Since October 20, 2023, a student-led protest called “Sit In to Stop Genocide” has occupied Stanford University’s White Plaza. For 113 days, the protestors have slept in tents in the plaza without resistance from the university, making it the longest sit-in in Stanford history. However, at 10 a.m. on February 8, 2024, protest leaders woke up to an email from Student Affairs demanding that their tents be gone by 8 p.m. If they failed to comply, the university threatened that students would be “subject to a disciplinary referral to the Office of Community Standards” and “cited for trespass.”
In the letter from Student Affairs, the administration claimed that the sit-in and pro-Israel informational tent were a “concern for the safety of students.” Unlike the sit-in, the Israeli informational tent is only occupied on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
However, that night, contrary to the letter, officers never arrived.
University officials wrote, “Extended camping in an open area accessible to the public, accessible to rodents and other animals, and vulnerable to extreme weather inherently poses safety concerns.” In response to the letter, sit-in leaders announced on their Instagram page a counter-protest at 6:30 p.m. that same night to “protect our right to protest against genocide.” The post warned protesters that participation in the counter-demonstration could result in arrest.
News of the counter movement spread quickly. By 7 p.m., White Plaza was packed with over 500 people. Though the majority were there to demonstrate, many were also community members curious to see if there would be a conflict between protesters and police officers at 8 p.m. Some participants wore masks and ski goggles in case law enforcement would use tear gas. The protest was also well-attended by non-students like the Raging Grannies, a local protest coalition of elderly women.
Sit-in leader and Stanford student Alisha Service was skeptical of the university’s intentions to remove the protest. “[Stanford] is concerned about their image, and they have little concern for first and foremost Palestinian lives. They are also actively disregarding our rights as people to peacefully protest, assemble, and advocate for justice,” she said. “They’re now throwing a big fit and trying to exercise control and make an example out of all of us.”
Students in attendance, who wished to remain anonymous, reflected Service’s skepticism. “The timing is quite suspicious because Parents Weekend is coming up,” a protestor said, referring to Stanford families coming to visit students on campus between February 23 and 24.
Leading up to the law enforcement’s expected arrival, sit-in participants led a pro-Palestinian rally that attacked the University’s connection to corporations in support of the Israeli government–most prominently Hewlett-Packard. Protesters led chants, carried flags and signs, and banged against make-shift drums.
As the time approached 8 p.m. over a hundred participants began linking arms to form a human barricade around the sit-in tents. Protest leaders instructed them not to talk to any press and asked them to comply with law enforcement instructions if the officers attempted to remove the sit-in and protesters.
Around 8:30 p.m. the rally began to disperse and many went home. Still, a large number of protesters spent the night in White Plaza, and the human barricade around the sit-in remained.
That night, students from the Israeli informational tent were also in attendance. Leaders of the Israeli tent had chosen earlier that day to comply with the University’s letter and had taken down their tents before 8 p.m. Israeli tent organizer, Kevin Feigelis, said he stayed in the plaza to “see what happened at eight o’clock.”
Feigelis was also curious to see if Stanford would enforce their policy on the sit-in or if the administration would be deterred by the counter-protest. “Either the university is going to come with officers and actually enforce the policy, or they are admitting that Stanford is governed by a mob,” he said.
Feigelis continued to criticize the university’s response. “Students are subjected to a double standard where Jewish and Israeli students are following the rules and trying not to get punished, but everybody else is going unpunished. Instead, [the sit-in] has been breaking the rules constantly for the past four months. I would like to see either everybody following the rules or no rules made because this is just unacceptable,” he said.
According to Palo Alto Online, officers from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office arrived at White Plaza at 7:30 a.m. the next morning but made no effort to remove the sit-in and left around 30 minutes later.
As of Sunday, the sit-in has yet to be removed by law enforcement. The demonstration’s leaders continue to encourage community members to mobilize in support of the sit-in via their Instagram account.