Home CATEGORIES Education and Skill Training How Did The Columbia University Student Protest Go Global?

How Did The Columbia University Student Protest Go Global?

Photo Courtesy: Columbia Spector
Photo Courtesy: Columbia Spector
Student Protestors Demand Action Against Gaza Conflict and University Divestment from Israel.
In mid-April, students at Columbia University in the United States initiated a series of protests, demanding an end to genocide in Gaza and urging their school to divest from Israel. This movement has not only continued but also spread globally, involving students from various universities in the United States, Canada, France, and Australia.
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Origins of the Protests

The protests at Columbia began with students setting up tents and camping on the school campus to draw attention to the Gaza conflict. They demanded immediate action to halt the violence and called for the university to sever financial ties with Israel. These demands were driven by the alarming death toll in Gaza, which has reached 35,000 according to the Israeli government, although the real numbers are suspected to be significantly higher.
An alumna of Columbia University from the Class of 2022, Rajvi Desai, quoted for The CSR Journal, stating, “I’m in awe of the students who are putting their bodies on the line at Columbia, at Cal Poly Humboldt and at all the national and international universities worldwide. They’re demanding their universities divest from Israel and its affiliates and stop supporting and funding genocide. For Palestine, this is unprecedented. But when it comes to anti – war movements and anti-apartheid movements, it’s really not. Student movements have a history of  braving police brutality and institutional oppression, but they eventually succeeded in making it untenable for their universities to keep supporting genocide and apartheid. I believe they will succeed, I believe they have already succeeded in mobilizing for Palestine in ways we have not seen before. And as a reminder, this is all for Gaza, where people have braved far more brutal violence at the hands of Israel and the U.S. The least we could all do is stand for their survival and freedom. It’s important to remember to keep eyes on Gaza, it’s where the bravery and resilience of these students comes from, and it’s why and who they’re doing it for.”

Response from Columbia University

In response to the protests, Columbia University’s president, Nemat Shafik, took the controversial step of calling the police to disperse the demonstrators. This led to the arrest and detention of several students. Instead of quelling the protests, this action fueled further unrest, causing the movement to spread like wildfire. Today, student protests are occurring across all eight Ivy League universities, as well as numerous non-Ivy League institutions. The movement has even reached universities in Canada, France, and Australia.

Historical Context of Student Activism at Columbia

Columbia University has a long and storied history of student activism. In 1811, students advocated for direct democracy in republican governance. In 1936, they protested against the Nazis. The 1960s saw significant activism, including protests for the inclusion of Black residents and disaffiliating from Institute of Defence Analyses in 1968 and against the Vietnam War in 1969. During the 1970s and 1980s, students campaigned against racism and apartheid in South Africa. Each time, Columbia students appealed to their school to disassociate from entities involved in unethical practices and to take a stand against injustice.

Current Spread of Protests

The current wave of protests has seen over 2,000 students arrested in the United States alone. Despite these arrests, the protests have not lost momentum. The movement’s global reach highlights the widespread concern over the Gaza conflict and the perceived complicity of institutions through their financial investments. These universities that teach and advocate freedom of speech find themselves on conflicted zones with the ongoing protest that has translated into political chaos.

Diverse Reactions and Broader Implications

While the primary message of the protests focuses on halting the Gaza violence and pushing for divestment from Israel, reactions have been mixed. Supporters view the protests as a necessary stand against human rights abuses, while critics argue that the movement is taking a polarizing and politically charged direction. This divergence in perspectives reflects the complexity of the issue and the challenges in addressing such deeply rooted conflicts.

Impact on University Policies and Future Actions

The ongoing protests have placed significant pressure on university administrations to respond. Some institutions like the Brown University have initiated dialogues with student representatives to address their concerns, while others have maintained their stance against divestment. The situation remains fluid, with the potential for further escalation or resolution depending on the actions of university leaders and the responses from the student bodies and broader community.
The student protests that originated at Columbia University and have now spread globally underscore the powerful role of student activism in addressing and raising awareness about critical global issues. The movement’s persistence and expansion reflect a growing demand for institutional accountability and a commitment to human rights. As the protests continue, they highlight the enduring legacy of student activism and its impact on shaping public discourse and policy.