Campus Protests: Students Suspended After Gaza Solidarity Encampment

College protesters seek amnesty to keep arrests and suspensions from trailing them

Campus Protests: Students Suspended After Gaza Solidarity Encampment

Maryam Alwan thought the worst had passed after New York City police arrested her and fellow protesters on the Columbia University campus. However, the situation escalated when she received an email from the university, announcing her suspension along with other students involved in the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” This tactic, seen across various campuses, aims to quell protests against the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Plight of Suspended Students:
The suspension of students like Alwan has sparked widespread protests, with both students and faculty advocating for their amnesty. The issue revolves around whether universities and law enforcement will drop charges and refrain from imposing further consequences, or if suspensions and legal records will haunt students in their future endeavors.

Variation in Suspension Terms:
Terms of the suspensions vary from campus to campus. At Columbia and its affiliated Barnard College for women, Alwan and dozens more were arrested April 18 and promptly barred from campus and classes, unable to attend in-person or virtually, and banned from dining halls.

Uncertainty About Academic Futures:
Questions about their academic futures remain. Will they be allowed to take final exams? What about financial aid? Graduation? Columbia says outcomes will be decided at disciplinary hearings, but Alwan says she has not been given a date.

Nationwide Impact of Protests:
What started at Columbia has turned into a nationwide showdown between students and administrators over anti-war protests and the limits of free speech. In the past 10 days, hundreds of students have been arrested, suspended, put on probation and, in rare cases, expelled from colleges including Yale University, the University of Southern California, Vanderbilt University and the University of Minnesota.

Faculty Support and Negotiations:
More than 100 Barnard and Columbia faculty staged a “Rally to Support Our Students” last week condemning the student arrests and demanding suspensions be lifted.

Campus Demands and Negotiations:
Columbia is still pushing to remove the tent encampment on the campus main lawn where graduation is set to be hosted May 15. The students have demanded the school cuts ties with Israel-linked companies and ensure amnesty for students and faculty arrested or disciplined in connection with the protests. Talks with the student protesters are continuing, said Ben Chang, a Columbia spokesperson.

Concerns for International Students:
For international students facing suspension, there is the added fear of losing their visas, said Radhika Sainath, an attorney with Palestine Legal, which helped a group of Columbia students file a federal civil rights complaint against the school Thursday. It accuses Columbia of not doing enough to address discrimination against Palestinian students.

Challenges of Graduation Season:
May commencement ceremonies add pressure to clear demonstrations. University officials say arrests and suspensions are a last resort, and that they give ample warnings beforehand to clear protest areas.

Expulsions and Protests at Vanderbilt University:
Vanderbilt University in Tennessee has issued what are believed to be the only student expulsions related to protesting the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to the Institute for Middle Eastern Understanding. More than two dozen students occupied the university chancellor’s office for several hours on March 26, prompting the university to summon police and arrest several protesters. Vanderbilt then issued three expulsions, one suspension and put 22 protesters on probation.

Faculty Criticism and Student Perspectives:
In an open letter to Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, more than 150 Vanderbilt professors criticized the university’s crackdown as “excessive and punitive.” Freshman Jack Petocz, 19, one of those expelled, is being allowed to attend classes while he appeals. He has been evicted from his dorm and is living off campus. Petocz said protesting in high school was what helped get him into Vanderbilt and secure a merit scholarship for activists and organizers. His college essay was about organizing walkouts in rural Florida to oppose Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ policies.

The ongoing protests and suspensions highlight the tension between free speech and inclusivity on college campuses, particularly regarding contentious international issues like the Israel-Hamas conflict.

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Lily Nguyen

Lily is a sophomore in university studying journalism. She writes for the student newspaper and enjoys crafting feature articles on local artists and cultural events. Her writing is lively and colorful, filled with vivid descriptions and engaging interviews. Lily dreams of becoming a cultural correspondent, bringing lesser-known stories to the forefront.