Protests Roil Columbia, Yale, NYU & Harvard

Columbia University moved all classes online as tensions over war in the Middle East persisted on the New York City campus Monday (April 22).

It’s a full-blown crisis that comes in the wake of both a mass arrest involving more than 100 pro-Palestinian students on the university’s South Lawn last Thursday, and a contentious House hearinginvolving President Minouche Shafik on Capitol Hill the day before.

Similar turmoil ensued a few hours north at Yale University as about 45 student protesters were arrested and removed from the Connecticut campus at about 6:40 a.m. Monday. In addition to being charged with a misdemeanor of trespassing, the Yale students have been referred for academic disciplinary action, which could include suspension.

Harvard also cracked down, restricting access to the core of its campus, known as the Harvard Yard, until Friday afternoon.

At NYU, protests at the Stern School of Business turned disruptive Monday; the NYPD intervened at NYU’s request (see statement below) and eventually made scores of arrests — including, reportedly, some faculty members.

Jewish Students Advised to Leave

The moves from the universities came just hours before the Jewish holiday of Passover commenced and reflect the ongoing challenge college administrators across the country face as they navigate the fine line between free speech and hate speech and receive criticism from students, faculty members and lawmakers from all sides.

Over the weekend, pro-Palestinian students at Columbia regrouped, seemingly unafraid of the potential for further arrests.

Sitting on the lawn once again, they prayed, chanted and took turns speaking on behalf of the people trapped in Gaza. But just outside the campus gates, non–university- affiliated groups, also protesting Israel’s actions, yelled more vehement phrases including: “Long live the Intifada!” and “Hamas, we love you. We support your rockets, too!”

There have been mixed thoughts on how Jewish students should respond, but many are recommending that they return home for their own safety.

Over the weekend, Brian Cohen, executive director of Columbia/Barnard Hillel, an active campus organization, released a public statement saying that despite ongoing unrest, the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life will remain open.

“We do not believe that Jewish students should leave @Columbia. We do believe that the University and the City need to do more to ensure the safety of our students,” the organization added in a post on X. An updated statement Monday reaffirmed that the center will stay open, but also offered to help connect students who wanted to relocate with local alumni.

But Eric Schorr, a former Israel Defense Force intelligence officer, responded with a post of his ownsaying he “disagree[d] with the Hillel’s position” and “wholeheartedly” suggests that “Jewish students not only leave campus but potentially seek new institutions for their continued education.”

Elie Buechler, an Orthodox Union rabbi who partners with Hillel, told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that he had sent a message to about 300 mostly Orthodox Jewish students “strongly” recommending that they go home and saying that recent events “have made it clear that Columbia University’s Public Safety and the NYPD cannot guarantee Jewish students’ safety in the face of extreme antisemitism and anarchy.”

Shafik has said that students who don’t live on campus should stay away for now. But in a note to the Columbia community in the wee hours of Monday morning, the president wrote she was “deeply saddened” by what was happening and said that as “students across an array of communities have conveyed fears for their safety” the campus will continue to take additional actions to address security concerns.

“These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset,” she wrote. Many people are experiencing “deep moral distress” and want to take action over the war in the Middle East, but there are diverse views on how best to do this, she said. “We cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view,” Shafik added.

The New York Police Department held a briefingoutside the university’s main entrance at 116th Street and Broadway Monday to address the concerns about the ongoing protests. Michael Gerber, the department’s deputy commissioner of legal matters, stressed that since Columbia University is private property, “The nature of police action … is very different.” It is treated “as if it were any private home,” he said.

In this sense, he stated that it is ultimately up to university officials to decide on the extent of NYPD presence on campus. The streets surrounding the university, however, are public property. In that scenario, he said, there is currently a “very large police presence” to prevent crime and violence, but the NYPD is “always going to protect people’s First Amendment rights.”

Columbia’s president did not say when in-person classes would resume, but did note that a working group of deans, school administrators and faculty will try to find a resolution in the days to come.

Protesters Take to the Streets

At Yale, classes have yet to be canceled, but protests raged on.

Local reporting suggests the initial encampment of pro-Palestinian students, which began Friday night, grew to hundreds of individuals throughout the weekend, although only about 45 students were arrested Monday morning. Others either left voluntarily or were people with no Yale affiliation

University administrators say that they made repeated efforts over the weekend to de-escalate the protests, offering student leaders a meeting with trustees and warning them that they could avoid arrest if they left the plaza by the end of the weekend.

“Faculty and staff have been providing the students resources for free expression … and have made clear that the university supports free speech and civil discourse,” President Peter Salovey wrote in a public statement Sunday. However, “Defying the directives of university officials, staying in campus spaces past allowed times, and other acts that violate university policies and guidelines create safety hazards and impede the work of our university … Yale will pursue disciplinary actions according to its policies.”

And that’s exactly what it did.

“The university made the decision to arrest those individuals who would not leave the plaza with the safety and security of the entire Yale community in mind to allow access to university facilities by all members of our community,” university leadership said in a second statement.

Shortly after the arrests took place on campus, a swarm of at least 200 protesters regrouped at Grove and College Street, blocking a busy intersection.

Videos from the scene show people waving Palestinian flags and carrying signs, as a drummer led the demonstrators in chants. They yelled, “The trustees run the trustees hide, they do take part in genocide.”

According to the Yale Daily News, a student newspaper, and local media sources, between 10 and 15 New Haven police officers were on the scene, with Chief Karl Jacobson standing at the center of the intersection. As of midday, Jacobson said there were no plans to disperse the crowd unless protesters began to set up tents, in which case he and his officers would “immediately” disperse the entire crowd.

While the police say there have been no reports of violence either today or at any point during the on-campus sit-in, one Yale student journalist, Sahar Tartak, said she was stabbed in the eye because of her identity as a Jew.

“I wish I could say I was surprised, but since October 7, Yale has refused to take action against students glorifying violence,” Tartak wrote in The Free Press, an independent newsgroup founded by the former New York Times reporter Bari Weiss. “Yesterday, I paid the price for their inaction.”

Tartak described herself as a “visibly observant Jew,” saying she wore a large Star of David around her neck as she approached the tent encampment to document the demonstration. She said she was quickly walled off by organizers who linked arms, taunting her for trying to pass through, and before long, was directly encircled. That’s when she says “a six-foot-something” male protester who was “masked and wearing a keffiyeh” waved a Palestinian flag in her face and then used the flag pole to stab her in her left eye.

“I went to the Yale police, but they offered little in the way of assistance,” she said. “Given Yale’s permissiveness, I had the sinking feeling that someone would get hurt. I just didn’t expect it to be me.”

Students Elsewhere Stand in Solidarity

Pro-Palestinian protests extended well beyond Columbia and Yale. Students at colleges including the Universities of Michigan and Maryland, as well as Ohio State, New York Universities and colleges across Boston have sought to support their peers at the Ivy institutions by establishing encampments of their own.

Many of the groups are calling on their respective administrators to divest from suppliers of arms to Israel and call for a cease fire on Gaza. Others have released public statements opposing the increasing crackdown on protests, saying it violates their right to free speech and that speaking upfor the people of Palestine itself is not antisemitic.

About 100 blocks south of Columbia in Greenwich Village, protests and the potential for arrests were also looming over students at NYU. Tents were assembled early Monday morning at Gould Plaza, an open area just outside the school of business. Under university policy, it was expected that students would vacate the premises by 4 p.m.

But, according to Washington Square News, five large city police department vans had arrived at the intersection between Washington Place and Washington Square East around 5 p.m., and more than 15 officers were seen walking toward Gould Plaza. No arrests had been made as of 5:30 p.m.

The Boston Globe reported that dozens of students at Boston University walked out of class on Friday in support of their Columbia peers, and NBC Bostonsays similar efforts are emerging through encampments at Emerson College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University. Across the board, students and campus groups say they don’t have plans to stop protesting anytime soon.

“Pro-Palestinian students are most heavily targeted by the administration,” Eliana González, a senior at Boston University studying psychology, told the Globe. “The point of these protests is to disrupt and to bring awareness.”

González also noted that after watching student protesters at Columbia and nearby Emerson face arrest, she and others at BU have begun writing the phone number of the National Lawyers Guild in black marker on their forearms and wearing face masks to avoid being identified.


NYU spokesperson John Beckman made this statement late Monday (April 22) on the demonstration on the plaza in front of the business school:

“Today’s events did not need to lead to this outcome.

“This morning, some 50 protesters began a demonstration on the plaza in front of the business school. This occurred without notice to the University, and without authorization. The University closed access to the plaza, put barriers in place, and made clear that we were not going to allow additional protesters to join because the protests were already considerably disruptive of classes and other operations in schools around the plaza.

“Nonetheless we made no move to clear the plaza at that point because high among the University’s aims was to avoid any escalation or violence. So, the University was deeply disturbed when, early this afternoon, additional protesters, many of whom we believe were not affiliated with NYU, suddenly breached the barriers that had been put in place at the north side of the plaza and joined the others already on the plaza. This breach was in violation of directions from Campus Safety Officers and in violation of multiple University rules.

“This development dramatically changed the situation. We witnessed disorderly, disruptive, and antagonizing behavior that has interfered with the safety and security of our community, and that demonstrated how quickly a demonstration can get out of control or people can get hurt. At one point, we explained to the protesters that they needed to disband in an hour, and there would be no adverse consequences.

“Nevertheless, many refused to leave. We also learned that there were intimidating chants and several antisemitic incidents reported. Given the foregoing and the safety issues raised by the breach, we asked for assistance from the NYPD. The police urged those on the plaza to leave peacefully, but ultimately made a number of arrests.

“We will continue to support individuals’ right to freedom of expression, and, as we have said since October, the safety of our students and maintaining an equitable learning environment remain paramount.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.