Once Again Students Are Leading The Charge


Jordan Meadows, Staff Writer

What began as a localized movement at Columbia University in New York has morphed into a nationwide confrontation between students and administrators regarding anti-war protests and the boundaries of free speech on college campuses. 

Over the past 10 days, the wave of demonstrations has led to the arrest, suspension, probation, and expulsion of thousands of students across various colleges, including Yale University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Virginia Tech, and Vanderbilt University.

Since Friday, UNC-Chapel Hill has held a Gaza Solidarity Encampment which saw more than two dozen arrests on Tuesday morning, with police detaining pro-Palestinian protesters who refused to leave the site. 

Tensions escalated as protesters clashed with law enforcement, leading to confrontations and scenes of individuals being taken away in zip ties. Some of the students arrested were not UNC students and did not have any affiliation with the university.

The “Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment” expanded its ranks as more protesters, including students from NC State University and Duke University, joined UNC-Chapel Hill students in their call for divestment from companies associated with Israel.

In 2022 alone, North Carolina imported $303 million worth of Israeli goods, with the largest import being electric machinery. The state exported $146.8 million worth of goods to Israel — mainly pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, and nuclear reactors. North Carolina ranks 19th in the country in exports to Israel. At least 25 Israeli companies have offices or manufacturing plants in North Carolina.

Across the country, from the University of Texas at Austin to Portland University, students have mobilized in support of Palestine, leading to clashes with authorities, vandalism, and, in some cases, arrests.

Columbia University is the epicenter of the nationwide university protests, where students erected encampments in solidarity with Palestine on April 17.

The demonstrators demanded that the universities cease all investment in Israel or companies that are seen as supporting its war effort. The response of the authorities, including the NYPD, was tough, with critics of the protests referring to incidents of anti-Semitism. About 100 protesters were arrested at Columbia the next day, and more taking place this week.

Early on Tuesday morning, Columbia students broke into and occupied a building on campus and barricaded the doors. The move came as the university started suspending students who refused to leave the encampment after an announced deadline had passed. On Tuesday evening, NYPD officers breached the building in riot gear, making dozens of arrests.

Over 1,000 alumni from Columbia University wrote a letter to the school’s president, Minouche Shafik, on Monday demanding the removal of “illegal encampments” and to “immediately restore safety for all students.”

The letter pointed out how over the past week, suspended students defied decrees by returning to the encampment and students allegedly tried to intimidate a Jewish student in a “zionist free zone.”

Police arrested pro-Palestinian protesters at Virginia Commonwealth University on Monday night after a video showed authorities carrying shields and pepper spray clashing with members of an encampment.

The University of Florida said protesters who broke the rules face being banned from campus for three years and suspended from the college. One person was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer for allegedly spitting on a police officer as a protest was broken up at the university. 

Some demonstrations around the country have included harassment, antisemitic threats, or support for Hamas, the group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7, sparking a war in Gaza. A UCLA official reported incidents of violence between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine demonstrators on Sunday.

The crackdown on demonstrations has sparked debates over the balance between free speech and campus regulations. More than 40 different universities are participating nationwide, and has even spread into other countries like Canada and France.

The movement, which initially began as a call for support against the Israel-Hamas conflict, has evolved into demands for broader issues like housing rights and police accountability. At Columbia University, protesters are demanding support for low-income Harlem residents, including housing and reparations, and calling for the university to “disclose and sever all ties” with the New York Police Department. 

There have been over 1,200 arrests made so far related to pro-Palestinian protests and encampments on college campuses across the country.

According to a tweet by the UNC Students for Justice in Palestine, the organizer of the Gaza Solidarity Encampments, all arrested students at the university from Tuesday morning have been released. They did not disclose by what means or if they were ever charged. 

Many universities are discussing cancellations of graduation ceremonies due to safety concerns. The University of Southern California has already canceled its main commencement ceremony.

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