Columbia University Protests Over Gaza War Continue and Spread to Other Campuses


Dozens of student protesters at Columbia University gathered outside early Friday afternoon, just across from where their tent encampment had been demolished by university officials the day before. Some students had been there through the night. Others, including a few who had been arrested Thursday, had only recently arrived.

There were heaps of blankets, deliveries of water bottles and food, and a faculty speaker, Mahmood Mamdani, an anthropology professor, who congratulated them for remaining there despite the university’s attempts to shut down their demonstration in solidarity with Gaza and for a free Palestinian state.

“You are erasing the line between education and politics,” he told them. “It is a new phase in this mobilization.”

A day after Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, called in the police to arrest some 100 students and take down their encampment, the activists showed little sign of losing steam.

The new protest camp, while peaceful, is still officially breaking university rules. Some of the chants — “We don’t want no Zionists here” and “Israel is a racist state” — are the same ones that President Shafik suggested were creating “a harassing and intimidating environment for many of our students.”

But there seemed to be a lull in enforcement, at least for the moment, as university administrators consider whether they should suspend and arrest even more students for a movement that clearly has considerable campus support. One student organizer said on Friday that protesters had been told by campus security that as long as they did not pitch tents, they could remain there as an informal gathering.

“While the encampment has been dismantled, our community has had protest activity on campus since October, and we expect that activity to continue,” said Samantha Slater, a university spokeswoman. “We have rules regarding the time, place and manner that apply to protest activity, and we will continue to enforce those.”

Blankets were on the lawn, and for a while, a group of faculty members stood behind a line of student organizers with loud speakers.

Two of the students at the protest on Friday said they had been among those arrested on Thursday. Officially, the university said that all students who had been at the encampment had also been suspended, in which case they would be barred from campus. But administrators had yet to notify them individually by email, students said. So while they assumed they were suspended, they were still unsure.

Suspension is a serious punishment. According to Columbia, suspended students may not go to class or hand in work related to their courses, jeopardizing the chance to finish their semesters. Their campus IDs would be deactivated, making classrooms, dining halls and other parts of campus inaccessible.

Suspended students would be able to return to their dorms, a spokeswoman said. But that did not seem to be the case for students at Barnard College, which partners with Columbia.

Maryam Iqbal, a suspended Barnard freshman, posted a letter she had received from Barnard’s dean telling her that she will have 15 minutes to gather what she might need from her dorm room before being escorted out.

The continuing demonstration has upset other students, including those who found the strident anti-Zionist stance of the protest threatening and antisemitic. Noa Fay, 23, a first-year student at the School of International and Public Affairs, described feeling annoyed and “emotionally detached” by the ongoing protests.

“I’m Jewish with family in Israel,” she said. “The longer that this has gone on it makes clear to me the lunacy of it all.”

Karla Marie Sanford and Olivia Bensimon contributed reporting.

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