top of page

Who Gets to Close the Gates?



For weeks, the gates of Columbia have been closed. As of today, there are just two entrances open, and only students and faculty are allowed. Last week, 44 protestors affiliated with the Hamilton Hall occupation of Columbia University were arrested. Fearing additional picketing, Columbia President Minouche Shafik closed the gates of Columbia to the public and to many of the students. And canceled  on-campus graduation ceremonies. It’s raising issues for a lot of people. Iryna Humenyuk reports.


Tuesday–April 30th–is a historic evening for Columbia University. The sun has set. A group of students wrapped in black-and-white keffiyeh are chanting outside of Hamilton Hall ...

[Fade in chanting ... ]

We will let it out. Hey, We will not stop. We will not–

On the other side of Hamilton Hall, the wrought-iron gates at 116th and Broadway and the gates at 116th and Amsterdam are locked. Right after 9 that evening hundreds of members of the New York City Police Department entered through a south gate and arrested more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters. But Columbia didn't always have gates to control traffic in and out of its urban campus. Historian Robert McCaughey has written a lot about Columbia’s connection to New York. He says there was a time when College Walk was a public road that was permanently open.


When Columbia settled on Morningside Heights it went from 116th through 120th, the way Barnard does now and then it acquired what we call a South Campus, which is south of 116th Street. But 116th Street was a public thoroughfare.


In 1903 Columbia acquired South Field. McCaughey told me that Columbia's relationship in the Upper West Side was largely peaceful until the 1950s, when Columbia decided that it wanted to expand.


It started with Columbia really feeling some spatial constrictions. It had very little room to grow, um, and needed to grow, or at least it thought it did, if it was going to keep up with the competition.


McCaughey says in the 1960s, New York City was a comparatively much more dangerous place.


There were lots of streets you didn't walk on at night. And so there were concerns, there were muggings.


In the early 1960s Columbia received a gift of nearly $90-thousand from the Delacorte family. They wanted to build the decorative iron gates at either end of College Walk. In a letter from Columbia thanking George Delacorte for the donation, it said:  "These improvements [of the gates] will have aesthetic improvements on the lives of students wherever they may go." The university started building the gates in 1967. When protests erupted in the spring of 1968, the gates were locked to the public.

[Fade in folk song … ]

But students would chant the IDA must go and Columbia's campus had a revolt. 

Bob Feldman was a student protester at Columbia in the 1968 demonstrations. As Feldman remembers it, Columbia was supposed to keep the gates open. But in the weeks following the arrests in the spring of 1968, Columbia closed the gates–kind of like it’s done now. 

FELDMAN 1: And it was actually challenged by some community residents and plus some students and a few faculty members. On the basis that this violated the agreement to keep those gates office open. 

[Fade in folk song … ]

The iconic gates at the 116th and Broadway entrance are nearly always open. They are closed each year for commencement … and during big, citywide emergencies like 9/11. And then there’s the events that are considered campus emergencies–like the recent encampment. 


Soban is a security guard at Columbia. Earlier this week, he says he saw a group of protestors picketing in front of the President's office. The gates were the only thing protecting the protesters and the president’s office from each other. 


I feel like, I feel like it's like 50 50. It's like it could protect them in a good way, but at the same time it's like, not really. So it's like, 50.


Sugandh is a data science student at Columbia. He doesn’t want to give his full name for fear of retribution. He feels that he's paying too much tuition at Columbia to not be able to access its facilities.


So I feel like we all, we, if we're paying students, we do, we should have the right. Especially during finals week to have access to gyms. Libraries, the sauna. I would be in school more than my own house. So it kind of like was a piece taken away from me.//


Zayne–who also did not want to give his last name–is a graduate student from Pakistan. Because one of his graduation ceremonies has been canceled and the other moved off campus, he says his parents aren't coming to New York to see him anymore.


So they were pretty disappointed about that, and they decided that it's not worth it anymore for them to come because, You know, New York is expensive.


Kaia–also no last name–is also a graduate student at Columbia. He says that the encampment was one of the most beautiful communities he has ever seen. 


Those camps really symbolized something super important right now. And it was just really, really heartbreaking to wake up the next day after the arrests and just, just see the photo of those camps being completely dismantled and the gates being shut off.


It’s enough to make him want to boycott commencement … even if it hadn’t been canceled. 


I just can't care about a commencement when this university has been so poor in dealing with, you know, like acknowledging the wider tragedy that's taking place right now.


Next week, rather than looking up at Low Library from its steps, parents and students might only be looking at Columbia through the bars of its gates. It’s unclear what commencement day will bring. Iryna Humenyuk, Columbia Radio News. 

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page