Students at more universities announce solidarity rallies after 108 pro-Palestinian activists are arrested at Columbia

Dozens of activists denouncing Israel’s war in Gaza remain camped out on the West Lawn of Columbia University on Friday, a day after New York City police arrested more than 100 people on suspicion of criminal trespass during a pro-Palestinian demonstration on the campus.

Now, students at several other universities are planning rallies in solidarity with the Columbia University demonstrators.

The University of North Carolina Students for Justice in Palestine is holding a solidarity rally Friday. The Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine announced an “emergency rally.” The Students for Justice in Palestine at The Ohio State University announced an “emergency protest supporting Gaza solidarity encampment.” And the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee announced a student walkout “in solidarity with steadfast Columbia students.”

Demonstrators at Columbia were “peacefully protesting for divestment from genocide,” said one of the organizers, Columbia University Apartheid Divest.

At least 33,797 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s war against Hamas started in October, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry. Israel launched ongoing attacks in Gaza after a spate of Hamas attacks in Israel that killed 1,200 people in October.

New York City police officers in riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus on Thursday in New York. - Mary Altaffer/AP
New York City police officers in riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus on Thursday in New York. - Mary Altaffer/AP

What spurred the arrests at Columbia

Columbia University President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik sent a letter Thursday to NYPD requesting they remove people who were occupying the South Lawn of the university’s campus after being told that they “are in violation of the University’s rules and policies” and are trespassing, according to the letter, which was released by the university.

More than 108 arrests were made, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a news conference Thursday evening.

The protest and arrests at Columbia come as universities across the nation grapple with how to respond to the hundreds of protests and counterprotests held by students on campuses since the war in Gaza began.

Here’s what we know about the protest at Columbia and subsequent arrests so far:

Why students are protesting

The protests began Wednesday. Pro-Palestinian students, faculty and others set up tents and signs that morning on the campus in upper Manhattan on a day that Shafik, the university president, was in Washington, DC, to testify to a House committee over the school’s response to antisemitism.

The encampment was organized by Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) – a student-led coalition of more than 100 organizations – Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace, to protest what they describe as the university’s “continued financial investment in corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and military occupation of Palestine,” according to CUAD’s news release.

“The Gaza Solidarity Encampment was established to pressure Columbia to divest all funds, including the endowment, from corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and military occupation in Palestine,” the release said.

CNN sought comment from Columbia University and the university’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing for more information on their investments and for comment on the protest organizers’ allegations.

Ry, a senior at Columbia who declined to provide his last name to protect his identity, told CNN he had been camping at the campus before arrests began.

“We as students are using our privilege to stand for people who have been oppressed for far too long and we hope other universities take the call and do the same,” said Ry, who is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar, was among those arrested Thursday, a police official told CNN. The official said Hirsi is being processed and will likely receive a summons for a criminal trespass charge then be released from custody.

Hirsi, an organizer with Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, said earlier Thursday she and two other students at Barnard College – located across the street from Columbia University – were suspended for participating in pro-Palestinian protests.

“Columbia has shown over and over again that they don’t care about student rights, they don’t care about student voices, they don’t care about student safety,” protester Aidan Parisi told CNN affiliate WCBS.

University president asked NYPD to remove demonstrators

Shafik wrote a letter to the NYPD on Thursday asking for the department’s help to “remove these individuals,” and said those students occupying the South Lawn of the university’s Morningside Heights campus had been informed of their suspension.

“The actions of these individuals are in violation of University rules and policies,” the president told police in the letter. “The University provided multiple notices and warnings and informed the encampment participants that they must disperse or face immediate discipline.”

In an email to students obtained by CNN, Shafik said Thursday that she authorized the move “out of an abundance of concern for the safety of Columbia’s campus.”

“I took this extraordinary step because these are extraordinary circumstances,” Shafik wrote. “The individuals who established the encampment violated a long list of rules and policies.”

Calling the protest a “disturbance,” Adams said in a news conference Thursday evening that the protesters violated university rules and that “NYPD officers moved in to ensure the safety of the campus, the students and the staff.” He added that, “the NYPD assured there was no violence or injuries” during the protest.

“The students that were arrested were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever and were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” added John Chell, NYPD Chief of Patrol.

Most of the people taken into custody will be summoned for trespassing, while two people were charged with trespass as well as obstruction of governmental administration, authorities said at the news conference.

In the past, the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has declined to prosecute or deferred prosecution cases where large numbers of people were arrested as part of civil disobedience.

The arrests came a day after Shafik testified over the university’s response to antisemitism during a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing. The university faced criticism for its handling of antisemitic incidents on campus and for hiring a professor who allegedly expressed support for Hamas on social media. That professor has been fired, Shafik said Wednesday.

In her testimony, Shafik said the core of the university’s mission is to “ensure that all members of our community may engage in our cherished traditions of free expression and open debate,” quoting from the school’s rules of university conduct.

How the protests at Columbia unfolded

Police officers stand near tents erected by pro-Palestinian protesters on the South Lawn at Columbia University in New York, on Thursday. - C.S. MUNCY/The New York Times/Redux
Police officers stand near tents erected by pro-Palestinian protesters on the South Lawn at Columbia University in New York, on Thursday. - C.S. MUNCY/The New York Times/Redux

Competing pro-Palestine and pro-Israel rallies grew into Wednesday afternoon as more protesters gathered after the hearing.

Several people waving Palestinian flags shouted at police officers, who had begun boxing the protesters in with barricades, CNN affiliate WCBS reported.

During Wednesday’s protests, Columbia closed the gates to campus, only allowing people with university IDs to enter. Many of the pro-Palestinian protesters affiliated with Columbia camped on the campus overnight.

Four people were arrested overnight during the protests, the NYPD said. Police did not specify what charges were filed and gave no additional details about the arrests.

The NYPD used bullhorns on Thursday to tell protesters they would be arrested unless they dispersed immediately. Large crowds of Columbia students on the perimeter refused to leave and chanted “Shame on you!” and “the students united will never be defeated.”

Shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday, a group of at least 200 protesters moved to an area about two blocks away from the school campus near the NYPD staging site and police said they would soon disperse the crowd, CNN witnessed. Officers in helmets, carrying batons, were seen lining up in the street surrounding the group.

Online video appears to show NYPD officers arresting pro-Palestinian protesters outside Columbia University early Thursday morning. Detained students were escorted off campus by the NYPD in zip tie handcuffs.

The university warned of suspension

In a Wednesday letter to students, Columbia University officials said participation in the encampment and refusal to leave the campus would result in suspension for students involved.

“If you are a Columbia student and you do not adhere to this final request by 9:00 p.m. today, April 17, 2024, the University will take the interim measure of suspending you pending investigation for possible violation of multiple University policies,” the university said in the letter.

“During the suspension, you may not go to class or hand in work related to courses and therefore may not be able to complete your current courses. Your CUID will be deactivated, you will not have access to classrooms and other parts of campus and may not participate in University activities.”

CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, Emma Tucker, John Miller, Alaa Elassar and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at