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Protesters criticize Case Western Reserve University for 'opaque' disciplinary process

case western reserve university encampment protesters
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
Activists, including (from left to right) Jad Oglesby, Koby Picker, Yousef Khalaf, Stephanie Ash, Michael Grimm and Faten Odeh, are calling on Case Western Reserve University administrators to drop disciplinary cases against pro-Palestinian protesters.

Students at Case Western Reserve University and members of the public who have received “persona non grata” letters from the university and notices of interim suspensions for their involvement in the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus grounds are calling for amnesty from the university and criticizing the disciplinary process the school has launched.

Several students, a former student and representatives from the Council on American Islamic Relations of Ohio on Friday held a press conference near the CWRU campus. They criticized the university for the way it has handled the protesters’ demands and the disciplinary process.

They pointed to other universities that have met with students calling for divestment from Israel, something CWRU undergraduate Yousef Khalaf said the university has never done.

“What happened with the encampment was a result of people not being listened to,” said Khalaf. “Is it just because I’m Palestinian, I’m not taken seriously or I’m looked at as violent or hateful?”

The protest encampment at the Kelvin Smith Library Oval on the CWRU campus lasted 11 days ending early on May 10, following increasing tension between students and university administrators, especially President Eric W. Kaler.

On the following Monday, the university sent out notifications to about 75 students alerting them a disciplinary process had begun, according to a university statement sent Friday.

These students were “identified as taking part in the unsanctioned encampment on the university’s private property, vandalism and disruption to campus operations,” according to the unsigned statement.

Only 12 of those 75 students are graduating this weekend and their cases received priority, with three barred from taking part in graduation ceremonies as of Friday. Students under investigation who live, eat or work on-campus were guaranteed continued access to those services.

One law student, Michael Grimm, said the decision to withhold his degree is jeopardizing his plan to take the bar exam in July.

The conduct process is supposed to take about a month, said Grimm during Friday’s press conference, but he’s not sure if that timeline takes into account the time it’ll take to hear from students who, like him, plan to fight the charges.

“It’s risking a lot of our careers and a lot of our futures for an opaque process that is completely devoid of due process,” Grimm said. “None of the evidence of what we have done has been presented against. None of the charges have actually been levied against us officially, just a vague reference to our involvement in the encampment and that’s it.”

The university did not respond to a question about the criteria used to start an investigation of a student, only saying students who felt they were mistakenly sent a notification can contact the Office of Student Conduct.

Organizers sent out questionnaires to fellow students to find out who had received the notifications. They found more than 50 students.

And some said their involvement with the encampment was minimal, according to Khalaf.

“Some students didn’t even participate, who just like walked by or they were just in the area or they were assumed to be, they got e-mails and they got punished,” said Khalaf. "And there were some students who were there for the longest time, and they didn’t receive anything."

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.