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How could pro-Palestinian rallies impact Florida universities?

'What you worry about in situations like this is are there people who are not students who are coming onto campus,' Richard Friedman says
Posted at 11:20 PM, Apr 24, 2024

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The protests and rallies sweeping across university campuses nationwide have left some members of the public concerned about how it may impact Florida students.

WPTV reporter Joel Lopez spoke with students at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton who said things were calm on campus.

"It's OK to have your side, pick a side, maybe see both sides, but I think as long as everyone is safely protesting, that's fine," FAU freshman Cooper Ross said. "But when you get violent with it or somebody makes threats, that's when it goes too far."

Ross said he has previously seen protests break out at FAU but didn't see any on Wednesday.

"I say keep it out of the university, honestly," Ross said. "I say maybe you can rally somewhere near but not at the university or anywhere on the university grounds because that's for school. It shouldn't be for like protesting or any other political matters."

FAU freshman Cooper Ross shares his thoughts on protests on college campuses.
FAU freshman Cooper Ross shares his thoughts on protests on college campuses.

WPTV contacted FAU officials and asked about protests on campus but did not hear back.

"What you worry about in situations like this is are there people who are not students who are coming onto campus, who are being agitators in the situation," Richard Friedman, the chair of the Palm Beach Center to Combat Antisemitism & Hatred at the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, said.

He said the organization consults and advises universities like FAU.

"In the last couple of days, we've seen a much more volatile situation at Columbia and Harvard and other universities across the country," Friedman said. "This is coordinated. It's not random."

One of his concerns is the upcoming graduation season.

Richard Friedman discusses some of the worries he has about protests on college campuses.
Richard Friedman discusses some of the worries he has about protests on college campuses.

"There's going to be a big watch on the graduation speeches on whether or not they're using graduation speech for political purposes," Friedman said. "We all worry it's going to escalate. We're much more in a defensive mind."

The tension is also felt among college hopefuls who are applying to colleges and universities.

"The students on all of these campuses have a right to protest," college counselor Samia Ferraro said. "As long as they don't infringe on the rights of any other students, and as long as other students don't feel personally threatened."

Samia Ferraro explains how the recent protests can impact prospective students.
Samia Ferraro explains how the recent protests can impact prospective students.

She's an independent college counselor who works with students in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

"Part of our goal is that they're safe on a campus," Ferraro said. "We have been almost scrambling to figure out which places are safe, which administrators and universities are making sure that all students are heard but don't feel threatened or don't feel as though there's a sense of violence around them."

She said the recent climate on campuses has played a factor in guiding students applying to colleges and universities.

Other universities like the University of Florida confirmed some of their students protested on Wednesday.

The school released the following statement:

"The University of Florida will always protect speech and uphold the law. Peaceful protests are constitutionally protected. Camping, putting up structures, disrupting academic activity, or threatening others on university property is strictly prohibited. The University has clearly communicated this to our students and explained that they can exercise their free speech rights but breaking the law will result in an immediate trespassing order from UPD and an interim-suspension from Student Life."

WPTV also received responses from Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, Palm Beach State College and Indian River State College who said they did not see protests on their campuses on Wednesday.