Students rallied after the university barred two groups from holding campus events until the end of the semester, and faculty members walked out in protest.
As police officers guarded the wrought iron gates protecting Columbia University’s main campus on Tuesday evening, checking for student identification cards, a group gathered around a stone dais at the center of the quad.
Roughly 400 students held Palestinian flags and handmade signs. Protesters took turns speaking into a microphone, criticizing the Israel-Hamas war, but also their own school over its decision to suspend two pro-Palestinian student groups through the end of the semester.
“We’ve said it before, that our voices are louder and more powerful than the money that you receive, Columbia,” said Mohsen Mahdawi, 33, a student and a Palestinian refugee. “We won’t be silenced.”
And on Wednesday, roughly 200 faculty members walked out to protest the decision to suspend the groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Professors, graduate workers and others read statements in support of the groups and their members as a Police Department helicopter buzzed overhead. Hundreds of students joined the crowd to cheer on the faculty members as they spoke.
“Where is your moral courage?” Premilla Nadasen, 56, a history professor at Barnard College, asked the administration. “We are here to tell the students: They can suspend an organization, but they cannot suspend a movement.”
Similar scenes have become increasingly common in New York City and across the country as college campuses grapple with the fallout from the war. Divisions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have existed on campuses for generations, but as the war continues and the death toll in Gaza continues to mount, colleges have faced growing blowback over efforts to contain the discord.
Columbia suspended the groups last week, saying they had violated university policy. The university did not elaborate on how exactly the groups did that except to say they had held “unauthorized” events that included unspecified “threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”
Following their suspension, the groups released a joint statement on Instagram, accusing the university of “selective censorship” of pro-Palestinian groups and calling the move “an attack on free speech to distract from and enable Israel’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people.”
Mohsen Mahdawi, a Palestinian student at Columbia, addresses demonstrators at the campus on Tuesday evening.Credit…Bing Guan for The New York Times
Some pro-Israel donors have pressured institutions to respond more forcefully in condemning Hamas and pro-Palestinian student protests on campuses.
And on Tuesday, three Jewish students sued New York University, the New York Post first reported, over what they said was a hostile environment that had allowed antisemitism to go unchecked. The complaint argues that N.Y.U. has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination.
John Beckman, a spokesman for N.Y.U., said Wednesday that the claims made in the suit were inaccurate and that the school had taken steps to “fight antisemitism and keep the campus safe.”
On Wednesday, N.Y.U. announced it would create a Center for the Study of Antisemitism, geared toward examining “contemporary and historical manifestations of one of the world’s most enduring forms of hate.” The center was expected to open next year.
At Columbia, students responded to the suspension of the two pro-Palestinian groups by announcing a new coalition, Columbia University Apartheid Divest. The group is a collection of 40 student organizations representing a range of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds that have called on Columbia to divest from Israel.
Deen Haleem, 24, a law student and the son of a Palestinian refugee who is part of the new coalition, said that Columbia’s decision to suspend the groups sent a loud message to its students.
“To me as a Palestinian, it says that your tragedy doesn’t matter,” he said. “It says that when your people die, you don’t get to speak about it.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Maryam Alwan, 21, a Palestinian-American student, said that she was afraid to go to class because fellow students had followed her, recorded her and harassed her on campus. She said she had received numerous graphic death threats.
But when the university sends emails regarding the conflict, Ms. Alwan said, they rarely mention the plight of the Palestinians.
“My friends are losing family members. I see my little brother in every photo of a traumatized child who looks like him,” Ms. Alwan said at the demonstration, speaking from the dais. “And here I am begging my university to at the bare minimum use the word Palestinian in its emails.”
In a statement on Wednesday, a Columbia spokeswoman, Samantha Slater, said that the university was committed to providing student groups space to debate and protest, but within certain bounds.
“The university will not apologize for enforcing its policies and procedures that are in place to create a safe campus community in which core university activities can be conducted without interruption,” the statement read.