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college students at columbia university with palestinian flag
college students at columbia university with palestinian flag
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College Students On Over 100 Campuses Walked Out For Palestine

Updated Published

On Oct. 25, college students at more than 100 campuses across the United States and Canada staged a walkout to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and protest their universities’ responses and ties to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East. This walkout comes after weeks of rising tensions between students and their universities following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S.

Since the Oct. 7 attack, which killed around 1,400 civilians with more than 200 civilians being taken hostage by Hamas, according to PBS, Israel responded by declaring war on Oct. 8 and launching airstrikes against Gaza, which has a population of about 2 million people. The Israeli Air Force said as of Oct. 12 that it had already dropped about 6,000 bombs targeted at Hamas in Gaza. Israel has also cut off water, food, electricity, and fuel from the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian death toll estimates range from 5,700 to over 6,500, with calls for a ceasefire growing among the international community.

The Oct. 25 walkout was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, Dissenters, Anakbayan, the National Students for Justice in Palestine organization, the Muslim Students Association, and more, according to Teen Vogue. Footage on Instagram and TikTok shows students walking out at the University of Michigan, New York University, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University, McGill University, and others.

“Many students are fed up with the complacency of our universities and governments, and we see that they will not solve this for us,” Hanna Raider-Gingrich, a student at Toronto Metropolitan University and activist at Socialist Fightback TMU, who helped organize TMU’s walkout, tells Her Campus. “We must take to the streets and organize and [educate] one another on the history and struggle for Palestinian liberation. Many of us who joined the walkout today were of different backgrounds and political views but we stood united. The mood is fiery and many students will not stand for this brutal repression and violence.”

Many students’ issues with their universities stem in part from their relationships with arms manufacturers that are providing weapons to Israel. Christian E., a student at the University of Virginia and member of UVA Dissenters, tells Her Campus, “The bombs being dropped on Gaza are made by U.S. weapons manufacturers and are paid for with U.S. tax dollars. Our universities invest in and conduct research with many of these manufacturers (i.e. Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Elbit Systems, etc.). These are the points of connection where we, as students, can apply pressure on our institutions and make changes to alleviate the suffering.” Many universities, through their endowments, invest in arms manufacturers, but the extent to which is often shrouded in mystery due to a lack of disclosure from universities, which has led to divestment campaigns by grassroots organizations like Students Demand Action.

Columbia University’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter had similar demands. When Her Campus reached out for comment, Columbia SJP directed us to the flyer they handed out at the walkout, which included demands for “Columbia [to] divest from apartheid” and “the cancellation of the Tel Aviv Global Center,” referring to Columbia’s plan announced in April to launch a center in Tel Aviv, which drew both support and criticism from many faculty members in addition to students. Columbia declined Her Campus’ request for comment, but directed us to their campus resources page.

In their Instagram post announcing the walkout, Columbia SJP added that “both former Columbia and Barnard presidents unilaterally [and] anti-democratically ignored the student body referendums to divest in 2020,” and that “Palestinian affiliates of Columbia would be restricted from access to [the Tel Aviv Global Center],” which “therefore violates Columbia’s very own non-discrimination policy.”

Raider-Gingrich also pointed to many students’ anger with their universities’ quelling of pro-Palestine opinions on campus as a key reason for the walkout. “Just this week, TMU administration and the law school began silencing and suppressing 80 law students who signed a statement in solidarity with Palestine. Their names were exposed, and Zionists began calling their law firms and the school. Many are being fired and threatened [with] expulsion from the TMU law school.”

The statement, now removed, was originally posted by a group called the Abolitionist Organizing Collective. It claimed Israel was responsible for the Hamas attack and called for TMU to reverse its “neutral” position, according to CP24. TMU’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law released a statement on LinkedIn on Oct. 24, saying, “We unequivocally condemn the sentiments of Antisemitism and intolerance expressed in this message. The letter does not represent the views of our law school or the many students, faculty, staff and community members that are committed to upholding our values of inclusivity, dignity, and respect. Statements that seek to promote or justify violence directly contravene these values.”

Adding that the TMU administration is not elected by the students, Raider-Gingrich says, “Today, we were calling on the school to retract their statement stating that those students who want to end the occupation are committing hate speech. We also call for the board to resign, and call for all universities across Canada to end the investment and deals with [the] arms industry.”

In response to Her Campus’ request for comment, TMU sent the following statement: “Student protests, including walkouts, are a common part of the university experience. Universities play an essential role as a venue for the discussion and debate of a wide range of opinions and ideas.

The university would just like to remind all students who wish to participate in days of actions and/or protests that they need to speak with their instructors in advance about making alternative arrangements to ensure little to no interruption to their studies and program requirements.

Students are also expected to comply with all university policies. It is the University’s expectation that both our community members and their guests will present their views — no matter how divergent — in a respectful manner.”

Support for the walkouts was not unanimous among students. Multiple student groups’ announcement posts about the walkout on their campuses had commenters supporting Israel. On UC Berkeley’s Bears for Palestine post, for example, commenters posted GIFs of the Israeli flag or of President Biden’s statement that “the United States stands with the State of Israel.”

Erica Kam is the Life Editor at Her Campus. She oversees the life, career, and news verticals on the site, including academics, experience, high school, money, work, and Her20s coverage. Over her six years at Her Campus, Erica has served in various editorial roles on the national team, including as the previous Culture Editor and as an editorial intern. She has also interned at Bustle Digital Group, where she covered entertainment news for Bustle and Elite Daily. She graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from Barnard College, where she was the senior editor of Columbia and Barnard’s Her Campus chapter and a deputy copy editor for The Columbia Spectator. When she's not writing or editing, you can find her dissecting K-pop music videos for easter eggs and rereading Jane Austen novels. She also loves exploring her home, the best city in the world — and if you think that's not NYC, she's willing to fight you on it.