News

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Talks Justice, Civic Engagement at Radcliffe Day

News

Church Says It Did Not Authorize ‘People’s Commencement’ Protest After Harvard Graduation Walkout

News

‘Welcome to the Battlefield’: Maria Ressa Talks Tech, Fascism in Harvard Commencement Address

Multimedia

In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises

News

Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech

Protesters Prepare for Final Exams Amid Encampment, Threat of Disciplinary Action

A student works on their laptop in the Harvard Yard encampment on Friday.
A student works on their laptop in the Harvard Yard encampment on Friday. By Julian J. Giordano
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

As undergraduates occupy Harvard Yard in the most significant pro-Palestine demonstration on campus to date, they are also balancing their role as students during a critical time in the semester: finals period.

Pro-Palestine protesters set up the encampment in the Yard just one day before reading week — which started last Thursday and ends this Thursday, when the final exam period officially begins — and it is unclear how many more days the encampment will last.

In the heart of the Yard, in moments of quiet between ID checks and chanting, student protesters have been working on their laptops. Some sat on blankets on the grass, while others typed away on the steps of University Hall, perched on camping chairs, or shuffled back and forth between dorms and libraries.

Eshaan J. Vakil ’25 described study spots in the encampment as “mostly informal” and “impromptu” as protesters work to “reorient to needs.”

“Everyone here in this encampment is both extremely committed to our political mission,” he said, “but of course, we’re all students. There’s exams coming up — we all, we want to do well.”

“It’s pretty funny. We have this weird split schedule, where during the day, we’re all sort of running around, putting tents up, doing events, that sort of thing. Then when night falls, there’s a little circle and we’re all typing away on our keyboards, just trying to study for exams,” Vakil added. “We’re doing both as best we can.”

Organizers for Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — a coalition of pro-Palestine groups — first called an emergency rally on Wednesday at noon, which quickly turned into an encampment as protesters pitched tents in front of the John Harvard statue. Over the past six days, the encampment has grown from an initial 23 to more than 50 tents.

Monday morning, more than 30 protestors involved in the Yard encampment received letters requesting their appearance before the Harvard College Administrative Board — an administrative body responsible for the application and enforcement of College policies.

The Ad Board notices, which arrived via email, come after Harvard administrators have repeatedly threatened disciplinary action for students who continue to participate in the encampment — including in two separate emails to undergraduates, as well as disciplinary warning slips and daily ID checks of students within the encampment.

Still, those in the encampment said they intend to camp until the University discloses and divests from its investments in the West Bank.

Violet T.M. Barron ’26 said the concept of “no normalcy during genocide” becomes “even more important” during finals period.

“We can especially show that even with finals, which are ostensibly higher stakes than the rest of the year, we will still be here, we will still push for divestment,” said Barron, a Crimson Editorial editor.

However, for others, balancing academics with activism has been more challenging, as one takes priority over the other.

Brit G. Shrader ’24 said studying during the encampment is “not really possible.”

“Every moment that I’ve had really has been dedicated to the encampment because there’s so much to do, so much to coordinate, and I think that it takes priority over finals,” Shrader said.

Noa Sepharia, a second-year student at Harvard Divinity School, said despite having less time to study for finals, for her, “the encampment 100 percent takes priority.”

“There’s some times in the day when things are a little chiller and we have time to study, but I will say it’s definitely not the amount of study time I would have if this encampment wasn’t going on,” she said.

“But I am completely, 100 percent more prioritizing encampment work than school work right now,” Sepharia added.

The Monday morning Ad Board notices also quote from the College Student Handbook, threatening to withhold degrees from students who are “not in good standing or against whom a disciplinary charge is pending with the Administrative Board, the Honor Council, or the disciplinary board of another school.”

But some students in the encampment said in interviews with The Crimson that having their degrees withheld or receiving lower grades on end-of-term assignments are risks they are willing to take for their activism.

Sepharia, who is set to graduate in just a couple of weeks, said that while graduation is a concern, her pro-Palestine activism takes priority.

“That is a concern that I have — I want to graduate,” she said. “Being here has been a huge opportunity for me that I want to complete, and I’ve worked really hard to get my degree.”

“But with that being said, there’s no future in my eyes without Palestinian liberation, so I’m concentrating my efforts on that,” Sepharia added.

Shrader said the encampment has been “a clear priority” and “anything else just feels so small in comparison.”

“For me, it’s like my degree does not matter. Hopefully I graduate, hopefully they give me a degree, but my degree does not matter in comparison to the lives of 34,000 people,” Shrader added. “So that is the risk that I’m willing to take.”

Barron said there are several risks she considered over her participation in the encampment — including facing disciplinary action, being arrested, or “getting a slightly worse grade” than she would otherwise.

“These are all things, risks that I’ve thought long and hard about and ones which I’ve decided that I’m willing to undertake in order to push for something that I think is so much bigger than any one grade, so much bigger than any one person,” she said.

Though some said they prioritized the encampment over their finals, several other protesters said their academics and activism go hand in hand.

Vakil said he — and many others — view the two as “deeply, deeply intertwined.”

“We see this as, in many ways, the social role of our academics,” he said.

“I’m planning on going to my finals — but then as soon as I’m done with my finals, I’m going to be coming back here,” Vakil said.

Nuriel R. Vera-DeGraff ’26 said that he sees the encampment as a way to “uphold Harvard’s values,” especially regarding “free expression and critical thinking.”

“That’s part of why I came to Harvard for, and so studying — but more importantly, being here — is really fulfilling to that mission,” he said.

Barron said it’s been “really sweet” to see students show up to support the protesters, adding that she sees people sitting on the stairs working on their laptops or “lounging on the grass, doing homework.”

“We all care very deeply about this, but we’re also students,” she said. “That’s something else that unites us.”

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags
CollegeStudent GroupsStudent LifeAcademicsHarvard YardAd BoardProtestsFront Photo FeatureFeatured ArticlesIsrael Palestine