Columbia University wracked by protests as president tested after congressional hearing

While members of Congress pushed administrators to answer about the demonstrations and acts of antisemitism on campus, some students were proud to be suspended for the protest.
Columbia University protest, New York City, April 18, 2024

Almost immediately after New York Police Department officials broke up an unauthorized pro-Palestine encampment at Columbia University, another demonstration formed as students expressed their disdain for the school administration's treatment of Israel, testing the school's president one day after she testified before Congress about antisemitism on campus. 

Columbia University President Nemat Shafik on Thursday asked the NYPD to arrest the more than 100 demonstrators taking part in the "Gaza Solidarity Encampment," stating that all students participating in the protest are suspended, and thus, they are considered trespassers who are not allowed on university property. 

Shafik had testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Wednesday that she has "absolutely no hesitation in enforcing our policies." Her actions as president are under particularly heightened scrutiny considering that the last time university presidents testified before the committee, two out of three of them – Claudine Gay of Harvard and Liz Magill of University of Pennsylvania – equivacated and stumbled through questioning, resigning less than a month later. 

While the exact number of arrests is unclear, one of the more notable arrests Thursday included Isra Hirsi, the daughter of "Squad member" Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Mich. Hirsi was a Barnard College student until she was suspended for participating in the encampment, she said on X. Hirsi's mother, a member of the education committee, had questioned Shafik and other Columbia administrators the previous day. 

After the encampment was cleared around 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, more than 1,000 people, some of whom apparently jumped the school's fence to enter, formed a new demonstration next to the location, according to an X poster who purportedly self-identified as "Sebas".

While administrators prohibited visitors from being on campus, independent presidential candidate Cornel West still managed to make it to the quad to speak during the second demonstration. Speaking into a megaphone, West said that there is a "genocide" of Palestinians occurring and that "we are in solidarity with human suffering."

While members of Congress pushed administrators to answer about the demonstrations and acts of antisemitism on campus, some students were proud to be suspended for the protest.

"Suspended from Columbia club!!!" one person, identified as Aiden, posted with a selfie alongside another presumably suspended student on X. The demonstrators also appeared to try and stop New York Correctional Department buses from leaving with arrested former students. 

Shafik has been facing questions about her handling of protests on campus that have occurred since Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas terrorists entered Israel and murdered about 1,200 people and kidnapped 250 others. 

While lawmakers put Shafik under pressure Wednesday, the students raised the heat on Thursday.

On campus, students used chants to accuse Shafik of committing genocide. Infographics circulated online urging users to call the president's office and demand she offer "full amnesty" to the students who were disciplined for their involvement in the protest. 

Her decision to apply the rule of law on Thursday won the approval of the House Education and Workforce Committee. "I am glad President Shafik has taken the long overdue step of inviting the New York Police Department (NYPD) to clear this radical, unauthorized encampment," Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-Va., said."For Columbia to correct course, the events of the past 36 hours must become a turning point."

Foxx urged Columbia to reprimand any students and staffers involved in the demonstrations, and she said that the protest highlights the need for the committee's investigation. If Shafik can withstand the pressure for a few more weeks, the campus atmosphere may change dramatically after finals when most students leave for summer break.

Follow Madeleine Hubbard on X or Instagram.