Voices Of Change: Pro-Palestine Protests At Columbia University In Harlem

May 1, 2024

by Yolande Brener with photographs by Rudy Collins

Hamilton Hall at Columbia University became the focal point of a pro-Palestine demonstration as dozens of students occupied the building, hoisting a Palestinian flag and barricading entrances.

They used a hammer to gain entry and locked the doors behind themselves. Despite facing suspensions for defying an April 29th, 2024, deadline to disperse, the students remained steadfast, vowing not to vacate until their demands were addressed or until forcibly removed. The latter option played out on April 30th as police cleared protesters from the campus and made dozens of arrests. 

Steeped in history as a bastion of activism, Hamilton Hall previously hosted anti-Vietnam War protests in 1972 and anti-apartheid demonstrations in 1985, in which students won the administration’s divestment from companies supporting South African apartheid. Present-day students echoed this call, urging Columbia to divest from entities profiting from Israel’s occupation of Gaza. Their other requests are for transparency regarding the university’s investments, and amnesty for disciplined protesters among faculty and students.

“… it was deja vu from the Nam era demonstration …”

One resident said that, “although it’s impossible not to sympathize with the killing and destruction of Gaza by the IDF, it could be argued that this action was provoked by the slaughter of 1200 innocent Israelis and taking of hostages.” Another resident highlighted the peaceful nature of the student protests, contrasting them with agitators from outside the university who exacerbated tensions. Harlem World Magazine photographer, Rudy Collins, said, “To me it was deja vu from the Nam era demonstration …The students are serious in their position and are not giving an inch. Someone should show them what the police did to the students in the 60’s …maybe that will change their minds.” 

Administrators stressed the need to clear the Quad for the impending May 15th graduation ceremony and said that police presence will remain on campus until after graduation. Some students said they would not attend under these circumstances, and a boycott seems possible. As the encampment persists, the area surrounding Columbia University bears witness to both solidarity and discord, encapsulating the complex dynamics of the ongoing struggle for justice and resolution in the Middle East.

Yolande Brener

Yolande Brener is a mom, an educator, a Harlemite who works at CBS, writes for Harlem World Magazine, and is the author of Holy Candy: Why I Joined A Cult And Married a Stranger Culture/. Read more Yolande’s Yard here.

Photo credits: Rudy Collins.

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