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Published on April 25, 2024
Over 30 Arrested in UT-Austin Protests, UTSA Students Decry Free Speech Violations Amid Middle East Divestment DemandsSource: Google Street View

Protests erupted at Texas universities as students demanded a divestment from companies involved in the Middle East conflict, with more than two dozen arrested at UT-Austin amid a tense standoff with police, while UTSA witnessed a less confrontational but no less determined demonstration. The UTSA march was part of a collective movement in solidarity with ongoing protests at Columbia University in New York, aiming to pressure universities to sever ties with companies like Raytheon, a defense contractor, as reported by the San Antonio Report.

However, at UT-Austin the scene took a more intense turn as police, using horses and riot gear, stepped in to disperse the crowd, resulting in the arrest of at least 34 people including two journalists; before the intervention, protesters, numbering over 500, had shown no signs of violence but were repeatedly ordered to disperse by officers who threatened arrests for trespassing, the Texas Tribune details.

Back at UTSA, students claimed their free speech was stifled, alleging university officials had prohibited the use of loudspeakers and certain terminology related to the conflict, restrictions the university denies, yet First Amendment attorney Zach Greenberg of The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression expressed concern, suggesting that if such directives were true, it would constitute a violation of the protected rights to political speech as he told the San Antonio Report.

Students from both UTSA and UT-Austin reiterated their activities were not fueled by antisemitism, emphasizing the participation of Jewish students in the marches and their focus on the broader political implications of university investments, as UT-Austin student Xochimilo Murguia indicated expressions of distress, noting the unequal treatment seemingly afforded to Black and brown students, a sentiment shared by many at the protest, according to the Texas Tribune.

As the nation's eyes follow the developments of student demonstrations, Texas universities find themselves at the center of a conversation on free speech and the right to assembly in the context of global conflict and local policy; while the University of Texas at Austin and UTSA navigate the tensions on their campuses, students appear resolute in their calls for institutional change and transparency in university investments with UT-Austin maintaining a stance of commitment to campus safety and legal conduct as UTSA students plan their next steps in a protest, they say, will continue.