Columbia Students Continue Protest Sit-In Despite Risk of Suspension

Hours after Columbia University’s 2:30 p.m. Monday deadline for students to leave the encampment to avoid suspension, hundreds of pro-Palestinian students remained on and around the lawn. The tents stayed up.

“We have begun suspending students,” Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Columbia University, said around 5 p.m. Earlier in the day, said in a statement that they were not able to come to an agreement with student protesters despite “robust and thoughtful offers.”

Shafik’s decision to invite cops on to campus and arrest student protesters earlier this month sparked encampments at dozens of colleges nationwide. Hundreds of these students have faced arrests and suspensions—sparking criticism that administrators and law enforcement are criminalizing peaceful protest. A coalition of 185 progressive social justice and religious groups expressing support for the campus encampments in the face of crackdowns by law enforcement. Asked about the use of police force at some campus protests, the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that “Americans have the right to peacefully protest within the law” and that “antisemitism is very dangerous.”

Student protesters are asking their universities to divest from Israel. “The university is supposed to be an educational institution, not an equity fund,” says Jamil Mohamad, a 32-year-old Columbia University graduate student and Palestinian American standing outside the encampment, on campus grounds. “The student movement is calling for disclosure and financial transparency to understand exactly where the university endowment is being invested and to understand where their tuition dollars are going,” he says.

On Monday afternoon, hundreds of students rallied on campus grounds in the early afternoon with megaphones. Later on, it appeared calmer. Students drank bubble tea, walked dogs and read novels, while dozens of faculty in bright orange vests stood by. Police flanked the gates where more pro-Palestinian protesters chanted slogans.

Mohamad arrived on campus as soon as he learned that the university would discipline protesters who are part of the encampment. He has not spent the night but has often dropped by during the day and enjoyed dance performances, lectures and film screenings. Asked whether he fears punishment, he reframes the conversation. “Whatever sacrifices I may make as a student protester pales in comparison to what’s happening to civilians in Gaza right now who are facing famine, who are facing indiscriminate killing.” Mohamad does not have relatives in Gaza but does have some living in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers have .

There were only a few counter protesters on campus; two men waved giant Israeli flags outside the Butler Library. Pro-Palestinian students did not appear to be engaging with them.

Some Jewish students are a part of the encampment. Others say they feel unsafe. Columbia University has said that it does “not want to deprive thousands of students and their families and friends of a graduation celebration” and that it must “take into account the rights of all members of our community.”

Darializa Avila Chevalier, an Afro-Latina alumnus of Columbia University’s class of 2016 and former member of Students for Justice in Palestine, showed up on Monday afternoon, too.

Avila Chevalier points out that Columbia University has previously given in to similar divestment demands from protesters during South African apartheid and as recently as 2015, when it divested from private prisons. “The students have had a demand that is not only reasonable and concrete but it’s also a demand that the university has heeded before,” she says. “It’s not unprecedented at all.”

Asked about her response to some politicians’ and administrators’ characterization of encampments as threats to Jewish safety, she stresses that many organizers are Jewish. “What I do think it’s a threat to is these institutions and the violence that they inflict on everyday people here and abroad. That’s what terrifies our establishment politicians.”

Protests have spread rapidly across the country—along with swift police crackdowns. On Monday, more than a dozen students and faculty occupied an administrative office at Princeton University after it expelled two graduate students. Earlier in the day, in Arizona reported obtained video showing police removing a women’s hijab at Arizona State University. Legal sources told ABC15 that this happened to four women. Last week, a video of a police officer dragging an Emory University professor to the ground and charging her with simple battery went viral.