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Protesters at Columbia University are now occupying a campus building


Major escalations in student protests against the war in Gaza at college campuses across the country despite the risk of arrest, academic suspension, and police force.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Free, free Palestine.


That's the sound of chanting early this morning on Columbia University's campus. Student protesters received a deadline yesterday to leave their encampment by 2 P.M. Those who did not face suspension. Now dozens of students have entered at least one of the buildings on campus.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Brian Mann joins us now outside the gates of Columbia University. Brian, you reported to us yesterday that both the university and protesters seemed to be working to de-escalate the tensions. What changed?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yeah. After we talked, things changed fast. What we know now is that around 1 A.M., some demonstrators left the encampment here and moved into Hamilton Hall. And that followed an increasingly tense day. University officials held a press conference where they said students who refused to leave would be suspended. They cited safety concerns. That sparked a major demonstration on campus. Students here say they're just not going to leave until the college agrees to divest from investments in companies operating in Israel.

Here's Sueda Polat, spokesperson for the encampment. She spoke yesterday, saying they are prepared if campus officials called in the NYPD again.

SUEDA POLAT: Students are aware of the risk of law enforcement. They faced that risk once before, and they know how to come together again in the face of that risk. And we stand in solidarity with other student movements across this nation that are being brutalized in ways worse than Colombia.

MANN: And again, Pilatis was speaking yesterday, A. There's no sign right now at this hour that police are planning to intervene. I'm seeing no police presence on the streets right now.

MARTÍNEZ: How are things inside the campus right now?

MANN: So, students are still maintaining that core encampment on the campus green and they're inside Hamilton Hall, dozens of students right now. What appears clear, A, is that this effort by Columbia University to try to end this by pressuring students with the threat of discipline - so far, that appears to have backfired.

MARTÍNEZ: Brian, that group that's in Hamilton Hall - are they part of the larger group of protesters?

MANN: One of the major groups that's organized this protest, calling itself Columbia University Apartheid Divest, says this is actually an autonomous group of activists, but they say this action is justified. Their own encampment, they say, is peaceful, and they say it remains separate from that action.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so that's what's going on in Colombia. What can you tell us about what's happening around the country on other campuses?

MANN: Yeah, universities across the country, A, are grappling with how to clear out these encampments. These sites are usually the main locations for commencement ceremonies, which are around the corner now. At the University of Texas, Austin, dozens of demonstrators were arrested Monday on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct. Some of them by officers in riot gear who dragged students and carried them out amid screams. Virginia Tech said Monday, 82 arrests were made there as a result of weekend protests. The University of Utah - dozens of officers in riot gear tried to clear an encampment outside the university president's office - 17 people arrested in that incident. So these protests don't seem to be going anywhere, and universities are really struggling right now to find a way to put an end to them without resorting to this kind of police force.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Brian Mann reporting from just outside the Columbia University gates. Brian, thank you.

MANN: 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.
Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.