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Tensions rise on college campuses as pro-Palestinian protests intensify


Protests against the war in Gaza on college campuses now stretch from coast to coast. Students at UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan set up Gaza solidarity encampments on Monday. And tensions are high at Yale, Columbia and NYU. Students at all three universities have been arrested in recent days. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been reporting at Columbia. Jasmine, what message are protesters sending?

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The message has been really clear. The students want divestment. Yesterday, I was able to speak to one organizer who's part of the encampment at Columbia University. Her name is Sueda (ph). She requested that her last name be withheld due to concerns for retaliation. And here's what she had to say.

SUEDA: Essentially, this is our tuition dollars that are going to the death and displacement through both fast and slow violence in Gaza through the genocide right now and the slower displacement throughout occupied Palestine.

GARSD: Genocide is a legal term, and no court has determined that a genocide has been committed. Israel strongly denies that allegation. What the students are asking for is divestment. And by divestment, what they mean is that they want the university to disclose and end investments in weapons technology and in Israel.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So how have universities responded to the protests and the encampments?

GARSD: Well, at Columbia, there have been over a hundred arrests. At Yale, there's been a few dozen. Last night at NYU, several protesters were taken into custody. And some of those students have been suspended, kicked out of university housing. Yesterday, while I was at Columbia University, I got a chance to speak to Professor Joseph Howley. He was out there supporting the encampment. He was very critical of the fact that NYPD was allowed on campus.

JOSEPH HOWLEY: You cannot law and order your way out of community challenges. You can't discipline and punish your way out of prejudice.

GARSD: He's echoing what a lot of faculty at Columbia have condemned, which is an environment in which they say free speech is not being protected.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. And at the same time, Jasmine, we've been hearing about concerns about antisemitism at these protests. As you've mentioned, you've spent the day at Columbia. Have you heard about any threats of violence toward Jewish students on campus?

GARSD: So at Columbia yesterday, there was a small contingent of pro-Israel protesters outside the campus. One of them was an alumna. Her name is Elise Mordos (ph). And she told me she feels attacked, and she wants the school administration out.

ELISE MORDOS: Material changes need to take place. The entire administration needs to go. Faculty members need to go. The students need to understand that they can't get away with what they've been getting away with, and it starts with leadership.

GARSD: And antisemitism is something we've heard the president of Columbia, Minouche Shafik, address and condemn at a congressional hearing last week. Republican lawmakers have said it's just words. It's not matched by actions.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Any Jewish students who support the Gaza encampment?

GARSD: Yes, absolutely. The organization Jewish Voices for Peace says over a dozen of the students suspended for protesting for Gaza are Jewish. Protesters I spoke to said being critical of Israel doesn't automatically make you antisemitic. Now, what's clear from spending time at these protests is that there isn't one unified, monolithic Jewish voice. It's, in fact, very diverse.

MARTÍNEZ: Jasmine, the protests do not appear to be subsiding, but the last day of classes are on Monday, then final exams on May 3. I mean, what's going to happen at Columbia?

GARSD: Well, after making all classes virtual yesterday, Columbia is asking professors to offer hybrid classes this week. Graduation is on the horizon. Students I spoke to said they're going to continue to protest and camp out until their demands are met.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Jasmine Garsd in New York City. Thank you.

GARSD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Jasmine Garsd
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.