Student protesters camping in Harvard Yard in an effort to urge the school to divest from Israel began receiving suspension letters from the university Friday as a coalition of faculty expressed disappointment, calling the school’s response “an unprecedented escalation.”

As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear how many students were suspended. Elizabeth Ross, a fifth year doctoral student, was among those who received a letter earlier in the day. She expressed criticism of the school’s interim president Alan Garber.

“This morning, I was placed on involuntary leave, but anything that interim president Garber has done is a reflection of his failure, not mine and not ours,” Ross said, referring to the student coalition Harvard Out of Occupy Palestine.

Ross said the involuntary leave means she is banned from attending classes, taking exams, and being on the yard where a student encampment has stood for the past several weeks. Undergraduates, she added, must also move out of campus housing.

Earlier this week, Garber, who became interim president this year following the sudden resignation of President Claudine Gay, threatened consequences for those who failed to clear the encampment.

Hours after that warning, several hundred students and allied supporters marched from the campus to Garber's private residence and rallied there, urging the president to negotiate with students amid their encampment.

Harvard University did not immediately respond to GBH News’ requests for comments on the situation Friday.

The suspensions come as other institutions have begun taking similar actions and asking police to dismantle encampments and arrest student protesters.

Administrators at MIT and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst directed police to clear student encampments this week. The situation has sent shockwaves through other colleges across the country, prompting groups of students, faculty, administrators and alumni to pick sides regarding how the institutions should handle protests.

A coalition of Harvard faculty who support the students’ efforts held a press conference and drew attention to the now-looming possibility of police moving in to clear the encampment.

“The students are here because our institutions are failing us,” said Harvard Medical School professor Lara Jirmanus. “The social contract that Harvard breaks by potentially, as we fear, unleashing police force against its own students would be a display not seen since the 1960s.”

Jirmanus, a Harvard alumna, recalled a similar effort more than 20 years ago when students seized the office of then-President Neil R. Rudenstine to force a conversation about ensuring a living wage for Harvard employees.

That effort ended after a 21-day sit-in, with Rudenstine agreeing to form a university-wide committee to examine the school’s compensation practices.

Jirmanus characterized the demands from the current crop of student protesters as both “well-studied” and “reasonable.”

“It is time for us to take them seriously and to treat them as well with the dignity and the respect they deserve,” she said.

Harvard’s action against students comes as college campuses across the country have seen pro-Palestine student encampments pitched as an expression of resistance to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Many within those encampments have called for their institutions to divest from Israel.

“We plan on staying until our demands are seriously considered,” Ross said after Friday’s press conference. Students’ demands for Harvard, according to Ross, include establishing a system for public records requests regarding its endowment, phasing out its direct holdings in weapon manufacturing companies and establishing a Center on Palestine studies.

Asked whether she was fearful of police response coming after suspensions, Ross responded “We’re really just focused on the genocide.”

As of Friday, Harvard’s website dedicated to commencement activities still listed journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, who has called for a ceasefire, as the principal speaker at the university’s 373rd commencement exercises on May 23, 2024. An additional scheduling note indicated that the school’s undergrad procession will take place on Harvard Yard May 21.