD Hillel, said they received an invitation from administrators to attend this meeting. 

“I hope that it’s a joint meeting because I am somebody who really values open communication and dialogue, especially when it comes to disagreements,” Steinberg said. “We are going to be at the meeting and calling on Benson to help make the university a more safe and inclusive space for all students.” 

Steinberg, who was present at the UTD demonstration holding an Israeli flag alongside four other pro-Israel counter-protesters, found chants such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” offensive toward Jewish students. GA-44, which will take effect June 25, describes the phrase as antisemitic because it has been used by Hamas supporters to advocate for the violent dismantling of Israel. 

“From my perspective … there is becoming a normalization of antisemitism, of hate and bigotry against us that has made us feel extremely unsafe, extremely threatened,” Steinberg said. 

The protest was part of a larger national movement which has spawned at least 20 Gaza solidarity encampments at universities across the U.S. UTD protesters were in communication with students at Columbia University in New York, which has seen 150 students and faculty arrested at their solidarity encampment as of April 24. In response to prolonged encampment, the president of Columbia canceled all remaining classes for the semester on April 23. Columbia is among 20 other universities, including MIT and UC Berkeley, that have set up occupation zones on campus in solidarity with those displaced from the war in Gaza.

“The Gaza liberation encampment [shines a] spotlight on the mass displacement in Gaza,” Saad said. “Nearly 2 million Palestinians live in tents and in shelters due to indiscriminate bombing[s] without access to food, water and basic life needs.”

April 23 marked 200 days since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed 1,139 people. In response, Israel invaded Gaza; the invasion has killed over 34,000 Palestinians so far, including 14,000 children, and has displaced millions within an Israel-blockaded perimeter. Eighteen days into the conflict, Benson released a letter expressing sympathy for Israeli casualties without acknowledging casualties in Gaza, sparking a series of demonstrations and protest art and the eventual removal of the Spirit Rocks for “extended political discourse.” On Feb. 27, Student Government declared support for a permanent ceasefire with resolution S.R. 2023-12; last year SG passed S.R. 2022-40, or “Divest from Militarism” and Benson affirmed that UTD leadership did not share the same view as SG’s senate shortly afterward, according to the Texas Jewish Post

UTD’s SJP, along with Palestinian solidarity organizations at Columbia, Tufts and Rutgers-New Brunswick, are hosting Popular University for Gaza — week-long education programs that teach students about the war in Gaza. At the time of publication, SJP hosted a second day of sit-ins at the Administration Building lawn as protest encampments began at Harvard University. College students have clashed with police in riot gear at Cal Poly Humboldt and Yale; at UT Austin, police and state troopers prevented students from marching through campus before eventually arresting over 50 people. UTD protestors and UTDPD have been peaceful so far.

“The moral of the story is that if this sit-in doesn’t cut it, we’ll be back,” Lafi said. “We’re gonna continue pressure, we’re gonna continue momentum until divestment, until liberation, until return. Everything we did today and everything we will do is for our families in Gaza. We’re out here in solidarity with students in Columbia, with students all across the nation who are doing this … A win at UT Dallas is a win everywhere. A win at Columbia is a win everywhere. A win is a win everywhere. So we have to be committed to keep winning.”

This is an actively developing story that will be updated as more information comes forward. If you have more information, please email or


  • Great article, unlike the pro-genocide drivel published in the NYT and other major U.S. publications

    Be proud of yourselves!

    -UTD alum

  • Gaza has been governed by Palestinians for 19 years. Seventeen have been under Hamas. Hamas has stolen billions in aid and exploited Palestinians.
    Instead of building infrastructure and trade they invested in war.

    They still hold 136 hostages including Americans and have rejected multiple ceasefires. They’re still firing rockets daily.

    They are accountable for the violence.

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