In Colombia, protests continued with dancing and pizza

New tents appeared on the campus of Columbia – one, two, three. It was a defiant gesture by student activists angry Thursday afternoon over the university's decision to call police to remove a camp used to protest the Israel-Hamas war.

If university officials thought that dismantling the camp or arresting more than 100 protesters would make students desert, they may have been sorely mistaken.

By Thursday night, the tents had disappeared. But a large number of students took over a campus lawn. Planning to stay overnight, they were in high spirits without eating donated pizza and snacks. An impromptu dance party even broke out.

“Police presence and arrests have not deterred us in any way,” said Laila Saliba, 24, a Palestinian-American student at the School of Social Work, at a news conference organized by Apartheid Divest, a coalition of student groups.

“If anything, all of their oppression of us — it's motivated us. It's moved us.

At a time when some campuses are ablaze with student activism for the Palestinian cause — the kind that has disrupted awards ceremonies, student parties and classes — college administrators are grappling with the same questions Columbia considered this week: Will more drastic tactics quell the protests? Or fuel them?

Columbia's president, Nemad Shafiq, said the decision to bring in law enforcement came a day after a landmark congressional hearing in which he said the university's leaders now agreed that some contested phrases — such as “from the river to the sea” — might warrant discipline. .

He has been widely criticized by academic freedom experts for failing to stand up to lawmakers who want him to trample on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

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On Thursday, Ms. Shafiq wrote to the campus that she was taking “an extraordinary step due to extraordinary circumstances.”

The camp, he said, “severely disrupts campus life and creates a harassing and intimidating environment for many of our students.”

The students who made up the camp, he said, “violated a long list of rules and policies.”

Other schools have also turned to drastic measures. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and Brown University have recently taken action against student protesters. Arrests.

Leaders at schools like Vanderbilt and Pomona advocated suspending or expelling student protesters, saying they were not interested in dialogue but rather disruptive.

Alex Morey, a campus rights attorney for the Free Speech and Legal Defense Group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, said “there may be good reasons” to expel students who violate neutrally applied policies.

But, he added, Columbia compromised itself when Ms. Shafiq suggested to Congress that, among other things, the university could have investigated students and faculty for protected speech. “It's very troubling,” Ms. Morey said, adding that Columbia and other universities have continued to use and view-neutral policies as a way out of this mess.

Angus Johnston, a historian who studies and supports student activism, said he sees echoes of another protest in what's happening today.

In April 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, Columbia and Barnard students stormed five campus buildings, occupying the president's office and paralyzing university operations.

A week later, police moved in to quell the protests, leading to more than 700 arrests. Officers stomped on protesters, hit them with nightsticks, punched and kicked them and dragged them down the stairs.

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Outrage over the arrests helped the students. They championed demands such as severing ties with the Pentagon on Vietnam War research and amnesty for demonstrators.

The 1968 strike, Mr. Johnston said. After the deaths of students at Kent State and Jackson State, Mr. Johnston said.

The tactics of student protesters at Columbia today are far more sinister than those used in 1968, Mr. Johnston added.

“When I first read about it, I assumed they took over a building, right?” Mr. Johnston said. “But, no, they took over a lawn. It's the least disruptive way to occupy space on a campus.

“I'm very concerned about a spiral where suppression of opposition leads to more aggressive opposition,” he added.

On Thursday night, at least 250 Columbia students gathered to cheer on their classmates as they left One Police Plaza in midtown Manhattan after being arrested the previous day.

Catherine Elias, 26, is a postgraduate student at the School of International and Public Affairs. Part of a small group of students setting up camp. About 36 hours later, police zip-tied her wrists and loaded her into a police bus with about 20 chanting and singing protesters.

Eventually they were summoned and released. Ms. Ilyas plans to go back and protest.

“I'm sure there's going to be a spark today across Columbia, across campuses in the U.S.,” he said, “and Columbia doesn't know what they've unleashed.”

Olivia Bensimon Contributed report.

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