College protestors demand amnesty for tuition, legal charges, grades, and graduation.

Police officers wearing riot gear forcefully disbanded a camp that had been set up on the grounds of Northeastern University in Boston. While doing so, they faced opposition from a group of students who expressed their disapproval through shouts and boos from afar.

Maryam Alwan thought that the worst was behind her when the New York City police, dressed in riot gear, apprehended her and a group of protesters at Columbia University. They were then transported on buses and kept in custody for several hours.

The following evening, the university sent an email to the college junior, informing them of their suspension. Alwan and several other students were suspended due to their arrests at the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” This strategy is being used by colleges nationwide to quell the escalating campus protests against the Israel-Hamas war.

The students’ struggle has emerged as a focal point of protests, as both students and an increasing number of faculty members call for their amnesty. The main question at hand is whether universities and law enforcement will dismiss the charges and refrain from imposing additional consequences, or if the suspensions and legal records will continue to impact the students into their future as adults.

At Columbia and its affiliated Barnard College for women, Alwan and dozens of others were arrested on April 18. As a result, they were immediately suspended from campus and classes. This suspension meant that they were unable to attend in-person or virtual classes and were also banned from dining halls. The specific terms of the suspension varied from campus to campus.

Uncertainty looms over their academic futures as questions arise. Will they have the opportunity to take their final exams? And what about their financial aid and graduation plans? According to Columbia, these outcomes will be determined during disciplinary hearings. However, Alwan expresses her frustration, stating that she has not been provided with a specific date for her hearing.

“This feels incredibly dystopian,” expressed Alwan, a major in comparative literature and society.

A nationwide clash between students and administrators over anti-war protests and the boundaries of free speech has erupted, stemming from its inception at Columbia University. Over the course of the last 10 days, numerous colleges such as Yale University, the University of Southern California, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Minnesota have witnessed the arrest, suspension, probation, and, in certain instances, expulsion of a considerable number of students.

Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts institution affiliated with Columbia University, took disciplinary action against over 50 students who were arrested on April 18. These students were not only suspended but also removed from their campus housing. This information was revealed through interviews with the students and reports from the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper, which obtained internal documents from the college.

Barnard College made an announcement on Friday stating that they have successfully reached agreements that restore campus access to a significant number of students. Although the exact number was not specified, the college emphasized that all students who had their suspensions lifted have agreed to abide by college rules. Additionally, some of these students have been placed on probation as a disciplinary measure.

On the night of the arrests, Maryam Iqbal, a Barnard student, shared a screenshot on the social media platform X. The screenshot depicted an email from a dean who informed her that she could briefly return to her room accompanied by campus security before being asked to leave.

In the email, it was mentioned that there would be a 15-minute time frame provided for gathering necessary items.

Over 100 faculty members from Barnard and Columbia universities came together to organize a powerful “Rally to Support Our Students” last week. They vehemently condemned the arrests of the students and called for the immediate lifting of the suspensions.

Columbia University is currently making efforts to clear out the tent encampment situated on the main lawn, which is where the upcoming graduation ceremony is scheduled to take place on May 15. Students at the university have been demanding that the school sever its ties with companies associated with Israel and guarantee amnesty for any students and faculty who have been arrested or faced disciplinary action in relation to the ongoing protests.

According to Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Columbia, discussions with the student protesters are still ongoing. He mentioned that both sides have their respective demands.

According to attorney Radhika Sainath from Palestine Legal, international students who are facing suspension also have the added worry of potentially losing their visas. Sainath, who recently assisted a group of Columbia students in filing a federal civil rights complaint against the university, argues that Columbia has not taken sufficient action to combat discrimination against Palestinian students.

Sainath expressed his strong disapproval of the punishment, stating that it not only seems draconian but also exhibits a level of callousness that goes beyond what is necessary.

Senior Craig Birckhead-Morton, one of the more than 40 students arrested at a Yale demonstration last week, is facing uncertainty regarding his graduation and future academic endeavors. Despite being set to graduate on May 20, Yale University has not yet informed him if his case will be presented to a disciplinary panel. This lack of clarity leaves him concerned about the possibility of not receiving his diploma and jeopardizing his acceptance to Columbia graduate school.

Birckhead-Morton, a history major, expressed frustration with the lack of communication from the school regarding what comes next. She mentioned that the school has made no effort to address their concerns or provide any updates.

College administrators nationwide have been grappling with the delicate balance between free speech and inclusivity. Amidst various demonstrations, there have been instances of hate speech, alarming antisemitic threats, and even expressions of support for Hamas, the group responsible for the October 7 attack on Israel. This conflict has further escalated into a devastating war in Gaza, claiming the lives of over 34,000 individuals.

Commencement ceremonies in May can create added pressure to disperse demonstrations. According to university officials, they emphasize that arrests and suspensions are only used as a last resort. They also make sure to provide sufficient warnings in advance for protestors to vacate the protest areas.

According to the Institute for Middle Eastern Understanding, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee has reportedly expelled students in connection with protests related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, making it the only known instance of student expulsions in this context. On March 26, over two dozen students staged a sit-in at the university chancellor’s office, leading to the intervention of police and subsequent arrests. In response, Vanderbilt took disciplinary actions, including three expulsions, one suspension, and placing 22 protesters on probation.

Over 150 Vanderbilt professors have expressed their concerns in an open letter to Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, stating that they believe the university’s response has been too severe and harsh.

Jack Petocz, a 19-year-old freshman who was among those expelled, is currently attending classes while he appeals the decision. Although he has been evicted from his dormitory, he has managed to find alternative accommodations off campus.

Protesting in high school played a crucial role in Petocz’s journey to Vanderbilt and securing a merit scholarship for activists and organizers. His college essay revolved around the powerful narrative of organizing walkouts in rural Florida to stand against Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ policies.

According to Petocz, Vanderbilt showed great enthusiasm for the cause. However, when it came to advocating for Palestinian liberation, the support seemed to wane.


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