Columbia Begins to Suspend Student Protesters

Columbia University has begun to suspend students who have not left a Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the school on Monday. The university announced that students who remained and refused to sign a “form committing to abide” to its policies would be “placed on suspension, ineligible to complete the semester or graduate, and will be restricted from all academic, residential, and recreational spaces.”

Earlier on Monday, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University surrounded the encampment as administrators threatened to suspend and evict participating students. University President Nemat Shafik sent an email that morning ordering students to clear the encampment by 2 p.m. or “be suspended pending further investigation.” The letter offered the creation of an “alternative venue for demonstrations after the exam period and commencement have concluded.”

The email prompted even more students and faculty to join the protest in order to defend the encampment. Professors wearing brightly colored safety vests with “FACULTY” patches linked arms to form a human barrier surrounding the site of the protest. “Nobody thinks they should be suspended. Look at the thousands that have turned up here,” anthropology professor Mahmood Mamdani told CNN. “The idea of penalizing students for protests? The administration has turned the site of a protest into a crime scene.”

According to the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper on campus, protesters chanted: “It is right to rebel! Columbia, go to hell!”

The protest began on April 17, when around 70 protesters occupied an on-campus lawn and declared that they would remain there until the university severed all investment ties — or “divest” — from the state of Israel given the Palestinian civilian deaths and the unfolding humanitarian disaster stemming from the nation’s ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza.

Columbia’s student protest sparked a national collegiate movement after Shafik sicced the NYPD on her students in an attempt to forcibly clear the encampment. The use of off-campus law enforcement to break up the protest — which was quickly reestablished — marked the first time since 1968’s anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that Columbia had allowed police to suppress an on-campus demonstration. In response, protesters at dozens of American universities established their own encampments. Hundreds of students and faculty have been arrested — often violently — at various institutions as school administrators called in law enforcement to break up demonstrations.

Last week, the University of Southern California President Carol Folt called off the school’s main commencement ceremony amid protests after the university canceled a speech by the class of 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, who was criticized by pro-Israel groups for supporting Palestine on social media.

Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel activists have characterized the protests as inherently antisemitic, and while there have been some verified instances of antisemitic language attributed to third parties unaffiliated with the universities, the protests include many Jewish students and faculty.

Last week, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and a group of Republican lawmakers were mercilessly heckled by Columbia students during a visit to the campus. The speaker threatened to call President Joe Biden and urge him to deploy the National Guard against the protesters.

In another Monday email to students, Shafik wrote that “the dialogue between the University and student leaders of the encampment is, regrettably, at an impasse.”

Shafik stated unequivocally that the university “will not divest from Israel.” The university president noted that negotiators for the university had instead offered to “develop an expedited timeline for review of new proposals from the students by the Advisory Committee for Socially Responsible Investing, the body that considers divestment matters.”

In a Sunday update on the status of negotiations, Columbia University Apartheid Divest noted that the offer from the university was “non-binding” and “amounts to a mere suggestion to the Board of Trustees, which they are authorized to ignore.”

“Over the past week, the Office of the President sent numerous emails identifying us as a safety threat. But let’s look at the facts. The University has arrested and evicted over 100 of its own students,” the coalition wrote. “The University has undermined the negotiation process by threatening its political opponents with soldiers, mass eviction, and at times, the restriction of basic needs.”

“If the University does not come forward with real, concrete proposals that address our demands, we will have no choice but to escalate the intensity of protest on campus,” they added.

This article was updated on April 29 at 7:06 p.m. E.T. to include a statement from Columbia University announcing that the school had begun to suspend student protestors.

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