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Colleges Are Closing, but Summer Doesn't Mean the End of Protests

The end of the college term means campus protests are done, at least for now. But Democrats are split over the war in ways that may hurt the party in the fall.

Police and pro-Palestinian supporters clash as police move to remove the protesters and encampment at UC Irvine in Irvine on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
There was a clash between protesters and police as recently as Wednesday at the University of California, Irvine.
Paul Bersebach/TNS
In Brief:
  • Campus protests will naturally die down as colleges and universities go mostly quiet over the summer.

  • Pro-Palestinian protesters pledge to find other ways to register their opinions, notably at the ballot box.

  • This is an ongoing political problem for President Biden.

  • Harvard students held out for three weeks against the campus administration before reaching an agreement that saw them take down the tents in Harvard Yard. Across the country, many of the other campus protests that marked the end of the school year are also winding down.

    Some, such as the encampments at Harvard and Rhode Island’s Brown University, have been taken down following agreements with university officials. At Harvard, the students acknowledged that the conditions they agreed to for “decamping” — university officials answering questions about investments and rescinding suspensions — fall short of being “divestment wins." But they’ve still packed up. Other schools, including Columbia and UCLA, saw the forcible removal of hundreds of protestors.

    At this point, the protesters will be leaving of their own accord, thanks to the summer break. Protests, which attract only a minority of the campus population to begin with, aren't as effective with fewer people around to observe them. “There's no such thing as summer campus protests," says Michael Heaney, an American political scientist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. “There’s just no critical mass on colleges in the summer.”

    But campus protests are not the only forum for calls to end the war in Gaza. College Democrats has sought to highlight the importance of the value of the youth vote to Democrats. Polls indicate that President Biden's support among younger voters — who were a key constituency for him in 2020 — has waned significantly. “Each day that Democrats fail to stand united for a permanent ceasefire, two-state solution and recognition of a Palestinian state, more and more youth find themselves disillusioned with the party,” College Democrats said in a statement.

    Younger voters are not the only Democrats who believe Biden deserves blame for supporting and arming Israel in its war — even though his opponent, former President Donald Trump, has criticized Biden for not being supportive enough of Israel.

    “The choice is between ‘wishy-washy’ on Israel and strongly pro-Israel,” Heaney says. “Unfortunately, wishy-washy usually doesn’t do well in elections.”

    Campus protests might be over, for now, but it's a safe bet that pro-Palestinian protesters will be out in force at the party conventions this summer.
    Zina Hutton is a staff writer for Governing. She has been a freelance culture writer, researcher and copywriter since 2015. In 2021, she started writing for Teen Vogue. Now, at Governing, Zina focuses on state and local finance, workforce, education and management and administration news.
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