12 days in the Auraria Campus Gaza solidarity encampment


DENVER — After 12 days of protests, arrests and sleeping in tents outside the Tivoli Student Center on the Denver Auraria Campus, students from the campuses three schools — University of Colorado Denver, Metro State University (MSU) and Community College of Denver — say they will not end their protests until the schools meet their pro-Palestine demands.

“We are going to continue to escalate and continue to demand divestment from genocide, apartheid and occupation,” said Khalid Hamu, a senior at CU Denver and organizer with Students for a Democratic Society.

The encampment’s numbers fluctuate throughout the day, but about 40 tents are set up and around 20 to 50 students shield the tents during the day, with another 50 to 100 joining them in the evenings.

“As long as it takes,” Hamu said.

The Auraria Campus students are part of a nationwide college protest movement against the Israel-Hamas war. Around the country, from Columbia University to UCLA, students have pitched tents on campuses and demanded their schools cut ties with Israel and divest from weapons manufacturing companies. 

Students from Auraria campus were the first in Colorado to set up a protest encampment. On Thursday, May 2, Colorado College in Colorado Springs became the state’s second campus to do so.

Students at the Auraria campus said the tents serve two purposes: solidarity with those sleeping in tents in Gaza and a permanent presence meant to disrupt day-to-day campus activities.

Students for a Democratic Society — which is organizing the protests — have a list of demands for both MSU and CU Denver. The demands include:

  • “A published statement condemning the genocidal actions of Israel.”
  • “Full divestment from any corporations that operate in Israel.”
  • “Terminating study abroad programs in Israel.”
  • “Refusal to accept grants or funding from corporations that contract with the US armed forces and terminate any existing contracts with those corporations.” 
  • “President Janine A. Davidson to meet with student organizers to discuss an implementation of these plans.”


Both MSU and CU Denver currently have aerospace partnerships with Lockheed Martin, an aerospace defense company with offices in Colorado. Lockheed Martin is one of Colorado’s largest employers.

Devra Ashby, director of communications and marketing for the Auraria campus, said administrators believe the demands to cut study abroad to Israel and sever ties with Lockheed Martin would hurt students who wish to visit Israel and rely on Lockheed Martin for internships and jobs.

“If we were to say yes to those demands, that means that another population of students is going to face the repercussions of that,” Ahsby said. “If the schools adhere to those demands, they’re cutting short the opportunities for students who wish to participate in those things.”

Abdullah Elagha, an organizer with the Colorado Palestine Coalition, said the ongoing war in Gaza — which has left nearly 35,000 people dead and 78,000 injured — should deter students from wanting to visit Israel or work for a weapons company supplying the Israeli Defense Forces.

“Find somewhere to visit that does not enforce an apartheid system,” Elagha said. “Find somewhere to visit that is not ethnically cleansing the Indigenous population.”

After more than a week of protesting, students met Tuesday with Angie Paccione, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education,  and asked her to connect them to the CU Board of Regents and MSU Board of Trustees. Organizers said Paccione told them there was nothing she could do. 

Paccione did not respond to requests for comment from Rocky Mountain PBS.

“When we escalate, we get our demands met,” Hamu said to dozens of protestors outside the encampment Tuesday. “If they want to keep pushing us around acting like we’re going to just sit idly by, we will continue to escalate the situation.”

When asked what “escalation,” could look like, Hamu said students will continue to call their school administrators and chant outside of their offices. 

After returning from the meeting with Paccione on Tuesday, Hamu and other student organizers encouraged dozens of students to flood administrators’ voicemail boxes. The students protesting Tuesday morning did so.

Protesters said administrators from both schools have refused to meet with Students for a Democratic Society as a representative body for the three schools, claiming administrators only want to meet with students from the schools they represent. Student organizers felt it was a deterrence tactic.

“They want to split us up and divide us, because they’re afraid of what we can accomplish with consistency, with principle and an unrelenting focus on our demands,” said a student who declined to give their name.

Pro-Palestine protestors chant outside the Tivoli Student Center.
Photo: Alison Berg, Rocky Mountain PBS.

Activists from the Colorado Palestine Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for a Democratic Society set up dozens of tents on the quad outside the Tivoli Student Center on April 26. 

Inside the camp, students have set up about 40 tents — some for sleeping and some for food and supplies. After spending the days chanting in support of Palestine, organizers spend the evenings holding educational seminars, art-making sessions and other ways for students to bond and decompress.  

Students rotate who sleeps in tents and who goes home at night, but they try to never leave anyone alone in the camp. As gusts of wind reaching above 60 miles per hour have hit Denver, several students said their tents have blown over, but they pitch them back up immediately. 

Student protesters have also designated “liasons,” for different purposes — one for press requests, one for speaking with police, one for de-escalating counter protesters, a designated group for communicating with campus administrators and several leaders for hosting chants.

A tent with a hand-drawn red cross also holds medical supplies, water, ear plugs and face masks.

Elagha said the protesters in the camp are “family.” They protect each other because they believe traditional systems — such as law enforcement — not only have failed them but are actively working against them.

“We’re very much a family here and we keep us safe, and we do that through a variety of ways,” Elagha said. “It’s really a beautiful community and it kind of shows you what's possible outside of the confines of the capitalist society that we live in.”

That weekend, Auraria Campus Police arrested 44 students for trespassing, with assistance from the Denver Police Department. Ashby said campus police have opted for a more lax approach than other campus police departments — where officers have shown up in riot gear and used tear gas and rubber bullets to contain crowds.

While Ashby said school administrators want to respect students’ rights to protest on campus, tensions between protesters and law enforcement escalated Tuesday. Protesters marched from the Tivoli Quad and into the Tivoli Student Center chanting “Free Free Palestine,” as they marched up and down the stairs and around the food hall. Once they left the building, police locked it so no one else could enter.

According to a news release from Ashby, protesters entered the MSU Aerospace, Engineering and Sciences building around 5 p.m. the same day.

“The protestors occupied the first floor of the building and impeded students' access to classrooms for final exams. Additionally, they chanted, pounded drums, and used amplified sound in violation of campus event policies, and therefore, they violated MSU Denver's Student Code of Conduct,” Ashby said in the news release. 

After ignoring warnings to leave, Ashby said, the protesters were issued citations for trespassing. No one was arrested and taken to jail.

“If we kept taking the tents down, it was clear they were just going to come right back up,” Ashby said. “If things violate the law or become a little more violent or out of control, then we'd obviously have to move forward with police presence.”

Robin Buchanan, a senior student studying creative writing and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace — a “progressive, Jewish, anti-Zionist organization” — said he was arrested April 26. 

His overnight stay in Denver City Jail left him too traumatized to continue sleeping in his tent overnight, he said, but he continues to protest each day.  He believes it is his duty in honoring his Jewish faith.

“The most pro-Jewish thing you can do is be anti-genocide, no matter who that genocide is being done against,” Buchanan said. “When I learned about the Holocaust and I said never again, I meant never again for anyone and I will stand by that.”

On Tuesday, after protesters marched around the student center shouting protest chants, police blocked the building, preventing them from re-entering.

Student organizers told each other not to engage with police or counter-protesters. 

Elagha said the protests at Auraria take after a long tradition of college students using their campuses as grounds for protests against various wars. 

He views many of those previous movements — such as protests against the Vietnam War and South African Apartheid — as successful examples of what today’s generation could achieve for Gaza.

“I think the administration is really underestimating the students. They're hoping to just wait people out,” Elagha said. “That’s not going to work; we'll be here as long as it takes.”

Alison Berg is a reporter for Rocky Mountain PBS. Alisonberg@rmpbs.org