Columbia University Suspends Students Who Refused To Leave Protest Encampment

Columbia Universityhas begun making good on its promise to suspend students protesting the war in Gaza if they did not leave an encampment on campus.

“We have begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure safety on our campus,” Ben Chang, the university’s vice president for communications, said at a press briefing Monday evening, hours after the university in Manhattan told students they had until 2 p.m. to leave the protest.

Chang and other university spokespeople did not immediately return inquiries about the number of students suspended.

The notice warning of suspensions, which was obtained by HuffPost, said that students would face the penalty if they did not leave the encampment by the set deadline. Once suspended, students are restricted from the campus and its facilities, rendering them ineligible to go to class, complete the semester, participate in extracurricular activities or graduate.

Protesters also must sign a form saying they commit to following university policies in order to finish the semester in good standing. Columbia told HuffPost it has no additional comment.

The deadline came and went without the encampment disbanding. Shortly after 2 p.m. passed, student negotiators spoke at a news conference to reiterate their demands that Columbia divest itself from companies with connections to the war in Gaza and to again denounce university President Minouche Shafik’s statements about the negotiations.

Sudea Polat, one of the organizers who spoke, said Shafik has “claimed that we had had constructive dialogue regarding the student encampment and made insincere statements regarding the university’s actions. The university’s negotiations evidenced an elementary understanding of the words boycott and divest, which have been at the heart of the student movement and at the heart of our encampment.”

The university refused to make any commitments that their divestment proposals would be binding, Polat said.

The suspension warnings “are attempts to stifle the student movement,” she added.

The suspension warning came just a few hours after Shafik said in a statement that the university won’t divest from Israel and that the school has failed to come to an agreement with students protesting Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

Shafik said that, since Wednesday, academic leaders have been in “constructive dialogue” with student organizers that she hoped would end with the protesters removing the encampment, but both sides were unable to come to an agreement.

She went on to say that many Jewish students “have found the atmosphere intolerable in recent weeks” and many have left campus, adding it’s a “tragedy.”

Shafik said that while Columbia won’t divest from Israel, the university 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,” publish a list of Columbia’s direct investment holdings and “make investments in health and education in Gaza.”

Previously, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, one of the main groups involved with the encampment, shared negotiation updates in an Instagram post on Sunday. In the post’s caption, the group wrote that the student protesters “refuse to accept a deal that trades in the blood of Palestinians” and that they will not concede “anything less than complete divestment from the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

“Columbia continues to operate as though it does not know what boycott and divest entails,” the caption stated. “Our school is asking students to give away their protest rights and to operate within the confines of bureaucracy with no assurances of binding divestment decisions. They seek to push us into a bad deal by holding the threat of campus closure or law enforcement over our heads.”

Tensions have grown since protesters who support the Palestinian civilians in Gaza began camping out on April 17. On Thursday, pro-Israel protesters, led by far-right Christian nationalist figures, gathered outside Columbia’s campus, yelling at a group of pro-Palestinian students to “Go home, terrorists!” and “Go back to Gaza!”

Shortly after Columbia students set up the encampment, Shafik ordered New York Police Department officers to sweep it, leading to the arrests of more than 100 protesters.

Last week, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told Columbia student protesters, “Go back to class and stop the nonsense,” and he threatened to bring in the National Guard to tear down the encampment.