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How pro-Palestinian protests have escalated at Yale and Columbia University


Students are protesting the situation in Gaza on a number of college campuses, but things are particularly tense right now at Columbia, where more than 100 people have been arrested, as well as at Yale, where 47 students have been arrested. We are joined now by NPR's Jasmine Garsd in New York, who is reporting on the situation at Columbia. And also with us is Eda Uzunlar at Yale. Welcome to both of you.



SUMMERS: Eda, I want to start off with you. You're reporting at Yale. Give us a sense of what it's been like there and what led to these arrests.

UZUNLAR: Well, yeah. I mean, there's been a continued demonstration in support of Palestine over the last week. Its tagline is Books Not Bombs, and the demonstration included days' worth of things like teach-ins and book collections and even musical performances. And it garnered the support of other students, but also people like community members and faculty. And on a Friday, students set up an encampment. So dozens of tents were set up. Then, over the weekend, it ended up all coming down to negotiations between students and admin.

So there were multiple nights in a row when arrests were threatened. Last night, agreements weren't made. So then early in the morning, the police ended up arresting the students. Lumisa Bista participated at Beinecke Plaza throughout the week. And you can kind of hear it. Her voice is hoarse from days of protesting. But she says the arrests have only further mobilized the students.

LUMISA BISTA: Beinecke Plaza looks bare now. It looks empty, and it looks soulless. But right across the street, there are hundreds of students who have gathered throughout the day and sang songs and led chants.

UZUNLAR: So you can hear that hardship in her voice. But the protest outside of Beinecke Plaza continues right now.

SUMMERS: Eda, I know that you graduated from Yale yourself just last year. So I just want to ask you, do you feel like the community is being changed by what is happening there currently?

UZUNLAR: Well, I will say that these types of protests and the demonstrations that we're seeing, they're a part of the Yale student body's history, right? So a similar occupation in the same plaza in the '80s is what some students say inspired the new encampment that took place this weekend. And then in my own time, I mean, I will say I hadn't seen any kind of mobilization that's this sustained and with this many different kinds of groups behind it. And then finally, I mean, students here now, they say that there's obviously - there's hardship in moments like when counter-protesters arrive, but they say they try to keep to themselves. Obviously, people are going to have different ideas. And so when 40 different counter-protesters showed up last night, students continued peacefully.

SUMMERS: Jasmine, over to you now. I know you've been reporting at Columbia University in New York. Tell us what you've been seeing and hearing.

GARSD: Yeah. This morning, I headed out to the large encampment of students inside the Columbia campus. It's been there for the last couple of days. And in recent days, over a hundred of those students have been arrested. They've been suspended. And many have had their housing revoked. I was able to speak to one student organizer. Her name is Soida (ph). She didn't give a last name for fear of repercussions. Her message was very clear. They want divestment. She wants the university to liquidate its investments in weapons, technology and any kind of financial ties to Israel.

SOIDA: We believe that our university is complicit in this through their direct and indirect holdings in certain companies. And we're requesting their complete divestment. Essentially, this is our tuition dollars that are going to the death and displacement.

GARSD: And this is the main point that students have been making - divestment, divestment. You hear that word over and over again over here.

SUMMERS: OK. Passover is beginning. And at least at Columbia, we have heard some reported concerns over student safety. What are you hearing, Jasmine?

GARSD: There was a small pro-Israel protest outside the campus. I spoke to one woman. She's an alumni. She was outside of the campus. And she told me she was outraged. Her name is Elise Mordos (ph).

ELISE MORDOS: There need to be consequences for these actions. I don't understand the double standard, how this is acceptable. Jewish people deserve to be treated just like everybody else. We're a minority group, and we deserve to be treated equally and fairly.

GARSD: I also spoke to Jewish students who are at the encampment, the organization Jewish Voices for Peace, who say they feel safe on campus and that this is not an issue of Judaism. It's about Israel, and it's about Gaza. And I think the takeaway is there's not one monolithic viewpoint among Jewish students here.

SUMMERS: Right. It seems that this is a moment that could be a real test for administrators at both Yale and Columbia. For each of you, what does that look like?

UZUNLAR: Well, I'm happy to jump in. I think Jasmine is right when the viewpoint is a really important thing to think about here, right? So in terms of the admin and the students and their conversations, administrators at Yale say they have tried to make negotiations with protesters to de-escalate, right? So they've been working to keep the media off campus.

But the college's dean, Pericles Lewis, told the school paper that last night, administration offered to arrange meetings with trustees if students agreed to end the occupation on that plaza. But the students didn't take it. They said they were given just minutes to weigh those options. And students say they never directly got ahold of Lewis, and he spoke through intermediaries. So they didn't agree because they said the deal did nothing for what their end goal is, which is for Yale to disclose their investments and divest from weapons and manufacturers.

GARSD: NPR is seeking an interview with the Columbia administration, which, you know, it's come under fire from all sides. Columbia University President Minouche Shafik was at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, and she took a stance against anti-Semitism. Republican lawmakers are saying those action - the actions don't match the words. On the other hand, Shafik is being heavily criticized for allowing NYPD to get involved and arresting students. The message here is, we want the police off of our campus.

SUMMERS: Right. And for both of you, a last word. We've got a couple seconds left. With the spring semester quickly ending at both schools, does that signal that things might soon de-escalate?

UZUNLAR: Well, I'll say that if there's any direction of what future demonstrations might look like even after the semester ends, it's how the students responded to today's arrest. Like, after they were processed, they came immediately back. So I'm not sure that things will end after the semester is over.

GARSD: Yeah. Students I spoke to here told me they're going to stay as long as they need to in order to demand that divestment.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Jasmine Garsd and Eda Uzunlar. Thanks to both of you.

GARSD: Thank you.

UZUNLAR: Thanks. 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.

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.