Capitol Beat

Five for Friday: Monitoring the fallout from Pennsylvania's campus protests

From protests at Penn to congressional action on antisemitism, we look at the top takeaways from a week of pro-Palestinian protests in the commonwealth.

Students and faculty erect an encampment to protest the war in Gaza at the University of Pennsylvania

Students and faculty erect an encampment to protest the war in Gaza at the University of Pennsylvania Matthew Hatcher / AFP via Getty Images

As the Israel-Hamas war continues, so do protests at universities across the nation, where students, faculty and outside protesters are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and pushing for institutions to divest from Israel. Here are some of the throughlines to emerge during the past week:

Penn protests push for divestment

Protesters at the University of Pennsylvania tent encampment want university leaders to divest from any financial holdings that could profit off Israel’s war against Hamas, as protesters continue to hold down an encampment at the Ivy League school. Interim Penn President J. Larry Jameson, in an April 26 statement, called for the encampment to be disbanded, and said the failure to do so would result in sanctions for participants. According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student-run newspaper, Philadelphia police reportedly declined a request from the university to shut down the encampment on Thursday; police have reportedly asked the university to provide proof that the encampment presents an “imminent danger.” Philadelphia news station 6abc also reported that the city chapter of the Israeli-American Council delivered a petition with more than 3,000 signatures to Jameson’s office on Thursday, asking the university to disband the encampment located at the institution’s College Green. 

McCormick visits Penn encampment

U.S. Senate hopeful Dave McCormick, a Republican facing off against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in the fall, visited the tent encampment at Penn this week, urging university officials to shut down the encampment. “If the university won’t take down this tent city and throw the kids out or take disciplinary action on those who are violating the rules, then the city should do that,” he said in a video posted to X on Wednesday. McCormick also called for stronger leadership in the wake of campus protests nationwide. “We need a lot more of this around this issue. We need leaders to stand up and speak loudly and clearly about this outrage and take action.”

Pittsburgh police chief says Schenley Plaza protest went ‘as well as it could have’

Campus protests occurred on the western side of the state this week as well, with students at the University of Pittsburgh participating in a protest at the university’s Schenley Plaza. However, the encampment has since been cleared, and while protests across the country have been marked by confrontations with police and more than 2,000 arrests, Pittsburgh public safety officials said this week that the protest at Pitt went “as well as it could have,” according to WESA, an NPR affiliate based in Pittsburgh. According to the outlet, Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto said things largely remained peaceful between protesters and law enforcement. “There were honest brokers at the table, from our side, from the organizer side, to ensure that they are and were able to peacefully demonstrate on city property and in a timely manner that we could support that wasn't overly intrusive to city operations,” he said.

U.S. House passes antisemitism awareness bill amid protests

With more than 2,300 people arrested over several weeks of protests, lawmakers in the U.S. House passed legislation this week that would require the U.S. Department of Education to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when enforcing federal discrimination laws, per CNN. Backers say the bill would provide a consistent framework for the department to use, according to The Associated Press, while some critics, including U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, believe the bill is too broad. The majority of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation voted for the bill, with the exception of four lawmakers. U.S. Democratic Reps. Dwight Evans, Summer Lee and Mary Gay Scanlon voted against the bill, while GOP U.S. Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson – who recently completed his final cancer treatment – did not vote. 

Gov. Josh Shapiro comments on the protests

Gov. Josh Shapiro has weighed in on protests in Pennsylvania and across the nation on multiple occasions. On April 24, the governor called it “unacceptable” that institutions couldn’t guarantee the safety and security of Jewish students. “What we’re seeing at Columbia and what we’re seeing in some campuses across America, where universities can’t guarantee the safety and security of their students, it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Shapiro told Politico. Then, speaking from Luzerne County this week, Shapiro said his administration remains in contact with Pennsylvania universities, “reminding them of their responsibilities under state law and federal law to keep their students safe and free from discrimination and making sure that the rules of the local community and the rules of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are adhered to every step of the way,” he said, according to WBRE.