Columbia University: Students Barricade Themselves, Administration Begins Suspensions

Dozens of protesters occupied a building at Columbia University in New York today, barricaded the entrances and displayed the Palestinian flag through the window

by Sededin Dedovic
Columbia University: Students Barricade Themselves, Administration Begins Suspensions
© Alex Kent / Getty Images

Dozens of protesters occupied a building at Columbia University in New York today, barricaded the entrances and displayed the Palestinian flag through the window, in the latest escalation of demonstrations against the war between Israel and Hamas that have spread to university campuses across the United States, reports the Associated Press (AP).

According to the AP, videos circulating on social media showed protesters on the Manhattan campus placing furniture and metal barricades in front of Hamilton Hall, one of several that were "occupied" during both civil rights protests and against the 1968 Vietnam War.

The organizers of the protest posted on Instagram shortly after midnight (US time) calling on people to protect the camp and join them at Hamilton Hall. Pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University ignored an ultimatum that expired yesterday, the Guardian reports, to leave their camp or risk suspension.

The university said it had begun the suspensions. "We have begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure the safety of our campus," the university said on its website. "When disciplinary action is initiated, decision-making is handled by several different units within the university based on the nature of the offense."

Demonstrators supporting Palestinians in Gaza barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall, where the office of the Dean is located© Alex Kent / Getty Images

The ultimatum, which sets a Monday deadline of 2 p.m., came after university president Minush Shafik announced that attempts to reach a compromise with protest organizers had failed.

She said that the institution will not give in to the demands. In a statement, the protest organizers accused the university of "violent escalation" and expressed their readiness to intensify their actions in response. "Today's threat comes after several days of unsuccessful negotiations in which the university refused to seriously consider our demands for divestment, financial transparency and amnesty for students and faculty disciplined in the Palestinian liberation movement," the statement added.

Columbia's New York campus has become the center of a series of college protests across the US against Israel's six-month war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, displaced hundreds of thousands more and brought the coastal territory to the brink of famine.

The demonstrations sparked accusations of anti-Semitism amid reports from Jewish students that they had been subjected to threats and insults.

: Demonstrators at Columbia University picket around the encampment established in support of Palestinians in Gaza on April 29, © Alex Kent / Getty Images

In response, protest activists claimed that accusations of anti-Semitism had been ramped up in an attempt to silence criticism of Israel.

As the death toll in the Gaza war rises, protesters across the US are demanding that universities cut financial ties to Israel and stop working with companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have turned into anti-Semitism and they are afraid to set foot on campus.

The decisions to call the police, which led to hundreds of arrests across the US, prompted college board members in California, Georgia and Texas to initiate or vote no confidence in their leadership. These are mostly symbolic reprimands, without the authority to remove them.

But the tensions are piling pressure on university authorities as they scramble to deal with the protests as May's graduation ceremonies approach. California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, gave protesters barricaded in the building Monday until Friday afternoon to leave "to avoid arrest." That deadline has passed.

Only some of the demonstrators left, but others came and there were twice as many in total. AFTER protesters repelled police this week, the campus was closed until the end of the semester. In Colorado, police swept through a student encampment at Denver's tri-university Auraria campus on Friday, arresting about 40 protesters on trespassing charges.

Students representing the Columbia campus that has inspired a wave of protests across the U.S. said Friday they had reached an impasse with administrators and intended to continue their protest. After meetings Thursday and Friday, student negotiators said the university had not met their primary demand for divestment, although there had been progress in efforts to make financial disclosures more transparent.

"We will not rest while Columbia is being sold," said Jonathan Ben Menachem, a fourth-year doctoral student. In a letter to Columbia students Friday night, the university's leadership said it "supports ongoing discussions with the camp's student leaders." A report by the University Senate's executive committee found that the administration took "many actions and decisions that harmed Columbia University," including calling the police and allowing students to be arrested without consulting faculty, misrepresenting student protest groups, and hiring private investigators. The situation is getting more and more complicated, the next few days will be exciting.

New York