Impressions of UCSB’s Student Encampment in Protesting Palestinian Genocide

Derek Lewis

Summary: Conversations with members of an encampment which has persisted since May 1st —Editors

DISCLAIMER: In order to protect the identities of the students at the encampment I did not ask for names or any information that might threaten their privacy. I began by asking them if they were involved with the encampment and if they would be willing to answer some questions.

I began my visit to the UCSB Liberated Zone around noon on May 31st. The encampment was put up on May 1st, 2024. I walked around initially through a small, roped-off area of sidewalk and lawn on the Mountain Side of the UCSB Library, just past the Arbor before Campbell Hall. There were some 20-30 tents scattered, smaller than other UC Campuses. When I walked through many students were in class, but despite a small quantity of interviewees, the quality of these conversations was incredible. Everyone involved with the encampment I spoke to was an undergraduate, it was organized by them entirely. I mainly interacted with women who were involved with the encampment. Of the Muslims who did their Friday Prayer nearby, the majority were men and I believe all were people of color. The women and passersby I spoke to were also diverse. I saw at least one sign reading something things like “Queers for Palestine” and I couldn’t help but smile.  My initial impression of this is that it was a call for solidarity with the Palestinian people, a call to divest, and a call to stop genocide that transcends gendered, sexual, ethnic, racial, or religious lines. It is a matter of standing against injustice. It is about standing for something greater than us.

One of the students I spoke to who was involved early on in the planning of the encampment shared her experience on day one. She told me, wearing a Georgetown sweater perhaps as a precaution, that the students mobilized to an area outside the library around 4 AM. The next step was to take to social media – which has been able to amplify the message of these activists and others calling for an end to the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza – and advertise the encampment. She said it took about a week before the UCSB administration took them seriously.

She was spray-painting a banner at the makeshift entrance to the site and shared her experience. She had a fierceness to her as she shared which professors and lecturers had been supportive, and which had been disparaging or outright hostile, to student participation in the encampment. One feminist studies professor encouraged student participation, other professors were not afraid to threaten failure, particularly those who openly espouse Zionist beliefs.

Regardless, the atmosphere at the encampment was peaceful. I explored during classes so many people were not present; nonetheless, the organizer I spoke to and the others made clear their goal to maintain peace and openness – transparency of investment was one of their key demands, after all. They commonly hoped this peaceful disruption would pressure the UCSB administration to disclose and divest from companies, such as Raytheon and Boeing, who profit off of genocide. There was no violence, save three Zionist students who threw two eggs in the early days of the encampment.

The peaceful nature of the liberated zone was confirmed by three passersby whom I exchanged a few words with. I asked them to offer me their impressions of what was going on campus and at the encampment. The first responded by saying the encampment has “tranquil vibes and harassment [against the students in the liberated zone] had been limited.” The Islamic Friday Prayer, Jumah, has just finished, and the passerby commented that everyone praying had been very kind. The second student respected the community for showing up and, though he was not Muslim, appreciated that Muslims and non-Muslims were coming together to support a free Palestine. “The violence is overblown in the media,” he added, stating the UCSB encampment and those participating were not violent at all.

A third student offered a more nuanced and limited perspective. She was very reserved, perhaps indicative of the sensitive nature of the subject and the fact that many students fear job opportunities may be limited by open involvement or support. “The situation is complicated, not black and white.” She added that the encampment shows the power of students when they come together.

Many students are far less responsive. Many went about their day, moving from one class to the next while glancing briefly. Others averted their eyes altogether. A graduate student I spoke to who, like me, was exploring the encampment told me almost all of the student support was undergraduate students. They organized it and they are out here every day. She added some students might be uninvolved, in her opinion, because they didn’t want to think of where the money for their research was coming from. She agreed with almost every other student I spoke to in that there was not much solidarity from students across campus. The students there persist nonetheless, and to paraphrase what another student told me: People are dying. It doesn’t matter who is dying. NEVER AGAIN FOR EVERYONE!

After the students finished their Friday Prayer, a participant began moving toward me and some onlookers. He was very gregarious with a large smile. I asked if he cared to share about his prayer and perhaps how it intersects with Palestine. He told me the Jumah begins with a little sermon, then they do a guided prayer. On May 31st, time was set aside for the Palestinians. In the end, those praying take time to themselves to pray for what is on their heart. The student I interviewed said he prayed for Palestine, family, friends, and their well being during this time.

Another I spoke to earlier, who appeared to lead the prayer, said participation in the encampment was a religious obligation. When I spoke to him he explained he understood the Quran to be commanding him to stand for justice, even if it goes against what you believe or your family. Such a sentiment perfectly describes what students are doing at the encampment – standing against injustice even if it is not popular and carries immense risks with it.

With such resistance, of course, comes intense emotions and a desire to expand one’s mind. I asked her a simple question, “Why are you here?” Her response was beautiful. She felt she was channeling her energy toward something positive. “It is easy to feel hopeless when the system is designed to make you feel that way. Ever since October 7th it’s been easy to doom scroll [on social media] and feel sad. Sadness and anger are part of it… but the encampment is a healthy outlet to stop feeling powerless. People power is a great way to make an impact.”

She went on that people sometimes ask what she or others are even doing there. What could they possibly hope to accomplish? I prodded her further, asking her, in addition to these questions, why she bothered to stick around if people were belittling her activism. Without missing a beat, she said with fiery enthusiasm: “Anything you can do at the imperial center to resist systemic injustice is worthwhile. Imagine what we could do if all the students came together and pressured the school. Let’s see how far we can push the school!” I removed the justified expletives. She went on, “People need to be annoyed. Even if nothing comes of this, having a material footprint is invaluable so things don’t get forgotten.”

My self-guided tour and conversations were refreshing during a time of gross injustice. The encampment at the University of California, Santa Barbara is not as large as the others – but it has just as much love for the Palestinians and determination to resist Israeli Genocide and US Complicity. These activists are intent on disrupting the status quo – so intent they’re missing class and living in a make-shift tent city as a statement.

I would like to use the words being spray-painted on a banner by the organizer with a fierce resolve for my closing words. The black and purple bubble letters read, “Sorry for the inconvenience. We’re just trying to change the world.”



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *