What we know about the protests erupting on college campuses across America | CNN (2024)

What we know about the protests erupting on college campuses across America | CNN (1)

Protesters link arms at an encampment where students are protesting in support of Palestinians, at Emerson College.

New York CNN

College campuses across the United States have erupted with pro-Palestinian protests, and school administrators are trying — and largely failing — to defuse the situation.

Tensions on US college campuses have risen since Hamas’ October 7 attack, when militants killed about 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostages. Israel’s retaliatory assault on Gaza has killedmore than 34,000 people, according to its health ministry.

Reports of antisemitic acts have surged across America and particularly on campus since October 7. Islamophobia has run rampant, too. The recent surge in protests have inflamed those tensions, forcing leadership to decide when free speech on campus crosses a line and becomes threatening.

Several schools have called the police on protesters, leading to the arrests of hundreds across multiple campuses.

When did the current conflict start?

The situation escalated last week at Columbia University when the university’s president,Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, testified before a House committeeabout the school’s response to charges of campus antisemitism. A pro-Palestinian protest kicked off on campus at the same time.

Following her testimony, Shafik requested in a letter released by the university that the New York City Police Department remove people who were encamped on the South Lawn of the campus who were “in violation of the University’s rules and policies” and trespassing. More than 100 people were arrested, according to law enforcement.

The encampments were organized byColumbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD),a student-led coalition of more than 100 organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestineand Jewish Voice for Peace,to protestwhat they describe asthe university’s “continued financial investment in corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and military occupation of Palestine,” according to its news release.

Where else is this happening?

Since last Thursday, other college campuses have faced similar protests and encampments, as well as arrests.

Pro-Palestinian encampments have been set up at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Emerson College, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley. On Wednesday, policearrested nearly 100 protestersat the University of Southern California after a dispersal order.

Yale University policearrested at least 45 protesters Mondayand charged them with criminal trespassing after they refused orders to leave, though dozens of protesters remained Tuesday morning.

Harvard University closed Harvard Yard and officials at the school suspended a pro-Palestinian student organization for allegedly violating school policies.

Meanwhile, nine people were arrested Tuesday at theUniversity of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campusafter they formed an encampment that went against school policy.

Students, faculty and staff at theUniversity of New Mexicopeacefully protested Monday in support of Gaza, the university said in a statement Tuesday.

More than 100 people were arrested Wednesday at Emerson College in Boston during a pro-Palestinian protest, according to the Boston Police Department.

What we know about the protests erupting on college campuses across America | CNN (2)

Demonstrators and Texas state troopers stand off during a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas in Austin on Wednesday.

What do they want?

Pro-Palestinian protestersat Columbia said they won’t disperse until the school agrees to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions and commits to a “complete divestment” of its funds from entities connected to Israel, among other demands.

Protesters at other campuses are making similar demands, calling on campuses to divest from companies that sell weapons, construction equipment, technology services and other items to Israel.

Columbia officials warned earlier this week that the encampment violates school rules but did not provide specific disciplinary consequences. Officials also pushed back on assertions from protesters that the school threatened it would bring in the National Guard to help address the pro-Palestinian protest encampment.

Jewish reaction

Passover, a major Jewish holiday, began this week, heightening fears among a number of Jewish students who have heard antisemitic comments at some of the protests. The atmosphere was so charged that Columbia officials announced students can attend classes and even possibly take exams virtually starting Monday.

Underscoring concerns about student safety, Rabbi Elie Buechler, a rabbi associated with Columbia University’s Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, sent a WhatsApp message to a group of about 300 mostly Orthodox Jewish students “strongly” recommending they return home and remain there.

Buechler wrote that recent events at the university “have made it clear that Columbia University’s Public Safety and the NYPD cannot guarantee Jewish students’ safety.”

Throughout Passover, there will be a police presence at the Kraft Center, a Jewish cultural center shared by Columbia and Barnard, and campus public safety will provide walking escorts to and from the building starting Monday, according to an email from Brian Cohen, the center’s executive director.

Chabad, a Jewish organization at the University,said on Facebookthey’ve hired additional security to protect students during Passover. They said they were “horrified by what we witnessed last night on and near Columbia’s campus,” but still planned to host Passover celebrations on campus.

A group of Jewish and non-Jewish studentsgathered at the encampment to celebrate PassoverSeder Monday night. Columbia student Cameron Jones told CNN: “I am Jewish and, to me, Passover symbolizes perseverance and resilience. I think this encampment represents those two ideals because we have seen the university take countless measures to try to suppress our student activism, and here is us persevering through that.”

What are political leaders saying?

On Wednesday, House SpeakerMike Johnsoncalled onColumbia University’spresident to resign during a tensenewsconference where the crowd repeatedly interrupted the speaker and at times loudly booed him and other GOP lawmakers who were with him as they stood at themicrophones on Columbia’s campus.

“We just can’t allow this kind of hatred andantisemitismto flourish on our campuses, and it must be stopped in its tracks. Those who are perpetrating this violence should be arrested. I am here today joining my colleagues, and calling on President Shafik to resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” Johnson said.

He was joined by New York Reps. Mike Lawler, Nicole Malliotakis and others in the New York GOP delegation.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, condemned the way administrators like Shafik have handled the issue on behalf of the student protesters. Her comment came a day after a fellow New York Democrat, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, accused Columbia of caving to “right-wing pressure.”

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for President Joe Biden said he was “of course aware” of pro-Palestinian protests that have roiled college campuses across the country.

US Education Sec. Miguel Cardonasaid Tuesdayhe is “deeply concerned” about incidents of antisemitism at Columbia University and pointed to a previously opened Civil Rights investigation into the university for violations involving antisemitic harassment.

What will happen to Shafik?

National political leaders, including Speaker Johnson, ratcheted up the pressure for Shafik to step down.

Shafik is an Egypt-born academic and economic policy expert who has been president of the Ivy League university since July 2023. Shafik’s family fled Egypt in the 1960s, when the country was in the midst of political and economic turmoil,according to Columbia, and was previously the president of the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was raised in the American South.

The Columbia University Board of Trustees released a statement Wednesday saying they strongly support President Shafik. The board said it is “urgently working” with her to resolve the unrest on campus and “rebuild the bonds of our community.”

The growing unrest on college campuses,along with a rise in antisemitism, has led to numerous congressional hearings and, at least in part, to the resignation of two Ivy League presidents — Claudine Gay at Harvard University and Liz Magill at the University of Pennsylvania.

What we know about the protests erupting on college campuses across America | CNN (2024)

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