College protestors demand ‘amnesty’ to avoid consequences for tuition, legal charges, grades, and graduation.

Riot police forcefully disbanded an encampment on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston, amidst the disapproval and protestations of several dozen students.

Maryam Alwan thought that the worst was behind her when she and other protesters were apprehended by New York City police in riot gear at Columbia University. They were then transported on buses and detained for several hours.

The college junior received an email from the university the following evening, informing him that he and other students were being suspended. This action was taken due to their arrests at the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” a strategy implemented by colleges nationwide to address the escalating campus protests against the Israel-Hamas war.

The students’ dilemma has emerged as a focal point of the protests, as both students and an increasing number of faculty members advocate for their amnesty. The key question at hand is whether universities and law enforcement will dismiss the charges and refrain from imposing other repercussions, or if the suspensions and legal records will continue to haunt the students well into their adult years.

At Columbia and its affiliated Barnard College for women, the terms of the suspensions for Alwan and many others arrested on April 18 were quite strict. They were immediately barred from campus and classes, preventing them from attending in-person or virtual sessions. Additionally, they were banned from dining halls, making it challenging for them to access meals.

There are lingering uncertainties regarding their academic futures. Will they have the opportunity to take their final exams? What about their financial aid? And what about graduation? Columbia University states that outcomes will be determined during disciplinary hearings, but Alwan reveals that she has not been provided with a specific date for such proceedings.

Alwan, a comparative literature and society major, described the situation as dystopian.

The anti-war protests that began at Columbia University have now spread across the nation, sparking a heated battle between students and administrators. Over the course of the last 10 days, numerous students have faced serious consequences for their involvement in these demonstrations. This has included hundreds of arrests, suspensions, probationary measures, and, in some instances, even expulsions from prestigious institutions such as Yale University, the University of Southern California, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Minnesota. The clash between students and administrators has brought to the forefront important discussions about the boundaries of free speech on college campuses.

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Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts institution affiliated with Columbia University, recently took disciplinary action against over 50 students who were arrested on April 18. These students were subsequently evicted from campus housing. This information comes from interviews with students and reports from the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper that obtained internal documents from the college.

Barnard College made an announcement on Friday that they have successfully reached agreements that will allow “nearly all” of the suspended students to regain access to campus. While the exact number was not specified in the statement, it was mentioned that all students whose suspensions were lifted have agreed to abide by the college rules. Some of them have also been placed on probation as a part of the agreement.

On the night of the arrests, Maryam Iqbal, a Barnard student, took to social media platform X and shared a screenshot of an email from a dean. The email informed her that she could accompany campus security to briefly retrieve her belongings from her room before being asked to leave.

According to the email, you have a 15-minute window to gather any necessary items.

Over 100 faculty members from Barnard and Columbia came together last week for a “Rally to Support Our Students.” During the rally, they strongly condemned the arrests of the students and called for the immediate lifting of suspensions.

Columbia University is currently making efforts to dismantle the tent encampment located on the main lawn of its campus, which is also the designated venue for the upcoming graduation ceremony on May 15. The students, on the other hand, have persistently urged the university to sever its connections with companies associated with Israel. Additionally, they are demanding amnesty for any students or faculty members who may have been arrested or disciplined in relation to the ongoing protests.

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According to Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Columbia, the university is currently engaged in ongoing discussions with the student protesters. He stated, “We have our demands; they have theirs.”

Radhika Sainath, an attorney with Palestine Legal, highlighted the additional fear faced by international students who are suspended, as they may also risk losing their visas. Recently, Sainath assisted a group of Columbia students in filing a federal civil rights complaint against the university. The complaint accuses Columbia of inadequately addressing discrimination against Palestinian students.

“The punishment level is not just draconian, it feels like an excessive display of callousness,” expressed Sainath.

Senior Craig Birckhead-Morton, one of the participants in the Yale demonstration last week, expressed his concerns about his academic future. Having been arrested along with over 40 other students, Birckhead-Morton is uncertain whether his case will be referred to a disciplinary panel. As his graduation day approaches on May 20, he anxiously awaits confirmation on whether he will receive his diploma. Additionally, he worries about the potential impact on his acceptance to Columbia graduate school.

Birckhead-Morton, a history major, expressed frustration with the lack of communication from the school regarding the next steps. “The school has made a deliberate effort to ignore us and withhold information,” she stated.

College administrators throughout the nation have grappled with the challenge of maintaining a delicate equilibrium between free speech and inclusivity. In certain instances, protests have witnessed the presence of hate speech, alarming antisemitic threats, and even endorsements of Hamas, the organization responsible for launching an assault on Israel on October 7th. This recent conflict in Gaza has resulted in a devastating death toll, exceeding 34,000 individuals.

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Commencement ceremonies in May can sometimes create tension when it comes to clearing protest areas. University officials emphasize that they view arrests and suspensions as a last resort. They make it a point to provide ample warnings to protesters before taking such actions.

Vanderbilt University in Tennessee has reportedly taken the most severe disciplinary actions in relation to protests surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict, as per the Institute for Middle Eastern Understanding. A group of over twenty students staged a sit-in at the university chancellor’s office on March 26, resulting in the involvement of law enforcement and subsequent arrests. In response, Vanderbilt University has expelled three students, suspended one, and placed twenty-two others on probation.

Over 150 Vanderbilt professors have expressed their concerns in an open letter to Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, stating that the university’s actions towards the crackdown have been excessive and punitive.

Freshman Jack Petocz, 19, who is among those who were expelled, has been granted permission to continue attending classes as he proceeds with his appeal. As a result of his expulsion, he has been forced to vacate his dormitory and is currently residing off campus.

Protesting in high school played a significant role in Petocz’s admission to Vanderbilt and the acquisition of a merit scholarship for activists and organizers. In his college essay, he shared the experience of organizing walkouts in rural Florida as a means to voice opposition against Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ policies.

According to Petocz, Vanderbilt appeared to be supportive of the cause. However, when it comes to advocating for Palestinian liberation, the support seems to come to a halt.

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