Pro-Palestinian protesters packed up an encampment on the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus Thursday, after organizers and U leaders reached a deal that included promises not to interrupt final exams or graduation ceremonies and to continue talking about the group's demands.

"The University supports freedom of expression as a fundamental part of our mission, and the events of the past week have tested our processes and policies," interim U President Jeff Ettinger told students and faculty in an email announcing the deal. He added that he was "grateful for everyone in our community who has had to make quick changes in the moment to navigate this time."

The encampment — the second in two weeks — had been entering its third day when Ettinger and protest organizers held meetings Wednesday to try to reach an agreement. The students called on the U to divest from companies with ties to Israel, provide amnesty for protesters arrested in recent weeks, and meet other demands. The protests at the U were not as heated as some at other colleges, such as UCLA and Columbia University, where hundreds of people were arrested in recent weeks.

Still, pressure had been mounting for Ettinger to reopen U buildings surrounding the encampment, protect free speech and ensure the safety of both Jewish and Palestinian students. Complaints of antisemitism and Islamophobia have risen at the U and other college campuses since Oct. 7, the day Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel that killed an estimated 1,200 people and resulted in hundreds being taken hostage. Israel responded by invading the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian death toll has surpassed 34,000, according to statistics released by the United Nations.

As protesters were clearing up Thursday morning, Ettinger met with members of Jewish student organizations, who presented their own list of requests, including for stronger responses to bias and discrimination complaints.

"While there is more work to do, and conversations are still planned with other student groups affected by the painful situation in Palestine, I am heartened by today's progress," Ettinger told students and faculty in his email. "It grew out of a desire among those involved to reach shared understanding."

Protesters pack up tents

The deal to end the encampment came on the first day of final exams, as the U was preparing for some of its largest graduation ceremonies. Protesters set up in that location Monday, and by Wednesday evening there were about 30 tents.

Taking down the tents does not mean the movement will die, said junior Eleanor Wirtz, who held the pillow she'd slept on as others packed. If the university goes back on its commitments, the protesters will be back, she said.

"At the end of the day, if you want lasting change, you have to play their game a little bit," Wirtz said. "Sometimes that means taking the encampment down when they meet the demands that we've been begging for, that we've been marching for for months."

Ettinger's email included a copy of an agreement outlining where the U stands on the student groups' issues and promising to hold additional meetings with their leaders.

It said the U will "make a good faith effort" to provide information about its holdings in public companies and to allow students to speak at the Board of Regents meeting next week.

The agreement said the U will not ban employers from campus but will allow protest leaders to meet with Career Services to "discuss appropriate mechanisms you could use to advocate to other students around their choices of potential employers."

The agreement also said the U will allow students to work with people running international programs "to identify the process to explore a program affiliation with one (or more) Palestinian universities."

The agreement further included information on how students can report complaints and said the university "will commit to advocate to the Minneapolis City Attorney for lenient remedies for those previously arrested in connection with last week's encampment."

University police arrested nine people last week, after school leaders said they violated a U policy prohibiting encampments.

Junior Frank Bass, who collected trash and cut down tarps during the camp takedown Thursday, said he was pleased that most of their demands were met.

"I'm feeling rather amazed that it went so smoothly and without as much confrontation as there could have been," Bass said. "Just good old-fashioned occupation in the best way possible. Bonds, friendships made."

Following late nights where Bass used a kettle from home to heat water for tea and instant noodles, he was looking forward to resting before finishing his finals.

Late Thursday afternoon, about 200 protesters marched from the U's Carlson School of Management on the West Bank campus to the former encampment site to hear from organizers about the deal reached. Representatives of several pro-Palestinian groups attended, along with many students. Speakers mostly praised the agreement while cautioning they would escalate protests if the U did not hold up its end of the deal.

The protesters waved Palestinian flags and some held a banner that read "Take a stand against the siege on Gaza!" as they crossed the Mississippi River to the campsite, chanting along the way.

Ongoing concerns and discussion

Thursday afternoon, members of Minnesota Hillel, a Jewish student group, held a news conference asking the U to resist calls to divest from Israel and to do more to protect their members. They're also seeking an opportunity to address regents next week.

In recent weeks, some Jewish students have joined the pro-Palestinian protests while others said they've been unnerved by the language used during the demonstrations and etched in chalk across campus.

"We pushed back on the university, saying if all those student groups have free speech, the university does as well," said Hillel President Alex Stewart, a U junior. "We were hopeful that they would use that free speech and put out a statement condemning the language that's being used on campus."

Hillel hopes to see an education program about the thin line between freedom of speech and hate speech, either as a program for incoming students or those already on campus, and improvements to the university's Bias Response and Referral Network. Students are happy to regain access to the library and other campus buildings for finals as graduation approaches, said senior Izzy Lundquist.

"As someone who already graduated in their living room in 2020, I'm happy we will be able to graduate with minimal disruptions," Lundquist said.

Staff writer Louis Krauss contributed to this story.