Thursday, May 23, 2024

Columbia Campus in Turmoil as Protesters Seize Building

HomeU.S.Columbia Campus in Turmoil as Protesters Seize Building

In a dramatic escalation of tensions on Columbia University’s campus, pro-Palestinian student protesters occupied a major academic building early Tuesday, barricading themselves inside and vowing to remain until their demands are met.

The occupation of Hamilton Hall began around 12:30 a.m., shortly after the university suspended students who had maintained a weeks-long “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” nearby. Hundreds of other students rapidly formed human chains outside the building, chanting “Shut it down!” as campus security officers looked on.

“We will not leave until Columbia meets every one of our demands,” shouted a protester from a balcony of the building that houses many humanities classrooms and offices. Their demands include university divestment from Israel, disclosure of Columbia’s investments, and protections for the protesters.

The dramatic scenes unfolded in the same stately Renaissance Revival building seized by student protesters advocating for civil rights and against the Vietnam War in 1968 – an iconic demonstration that helped spark a wave of campus uprisings nationwide that year.

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“This escalation is in line with the historical student movements of 1968, 1985, and 1996, which Columbia repressed then and celebrates today,” wrote the group Columbia University Apartheid Divest, which organized the protests, on Instagram.

Inside Hamilton Hall on Tuesday morning, the protesters barricaded doors with chairs and broke at least one window, according to a university staff member who was briefly trapped inside during the takeover before being allowed to leave with a minor injury.

“They swarmed the building,” said the staffer, who asked not to be named for safety reasons. “I got into a scuffle with a couple of them. They finally let us out.”

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By midmorning, the protesters had unfurled banners depicting Palestinian suffering from the windows, including one reading “Hinds Hall” – an apparent reference to 6-year-old Hind Rajab killed in a recent Israeli airstrike on Gaza.

“Today we take this building in honor of Hinds and every Palestinian martyr,” a protester shouted from the balcony below another sign bearing the Arabic word “intifada,” or uprising.

The highly visible and disruptive protest quickly attracted significant media attention, while prompting Columbia to downplay the situation publicly. A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the specifics of the protest or whether meeting the demands was under consideration.

The New York Police Department, which requires high-level university approval before entering the private campus grounds, declined to comment on whether they had been requested to intervene. By late morning, just a handful of campus public safety officers could be seen monitoring the ongoing occupation from the outside.

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The escalation comes amid rising campus activism around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the latest eruption of hostilities in Gaza. The protests have stirred raw debates around academic freedom, campus safety and the boundaries of civil disobedience.

For the protesters in Hamilton Hall barricaded on the storied grounds where the modern student movement arguably took shape, the occupation represents a renewal of Columbia’s legacy of driving societal change through audacious acts of defiance.

Whether university administrators ultimately allow the protest to persist – or choose to employ more forceful tactics to regain control of the prime campus real estate – remains to be seen as the dramatic standoff unfolds.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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