Five current and former students, including members from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Students for Justice in Palestine and the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee, were arrested Tuesday afternoon for trespassing on campus property after hosting an in-person protest and violating USF’s policy about on-campus assemblies, according to a University Police (UP) press release.
The Defend Progressive Free Speech progress took place in front of the Marshall Student Center (MSC) at noon. The MSC Events Response Team, alongside UP, was at the scene and asked the group to disperse. In the end, Taylor Cook, James Kramer, Hailey Ostwalt, Elizabeth Rowe and Jordana Cummings were arrested for trespassing and were issued a notice to appear in court, according to the press release. All individuals were released “on their own recognizance,” according to the press release.
Of the five arrests, Cook and Rowe are currently enrolled students while Kramer, Ostwalt and Cummings are not, according to Dean of Students Danielle McDonald.
Cook declined to comment.
The event was first publicized in an email sent out Feb. 8 by Cook, a junior and SDS officer, stating that SDS members would protest in front of the MSC on Feb. 9 against “the university’s intolerance for progressive free speech” after the organization was suspended for hosting in-person protests on and off campus.
On the same day the email was sent, SDS was informed by university officials that promoting and organizing an event violated USF Policy E-6-040 Return to Regular University Operations in COVID-19 Environment, according to the press release.
An event is considered as such once it is publicized, either on social media or by word of mouth, according to McDonald.
“Because [the protest] was publicized, it becomes an event, and events are not allowed and have to be approved if any exceptions are going to be made,” McDonald said in an interview with The Oracle. “There was no application for any exceptions for this, and it is an event, therefore, it was not allowed.
“We tried to get ahead of whoever was planning it, and facilities sent an email to the person who sent out the press release warning them that this would be considered a violation of our policies, [how it] would not be allowed to be here and gave all the policy links as to why.”
Any individual in violation of the policy would be requested to “cease the violation or leave the premises,” according to USF Policy 6-028. If there’s no compliance, policy states that individuals involved may “receive a [no-trespassing order] or be subject to appropriate law enforcement action.”
The warnings did not stop SDS from gathering in front of the MSC. The press release stated the attendees were warned about the policy and asked to disperse by a group of university staff from the MSC Event Response Team. The protesters, however, did not stop the event.
A representative from UP also informed SDS members about the policy and gave them a trespassing warning. The press release stated that SDS members were given “several minutes” to comply with the regulations and given a total of five warnings to discontinue the event before the arrests were made.
“The police then gave a warning, and they still refused to disperse,” McDonald said. “[The five students who were arrested] were handcuffed and taken out to cars, they were then given what’s called ‘written notices to appear,’ so they were not taken to jail, but they were arrested. And then the students that were involved will be referred to Student Conduct, and then the other ones, [who] have trespassed from the Marshall Student Center area, will have to deal with their police actions.”
While Tuesday’s arrests were the first time UP officers took action during an SDS event, it wasn’t the organization’s first protest to include clashes with the university.
The organization was temporarily suspended Oct. 28 after allegedly violating USF’s health and safety protocols by hosting face-to-face events both on and off campus. Under suspension, the organization was prevented from hosting any events or promoting its activities.
In response to the arrests and the enforcement of USF’s policies, McDonald emphasized how the university is being consistent with all student organizations to ensure health and safety protocols, as well as university policies, are met.
“What’s important here is that we are being consistent with what we’ve done with other events,” she said. “It has nothing to do with what is happening.”
Editor’s note: The story uses legal names to identify the individuals arrested based on the official press release from University Police (UP).