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Protests against the war in Gaza intensify at Columbia and other universities


It's been a week since Columbia University called in the police to clear an encampment of anti-war protesters on a campus lawn. And what a week it's been.


More than a hundred students were arrested that day. And since then, the student demonstrations against Israel's war in Gaza have only intensified. They spread to universities across the country and led to hundreds more arrests.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Adrian Florido is in New York. Adrian, you've been reporting at Columbia, where after all those arrests last week students pretty quickly reestablished their encampment. So let's start with what happened last night.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Well, last night, a lot of people showed up outside the gates of Columbia University in a show of support for the protesters.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Israel bombs. Columbia pays. How many kids did you kill today?

FLORIDO: And there were also counter-protesters who came out to show support for Israel. For days, protest leaders and university officials have been in negotiations over the encampment's future. The university wants it gone, but the hundreds of students in the camp say they're staying put until their demands are met. Early Wednesday, Columbia officials gave students 48 hours to pick up their encampment and said that after that, the school would consider alternative options. They didn't elaborate what that meant, but the students think it means law enforcement will again remove them by force. It's now been the two days since the university issued that warning. So the campus is really on edge about another confrontation almost at any moment, possibly.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Now, you mentioned that the students are refusing to clear the encampment until their demands are met. What are those demands?

FLORIDO: A few things. The big one is divestment. They want Columbia to sell off the stock it owns in companies that do business in Israel and that, the protesters say, are enabling Israel's war in Gaza and its operations in the West Bank.


RAY GUERRERO: We want it publicly known that Columbia University does not endorse this.

FLORIDO: That was Ray Guerrero. He's a Columbia grad student who's been heavily involved in the divestment campaign. And he says that if Columbia pulls its money from these companies, other institutions might follow. And that could bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government. And they also want all of the students who were suspended after being arrested last week to have their suspensions lifted. Columbia hasn't publicly said much about these demands, but it did reject a proposal for divestment just a couple of months ago. And it's worth noting the financial pressure the university is facing from the other side. Some very wealthy alumni who are angry with these protests have started withholding donations.

MARTÍNEZ: As we said, these kinds of demonstrations have now spread to campuses across the country and so have arrests of protesters and faculty. What does that look like?

FLORIDO: Yeah, well, what really took hold last week at a few of the nation's most elite schools - like at Columbia, Harvard, Brown - is now happening at schools like UT Austin, USC in LA. Yesterday, students at the City College of New York set up an encampment. And at a lot of these schools, things have heated up. At USC, dozens of students have been arrested - the same at UT Austin, where the school brought in police in riot gear. And all told, there have been more than 500 arrests nationwide, including some faculty.

MARTÍNEZ: And here's the thing, too. I mean, some school years are coming to a close. A lot of schools are planning for graduations. I mean, will these protests impact all that?

FLORIDO: Well, here at Columbia, the encampment is smack in the center of where the school holds its main graduation ceremony. And in fact, all around the encampment, workers are already basically putting up the stages and scaffolding for that event. It's part of why protesters suspect they're about to be removed by force. At USC, the main graduation ceremony has been canceled. And that could happen at other schools because these students showing up to protest say they're not going anywhere.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in New York. Thanks a lot.

FLORIDO: Thank you, A. 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.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
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.