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Gaza solidarity encampments sweep college campuses, police responses heighten

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now more about those campus protests taking place at colleges and universities across the country. Students at schools that include Columbia University in New York, Yale and Harvard have been demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza. Many have formed encampments, and hundreds have been arrested. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been covering the protest, joins us from New York. Jasmine, thanks for being with us.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi.

SIMON: Please bring us up to date on where the situation stands with Columbia University.

GARSD: Yeah. I was there all day yesterday, and it's very calm. That wasn't the case a week ago when NYPD got called in to disperse the encampment, and over a hundred students were arrested. The president of Columbia, Minouche Shafik, has come under fire for calling the police. And many Columbia faculty members have condemned the decision. Earlier this week, I spoke to professor Thomas Howley.

THOMAS HOWLEY: The way the university escalated by reaching immediately for the nuclear option of police force has attracted more radical elements that are not part of our student protest community and don't share the values of our students.

GARSD: Shafik has defended her decision to send in NYPD, but she's also acknowledged that it was ultimately ineffective. She said the university is focusing on negotiating with students.

SIMON: What about other campuses across the country?

GARSD: Well, protests have spread nationwide with similar demands that the universities disclose financial ties to Israel and divest. Now, what's really unprecedented here is that while you expect this type of activism with schools, like - I don't know - UC Berkeley, the protests have also moved into schools like University of Southern California or Cal Poly, which are not historically associated with this kind of activism. A couple of schools have experienced similar aggressive police response. There were over a hundred arrests at the University of Texas in Austin and the University of Southern California. Emory University's student newspaper reported that the Atlanta police deployed gas into a crowd of protesters.

SIMON: There have been charges of antisemitism at some of these protests. What did you find on campus?

GARSD: So yesterday, at a press conference hosted by Columbia Barnard Hillel, several pro-Israel students expressed fear and anger. Here's Noa Fay.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NOA FAY: No one is above the law. Arrest the students on Butler Lawn and discipline those that continue to call for the death of my friends and family. Look at me, the Jew facing this. I am not afraid anymore, so why should the administration be?

GARSD: She pointed out that one of the leaders of the Columbia encampment, in a social media video, called for the death of Zionists. He's since apologized and been barred from campus. Now, a few days ago, I also had a chance to sit down with Sarah Borus. She's one of the students who were arrested last week at Columbia. She's been suspended. She can't go back on campus. She herself is Jewish, and she says the only thing making her feel unsafe right now is the heightened police presence.

SARAH BORUS: In my capacity as a Jewish student, I feel safe but not with all of the militarization of our campus. I don't think anyone feels safe on our campus because of the way that Minouche Shafik and the administration have escalated the situation.

GARSD: And what she told me is she feels protesting Israel's mass killings makes her a better Jew.

SIMON: And graduation's right around the corner, isn't it?

GARSD: Yes. So the University of Southern California has canceled its main graduation ceremony. And speaking to students from different colleges, I've heard of speakers stepping down, venues canceling. It's going to be a very different graduation season. As for Columbia, they're hoping to continue negotiating with the students and getting that encampment cleared in time for graduation on May 14.

SIMON: NPR's Jasmine Garsd, thanks so much.

GARSD: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.
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