Comment & Analysis
May 6, 2024

The Students of Columbia University Inspire Students Around the World

Reporting on the escalation at Columbia University on the night of the April 31st, seen as a protester from the streets outside the university, Fiona Lüling asks whether this is the end of the student protests.

Photo by Gabriella Gregor Splaver for The Columbia Spectator

Trinity needs to know what happened to students like us in New York on the night of April 31st. Students who went to Trinity. Students who protested peacefully for solidarity with Palestine, for divestment from companies that support Israel, and for amnesty for those who used their freedom of speech and got suspended. Who are we, if we allow injustice to rule? What good is our education if our voices aren’t heard?  

For a second time Columbia’s president called on the NYPD to intervene after students took over a building in addition to their peaceful encampment of the main square in Columbia University. They renamed the occupied Hamilton Hall ‘Hind’s Hall’ in memory of a six-year-old Palestinian girl killed by the Israeli IOF. After successful occupation they dropped the Palestinian flag from the windows. Since this action on the evening of April 29th, in response to Columbia President Minouche Shafik’s statement that ‘the university will not divest from Israel’, as stated in the official announcement, things heated up quickly. From the early hours of April 31st, helicopters circled the city as the university was put on lockdown. Nobody who did not live on campus was allowed to enter. Meeting Columbia students demonstrating on the streets around the university they reported that many were suspended throughout the day. Some got suspended who had not been in the camp for days or during the occupation. In the afternoon more police kept on rolling in but more demonstrators arrived as well. Columbia University was turned into an island, surrounded by closed-off streets. This was presumably a move by the NYPD after their attempted eviction on Monday failed due to the protesters blocking the gates and the huge support from faculty and students within the university protecting the encampment. During this first attempt protesters marched for hours under extreme heat conditions around the encampment. 

Later on Tuesday, the next intensified measure, a ‘shelter-in-place’ order by the police, was implemented, forbidding the residents of the neighbourhood to leave their buildings, but those outside were stuck and unable to go home for hours. The press and legal observers were also forced to leave the campus. Those who should be there to ensure that all police actions are in accordance with the law. Leaving it a space with no official evidence of the actions taking place (phone videos by the protesters inside revealed some of the details of the night). 


More police in riot gear arrived in the evening hours. However, until they received an official order from Minouche to enter the Columbia campus, they were unable to do so because it is private property. After around one hour of standing in formation opposed to the ongoing rallies, they must have received the final order. In unimaginable numbers they were entering the campus. The demonstrators tried to get as close as possible to the campus to support the students from the outside, but were blocked and surrounded. Arriving on Amsterdam Ave, a truck was used to enter the second floor of Hind’s Hall from the outside. But what were the actual allegations against the students for arresting them? To mention only some, the students were charged for illegal trespassing as a consequence of being suspended there were not legally allowed on Columbia’s private property, moreover suspension letters talked about creating a hostile atmosphere on campus. One by one, students were arrested and led past the demonstrating crowd to the police vans. The chants of “Freedom for Palestine” continued. Some were even carried out being held on their limbs. Then leaflets were thrown from the windows of the university. These leaflets with the Palestinian flag on the backside demanded to continue protesting and keeping the main goal in mind, freedom for Palestine. This was reminiscent of the actions of the White Rose, the non-violent group of students from the University of Munich who protested against Nazism in 1942/1943. After more than 12 days of peaceful demonstrations, the NYPD managed to clear all the buildings and the entire camp by around 11pm when buses filled with protesters were leaving. 

What was left after this was the deserted camp. But more importantly, what remains is the unbroken spirit of the students when history repeats itself. As in 1968, when students already camped on the university campus, the police reacted violently after negotiations had failed. However, more and more voices for justice rise around the universities around the world.

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