top of page

Columbia University Protests Spark Controversy



One week ago, Columbia President Minouche Shafik ordered police to clear a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus. A larger encampment has since sprung up, drawing national media attention. Iryna Humenyuk spoke to students and faculty around Columbia about their thoughts on recent events surrounding the protests.

IRYNA HUMENYUK, BYLINE: Alex is a grad student at Columbia University. I asked her if she feels safe on campus...

ALEX: I mean, it's a bit of an odd question because on one hand, you know, I personally don't feel under much threat. Um, just as a student existing, but on the other hand, as a student in this camp on this lawn, you know, there is always a risk involved or that comes with being here. Um, whether it's disciplinary action by the school, Or, uh, you know, arrest by the NYPD or the National Guard, you know, we have Kent State in the back of our minds

Um, and so those things do make me feel unsafe, but whatever risk I'm taking I think is more than worth it. I think that, you know, uh, what we're experiencing here is not even a fraction of what people are going through in Palestine. What, what the Israeli occupation is doing in the West Bank.

IRYNA HUMENYUK: Could you tell us what happened at Kent State and why it's relevant to what's happening at Columbia today?

ALEX: Sure, so in May of 1970, uh, the Ohio National Guard was brought into Kent State, to, I guess, quell anti war protests. Students were protesting against the U. S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Um, and the National Guard fired on the students, injuring nine and killing four people. Um, and the relevance today is that, you know, Minouche Shafik has threatened in negotiations to bring the National Guard in to, uh, dispose of this encampment, of our lawn. Um,  and that would be the first time the National Guard has been brought onto a college campus since the Kent State shootings. Which is–it's pretty scary.

IRYNA HUMENYUK: Outside of the campus, away from the threat of the national guard, people in the neighborhood express their support for the students. Jenny lives on 108th street. She's been following how the events are unfolding on campus. 

JENNY: I think when genocide is happening we have to protest, and I love the students for being out there, every one of them, and for the faculty for walking out in support. I think it's exactly what we need to be doing. I think history will judge harshly people who didn't take action at this time. 

IRYNA HUMENYUK: On the other hand, Daniel, a freelance photojournalist for The New York Post says he has mixed feelings about the protests. He thinks protests are necessary to a healthy democracy. 

DANIEL: This is where you learn how to engage in civil discourse. This is where you learn where your belief systems are. 

IRYNA HUMENYUK: However, he doesn't think the students are truly willing to negotiate.

DANIEL: And also you can't say something is a negotiation when you're unwilling to negotiate. So, uh, like we will leave, like for example, we'll leave when all of our demands are met. That's being like, we're gonna hold this university hostage until you meet all of our demands across the board, 100%. That's not effective. 

IRYNA HUMENYUK: Do you think what the protesters at the encampment are asking for is unreasonable?

DANIEL: I know that they're asking for divestment, right? I don't even know what that looks like. I have to be totally honest, I don't know. 

IRYNA HUMENYUK: Out on the lawn in front of Butler library, a tall man with curly brown hair can be seen holding a sign. It says: "Need help with Fro-Sci? Encampment Office Hours Now." He is a professor of geology at Columbia but was hesitant to share his name. He doesn't want either his Jewish or Palestinian students to feel uncomfortable. But he supports the encampment. 

PROFESSOR: So I teach a class here at Columbia that all students have to take and, uh, it's a science class. And I think that in my class, I try to get the students to, to speak out and to participate in the class, talking about science. Uh, when I go to try to have class participation, I'm constantly begging them to participate. Then the idea that then we would suppress these student voices outside of the class is something that I definitely would not stand for. So, the idea that we would suppress free speech here on Columbia's campus  is, I think, against the entirety of this academic institution and what I try to stand for.

IRYNA HUMENYUK: President Minouche Shafik has asked protestors to clear the lawn in front of Butler Library by 8 tomorrow morning. Negotiations with the student protestors and administration will continue until then. Iryna Humenyuk, Columbia Radio News. 

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page