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4 Takeaways College Students Should Know About Columbia’s Antisemitism Hearing

On April 17, leaders from Columbia University in New York City went to Capitol Hill for a hearing with members of Congress about the school’s approach to antisemitism on campus. The hearing, which spanned about four hours, included questions from the Republican-led House committee about its stance on antisemitism and its recent responses to specific events involving members of its faculty and students.

Columbia is among the many schools currently being investigated by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over allegations of both both antisemitic and Islamophobic discrimination, which have increased exponentially since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October 2023. This is the second congressional hearing specifically on the topic of antisemitism at higher education institutions. The first hearing, which took place on Dec. 5, 2023, centered around the questioning of leadership from Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These schools’ presidents faced severe backlash for their responses in the hearing, culminating in Harvard’s Claudine Gay and Penn’s Liz Magill stepping down from their posts due in large part to their testimonies.

Columbia officials were absent from the initial hearing due to scheduling conflicts, according to Columbia’s student newspaper, The Columba Daily Spectator. However, the university’s president, Nemat Shafik, as well as other school leaders took the stand just four months later to discuss many of the same topics. Here are the top takeaways college students should know about the Columbia University antisemitism hearing.

1. Columbia’s leadership denounced antisemitism on campus, but was UNCLEAR on the school’s definition of antisemitism.

One of the biggest issues critics took with the December antisemitism hearing surrounded the university presidents’ unclear definitions of antisemitism as well as ambiguous answers regarding how they would respond to calls for the genocide of Jewish people. The team from Columbia did not struggle quite as much. When asked whether the calling for the genocide of Jewish people violate Columbia’s code of conduct, Shafik and her fellow Columbia leaders — Claire Shipman, co-chair of Columbia’s board of trustees; David Greenwald, the board’s other co-chair; and David Schizer, a faculty member on the school’s task force on antisemitism — all responded with the same answer: “Yes, it does.”

However, the school officials admitted Columbia doesn’t have a clear, specific definition of what counts as antisemitism on campus. “For me personally, any discrimination against people of the Jewish faith is antisemitism,” Shafik said, adding she was “pretty sure” the rest of the university’s task force against antisemitism would agree with her.

2. Students are facing stricter policies and punishments, With more likely to come.

Following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, many college leaders across the country were faced with the challenge of balancing individuals’ rights to free speech and protest with the school’s responsibility to protect its student body from hate and harm. This led to many schools drawing severe criticism for prioritizing freedom of expression in recent months (see: Harvard and Penn’s presidents’ resignations).

During this hearing, however, Columbia hearing revealed the school is keenly focused on strengthening its policies and disciplinary procedures against words and actions that could be viewed as antisemitic (despite the university not having a clear definition for how to identify antisemitism).

“I promise you, from the messages I’m hearing from students, they are getting the message that violations of our policies will have consequences,” Shafik told the committee.

Shipman added, “We are far from done. I am outraged by the vile sentiments I continue to hear by those who ignore our rules,” indicating Columbia plans to take a harsher stance against antisemitism going forward.

3. School faculty and staff are also facing consequences.

Following questioning about staff who have allegedly made antisemitic remarks on campus or on social media, Shafik said five Columbia professors have been removed either from the classroom or from the university’s employment entirely. She also promised there would be consequences for faculty members who “make remarks that cross the line in terms of antisemitism” in the future. She also stated, “I would be happy to make a statement that anyone — any faculty member — at Columbia who behaves in an antisemitic way or in any way a discriminatory way should find somewhere else to go.”

4. Meanwhile, Pro-Palestine students protested.

As leadership from Columbia met with lawmakers in Washington D.C., dozens of pro-Palestine students gathered on campus for a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” a setup of tents outside the school’s Butler Library where students called for Columbia to divestment from companies with ties to Israel.

The timing of the rally was no coincidence. “I think the fact that we are doing this on the day of the hearing … I think it’s a testament to the fact that we truly will only rise stronger every time they crack down,” Maryam Alwan, a senior and pro-Palestinian organizer, told The New York Times from the event. As Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) seemingly alluded to in her line of questioning during the hearing, Alwan explained that many pro-Palestine advocates aren’t intending to spread Jewish hate in their demonstrations. “I think that antisemitism is horrible, but I don’t think that using the conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism as an excuse to crack down on pro-Palestine advocacy is justifiable or related in any sense.”

As of April 18, students were still gathered at the encampment, indicating Shafik and her colleagues will encounter a highly charged scene when upon their return from D.C.

Lexi Williams is the Senior Editor at Her Campus, where she spearheads the site's Life and News coverage — including academics, national news, digital news, and viral news. She also oversees our Gen Leaders and Dream Jobs franchises, and works with the national writer team, interns, and freelance writers. Dedicating her career to helping college students, teens, and twentysomethings live their best lives, Lexi became obsessed with all things Gen Z through her previously held editorial positions at Elite Daily and Dorm Therapy. Before that, she dabbled in the food and wine space at Wine Spectator magazine, where she learned to balance her Champagne taste with her Two-Buck-Chuck budget. Lexi's bylines have also appeared in Cosmopolitan, InStyle, Bustle, StyleCaster, and Betches, among others. She graduated magna cum laude with her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Miami in 2016. Originally from Florida, Lexi currently lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends her days scouting the best pizza spots, working on her debut novel, perpetually redecorating her apartment, and taking too many photos of her yappy little rescue dog, Benji. For pitches, contact Lexi at lexiwilliams@hercampus.com. For a healthy dose of Millennial cringe, follow her on Instagram at @lexi___williams.