A Barnard Professor on What Columbia Owes its Students Right Now

“If we are to reclaim our university, faculty and students must do it together.”

Pro-Palestinian students and activists gather at a protest encampment on the campus of Columbia Univ. in NY City on April 25, 2024. (Photo by Leonardo Munoz / AFP) (Photo by LEONARDO MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images)

By Nara Milanich at Time: Faculty have different opinions about the substance of the student protestors’ demands. They have different positions on the crisis in the Middle East. But the administration’s decision to call in the NYPD has provoked widespread outrage. The rapid and overwhelming use of force seems disproportionate to a nonviolent student protest. The resort to force has further inflamed the already difficult dialogues that have animated our campus this year—about Israel and Palestine, academic freedom, and where one person’s right to expression ends and another one’s right to be free of harassment begins. Ultimately, too, it has called into question what we, as professors, owe our students.

In response to the arrests, many of my colleagues have jumped in to support our students, especially those from Barnard, who in addition to being arrested and suspended were summarily evicted from their dorms and now have nowhere to sleep. We organized a rally to protest the arrests and suspensions of peaceful student protesters and to affirm the value of free expression.

Students too have responded to the moment. The pro-Palestine encampment is gone—but another one materialized within an hour on an adjacent lawn. The organizers wrote a code of conduct governing the space and have organized interfaith services, a teach-in on antisemitism, and a Passover Seder. A member of Columbia’s Task Force on Antisemitism—a campus body formed in the fall and tasked with “understanding how antisemitism manifests on campus”—arrived with a shank bone for the Seder. Together with faculty, students have trained in de-escalation strategies to protect the campus from provocateurs who have arrived seeking conflict. Student journalists from The Columbia Spectator and KCRW Radio have kept campus—and the world—informed about what is happening, even as the administration has limited press access to campus.

Meanwhile, the administration’s decision to arrest and suspend has not made any of us safer. In fact, it has provoked disorder. A week after the mass arrests, the campus feels under siege—not from the students in the (second) encampment, but from outside forces hellbent on dividing us…

More here.

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