Columbia cancels in-person classes; protesters arrested at Yale and NYU: Updates

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Editor's Note: This page is a summary of news on student protests engulfing campuses over the Israel-Hamas war on Monday, April 22. For the latest news, see our live updates file for Tuesday, April 23.

NEW YORK – As tensions over the Israel-Hamas war continue to boil on campuses across the country, Columbia University on Monday moved classes online while dozens of students were arrested in protests at Yale and New York University, and school officials closed Harvard Yard to the public.

Demonstrations at Yale and Harvard were planned in part out of solidarity with protesters at Columbia who set up an encampment last week that led to the arrest of more than 100 students. The protests have raised concerns for the safety of Jewish students and fueled a national debate over student demonstrations as campuses grapple with growing unrest over the war in Gaza.

At New York University, officers moved on the NYU crowd shortly after nightfall as hundreds of demonstrators for hours had defied university warnings that they faced consequences if they failed to vacate a plaza where they had established a Gaza Solidarity Encampment.

Video on social media showed police taking down tents in the protesters' NYU encampment. Demonstrators tussled with officers and chanted, "We will not stop, we will not rest. Disclose. Divest."

A New York police spokesperson said arrests were made after NYU asked police to enforce trespassing violations but the total number of arrests and citations are still unknown.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik said in a statement Monday that while online classes are being held, a working group of deans, university administrators and faculty members "will try to bring this crisis to a resolution" by, among other actions, speaking with student protesters.

Most classes at Columbia will be hybrid for the rest of the spring semester, the university announced Monday, as students grapple with tensions over the war. All courses on the college’s Morningside main campus will be hybrid, the college said, except for art or practice-based programs. The Medical Center and Manhattanville will also remain in-person.

“Safety is our highest priority as we strive to support our students’ learning and all the required academic operations,” the provost's office said in a statement.

Columbia is the latest U.S. school to be rocked by the Israel-Hamas war, which began with Hamas' brutal border attacks on Israeli communities Oct. 7. Israel's subsequent bombardment of Gaza has led to a dire humanitarian crisis there and fueled protests nationwide demanding a cease-fire.

As demonstrations have proliferated across college campuses, students have also been demanding that universities show more transparency in their investments and divest from enterprises with links to Israel's war effort.

A protester marches outside Columbia University on April 22, 2024.
A protester marches outside Columbia University on April 22, 2024.

Protests continue on both sides amid police presence

Demonstrators on both sides of the dispute met student protesters outside Columbia's gates Monday morning, banging drums, carrying signs and flags and chanting.

About a dozen pro-Palestinian protesters shouted: “Resistance is justified when people face genocide. Resistance is justified when people are colonized.”

After a few minutes, officers with the New York Police Department told the group not to bang the drum. A USA TODAY reporter saw police handcuff two pro-Palestinian protesters and walk them toward NYPD vehicles.

The NYPD told USA TODAY that as of early afternoon it had no record of arrests or people being taken into custody outside the school. The department said the most recent arrest was Saturday.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft says he has 'lost faith' in alma mater Columbia

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a prominent Columbia alumnus and donor, said Monday he has "lost faith in the institution'' and no longer recognizes it.

In a social media post from his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, Kraft called for the university to stop the protests that have roiled the campus and led to some tense confrontations between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and Jewish students.

"I am deeply saddened at the virulent hate that continues to grow on campus and throughout our country,'' said Kraft, who is Jewish. "I am no longer confident that Columbia can protect its students and staff and I am not comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken.''

The billionaire businessman referred to Columbia, from where he graduated in 1963, as "the school I love so much.'' He has demonstrated that with millions of dollars in donations, some of which helped fund the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life at the school.

Kraft closed his statement saying he hopes the center "will serve as a source of security and safety for all Jewish students and faculty on campus who want to gather peacefully to practice their religion, to be together, and to be welcomed.''

Jewish Columbia faculty member says he was denied entry

Shai Davidai, an assistant professor of business at Columbia, spoke out against the school from its front gates after he said he was denied entry onto campus Monday morning.

“They have deactivated my card, they are not letting me, a Jewish professor at Columbia, they are not letting me on campus,” he said.

Davidai told a crowd gathered outside that he was not given prior notice his entry card would be deactivated and that later the university told him he would be allowed on the business campus to teach Tuesday.

On the social media platform X, Davidai wrote: “Earlier today, @Columbia University refused to let me onto campus. Why? Because they cannot protect my safety as a Jewish professor. This is 1938.”

At a news conference, Michael Gerber, deputy commissioner of legal matters for the NYPD, said the city had nothing to do with the decision to deny Davidai entry onto campus. “They’re doing their own analysis, making their own decisions, making their own safety determinations,” he said. “That’s not us.”

The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Protesters occupy an encampment in support of Palestinians on the grounds of Columbia University on April 22, 2024, in New York.
Protesters occupy an encampment in support of Palestinians on the grounds of Columbia University on April 22, 2024, in New York.

Protesters arrested at Yale University

Dozens of students were arrested at Yale University on Monday as police cleared an encampment set up by students in protest of the war in Gaza.

A statement from the university said at least 47 students had been arrested as of 9:50 a.m. ET. The latest police action against students protesting the war came as the Yale encampment, set up last week, grew to include several hundred people calling on the university to drop investments to military weapons manufacturers.

Negotiations between the protesters and university officials ended unsuccessfully late Sunday night, the university said. Early Monday morning, campus police asked the protesters to leave Beinecke Plaza, the university's main lawn, remove their belongings and show their IDs. When some refused, the arrests began.

"The university made the decision to arrest those individuals who would not leave the plaza with the safety and security of the entire Yale community in mind and to allow access to university facilities by all members of our community," the statement said.

After the encampment was cleared, hundreds of protesters blocked nearby streets and were heard chanting, “We will free Palestine within our lifetime,” according to the Yale Daily News.

Harvard University closes part of campus to the public

Harvard has closed its main lawn to the public in anticipation of pro-Palestinian protests following the recent uproar at Columbia.

A written announcement posted on the entrance gates said disciplinary actions would be taken against Harvard students who bring into the area unauthorized structures such as tents or tables, according to the Harvard Crimson. The closure was decided “out of an abundance of caution and with the safety of our community as a priority," according to an email received by students. The student newspaper also reported the school's Palestine Solidarity Committee has been suspended.

On Friday, over 200 students and others took to Harvard Yard in solidarity with the protesters at Columbia and demanded that the Ivy League school also divest from Israel-related investments, the student newspaper reported.

Students at other Boston-area colleges, like MIT, Tufts and Emerson, have begun their own solidarity encampments, and the movement has also expanded to other prominent universities like Cal-Berkeley and Michigan.

Cal-Berkeley students also set up camp, demand school divest holdings

Several hundred students gathered around noon Monday in front of the Sproul Hall administration building on the University of California campus at Berkeley.

They set up about a dozen tents and said they plan to stay on site until the university system divests its financial holdings from corporations that "enable profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide in accordance with the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement," said Banan Abdelrahman, a leader with the group UC Berkeley Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine.

She and others called for an immediate end to the violence in Gaza and to permanently sever ties with Israeli universities, including the Berkeley Summer Global Internship Program Israel.

Students want to enact policies to protect the safety and academic freedoms of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and other students and faculty who have faced blacklisting, harassment, threats and the unwanted publication of private information, Abdelrahman said. "We will be here all day and all night," she said.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said there are no plans to change the university's investment policies and practices.

− Terry Collins

Students who have set up an encampment on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley say they will remain there until the university's administration meets their demands.
Students who have set up an encampment on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley say they will remain there until the university's administration meets their demands.

Why are students protesting at Columbia?

Last week, more than 100 student protesters were arrested and suspended after Shafik called in the NYPD to clear an encampment on the campus' South Lawn. The “Gaza Solidarity Encampment" was set up by Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition of student organizations calling for the school "to divest all economic and academic stakes in Israel," according to its website.

Administrators closed campus to those without campus IDs, though protests continued both on the main lawn and outside the campus gates through the weekend. Several more people were arrested, multiple outlets reported. On Sunday, the school announced new safety measures including doubling the number of security personnel and improved identification checks at campus entry points. But tensions continued to boil.

Rabbi Elie Buechler, director of the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus at Columbia and the all-women’s Barnard, told students to "return home as soon as possible," saying the protests have endangered their safety.

In her decision to order all classes to be moved online, Shafik cited "intimidating and harassing behavior on our campus" and the use of antisemitic language. Videos of the protests have shown tense stand-offs between people holding Israeli flags and the pro-Palestinian protesters.

Pro-Israel supporters were kept separated from pro-Palestinian supporters outside Columbia University on April 22, 2024, after school officials closed the campus and made all classes remote.
Pro-Israel supporters were kept separated from pro-Palestinian supporters outside Columbia University on April 22, 2024, after school officials closed the campus and made all classes remote.

Students are on 'the right side of history'

Outside of Columbia's gates near 115th street in New York, pro-Palestinian protesters gathered on one side chanting with students inside the campus. Pro-Israeli protesters grouped on the other.

Tahia Islam, an organizer with Shut it Down For Palestine, said the coalition has been working and communicating with students in the encampment, where she said they have created a community of "safety and care."

"They are putting so much of their lives, their careers at risk because they know that the real struggle and the real school is in this moment, right now. It's not in what's getting (taught) in these ivory towers," she said. "They're part of a historical legacy of student movements ... they're absolutely on the right side of history and we'll be with them every step of the way."

Columbia student Hector Lionel took issue with the university's messaging that the students in the encampment were disrupting his studies. The closed gates with ID checkpoints are a bigger hassle than the tents, he said.

"It's just gotten too dystopian," Lionel said. "Now we need to defend the right to protest."

New York governor meets with Columbia University president

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, met with Shafik on Monday morning to discuss the security situation on the school’s Manhattan campus. In a video posted on X, Hochul underscored the need to ensure students and faculty have the right to peacefully protest while also upholding human rights laws.

“The recent harassment and rhetoric is vile and abhorrent,” Hochul wrote in a social media post. “Every student deserves to be safe.”

The meeting came after New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, condemned the situation Sunday, and promised that any demonstrators around campus found to be in violation of laws would be arrested.

“We will not be a city of lawlessness, and those professional agitators seeking to seize the ongoing conflict in the Middle East to sow chaos and division will not succeed,” he wrote on X, drawing praise from the Israeli consulate in New York.

– Zachary Schermele

President Biden responds to 'alarming surge of antisemitism'

Following days of escalating protests at several major universities across the country, President Joe Biden urged Americans to speak out against an “alarming surge of antisemitism” in the U.S.

"Silence is complicity," Biden said in a written statement Sunday night. "Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country.''

Biden also expressed his wishes for a happy Passover, the Jewish holiday that begins Monday evening. "This year, let us remember the central Passover theme that even in the darkest of times, the promise of God’s protection will give us strength to find hope, resilience, and redemption," Biden said.

Biden also said his administration will continue work to implement the National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism it announced last May.

Rachel Barber and Joey Garrison

People attend a pro-Israeli rally held by Assistant Professor Shai Davidai at Columbia University on April 22, 2024 in New York City.
People attend a pro-Israeli rally held by Assistant Professor Shai Davidai at Columbia University on April 22, 2024 in New York City.

Faculty, alumni gather outside Columbia campus

Alumni, faculty and parents gathered outside Columbia on Monday, some out of concern for what they say is rising antisemitism on campus and others in support of the students protesting the war.

Amy Werman, a professor with Columbia’s School of Social Work, told USA TODAY, “We are here to show that we have a place on this campus and we belong here and we're not going to be intimidated."

Harriet Jackson, who works at the Columbia Teacher’s College, said she's worried about Jewish students, faculty and staff feeling protected, adding that she believes in protesting and would describe herself as "pro-Palestinian and against any kind of oppression of any people."

House Republicans call for Columbia president’s resignation

Two conservative New York congresswomen called for Shafik’s resignation over the weekend, even as their colleagues in the House – as well as some local Republicans – stopped short of the same demand.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, whose viral questioning of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania ultimately helped spur their exits, said Sunday that Shafik has “clearly lost control,” putting the safety of Jewish students at risk.

“It is crystal clear that Columbia University – previously a beacon of academic excellence founded by Alexander Hamilton – needs new leadership,” she wrote in a post on X. The school was actually chartered by King George II.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican representing parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said Monday that the school’s abrupt pivot to virtual learning was proof that Shafik has been “unable to stop the antisemitic activity on her campus.”

Congressional Democrats also condemned reports of antisemitic incidents and the souring campus climate, though many stopped short of calling for Shafik to step down. Several Jewish Democrats planned to visit the school Monday to speak with students.

– Zachary Schermele

Alumni support protesters with supplies

Among those trying to get inside of Columbia’s gates were alumni supporting the student encampment with supplies.

Olivia Baker, who graduated last year from Columbia, was trying to deliver food and electrolyte drinks to students. Baker, whose grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, was denied entry to campus despite having an ID.

Baker has been in contact with other alums who are supplying food to students as well.   “It’s great to feel connected to this community,” Baker said. “Maybe not to the school and its policies and leadership, but to the alumni community and the kids who are showing out and changing things.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Columbia halts in-person classes; Yale, NYU arrest protesters: Updates