Protests on campus: a history of student protests

It has been more than three weeks since the Pro-Palestinian student encampment at TU Delft in protest against the university’s cooperation with Israeli companies and institutions. Their demands are simple: cut all ties with Israel. The protestors also urge for the TU to be completely transparent about these connections, to publicly condemn the ongoing genocide and oppression in Gaza and to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

However, fifteen Dutch universities have responded in a letter to newspaper Trouw to student uproar by stating that they do not want to sever ties so as not to ‘isolate critical Israeli scientists’. The protestors respond: “Who these critical voices are remains unclear in the piece, nor does it become clear what they can do for the millions of Palestinians whose lives are uncertain. The rectors don’t bring up that these much cherished critical voices are harshly suppressed by the institutions with which they wish to continue to cooperate.” (TU Delta, 2024). The students at TU Delft campus are planning to continue protesting until the university grants their demands. 

Online activist platform Stop Wapenhandel has unveiled that TU Delft has close relations with several Israeli universities, a major Israeli arms company and the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI). They also directly contribute to the development of the F-35 nuclear fighter jet as the faculty of Aerospace Engineering has a well-established cooperation with Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor. The Israeli army is using these F-35 in attacks on Gaza (Stop Wapenhandel, 2023). The university has remained silent on these involvements.

Student protests at universities have been a powerful form of activism throughout the years. Students demonstrate in many different ways to raise awareness and push for change. They do this by organising marches, occupations, walkouts, speeches and many more ways to make their voices heard. This form of activism is not a new phenomenon and has brought about significant political and social change all over the world. Students are taught to think critically about social and political issues and therefore have the responsibility, but also the privilege, to speak up.

The earliest recorded student protest can be traced back to the 12th century, to medieval Europe. These students protested against their poor living situations and high tuition fees. During the 19th and early 20th century, student protests became more politically charged. These protests started gaining popularity in the mid-20th century. The reason for the rise in student activism is that higher education became more accessible to more people. German students protested against the Nazi regime in the 1930s, students in the US protested against the Vietnam war in the 1960s, students from all over the world protested against apartheid and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela during the 1970s and 1980s. The last decades, social media and improved communication technologies have helped student activism gain more support and popularity. Students from all over the world have shown their solidarity in the climate protests, the Black Lives Matter protests and now the Pro-Palestinian protests. 

When reflecting on all the student protests in the past, it goes to show that they have brought about significant social and political justice all over the world. This is why we should listen to our students when they speak up. After all, students have rarely been on the wrong side of history.//


Bakker, K. (2024, 17 mei). Actievoerders ‘teleurgesteld’ na gesprek met bestuurslid Mudde; protestmars over Delftse campus - Delta. Delta.
DPG Media Privacy Gate. (z.d.-b).
Redactie. (2024, 12 juni). Activists from Delft tent camp send letter to Trouw - Delta. Delta.
TU Delft and the Israeli arms connection – Stop Wapenhandel. (2023, 8 november).
Walfisz, J. (2024, 5 mei). Crying out for change: A short history of student protests in Europe. Euronews.