On Monday, November 20, alumni of Columbia and Barnard gathered outside of Columbia’s main gates to protest the University’s recent suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace, participating in a “denouncement ceremony” and “un-graduating” from the University.
Around 6:30 pm on Monday, a group of Columbia alumni gathered by the 116th and Broadway gates to participate in a “denouncement ceremony” in protest of the University’s decision to suspend Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
The protestors assembled at the front gates with banners and posters reading “Alumni say: stand with students, stand with justice, stand for Palestine,” “Proud SJP Alumni,” and “Columbia teaches students to think critically and then punishes them for it,” among others. The crowd extended down the sidewalk all the way to the Lerner Broadway entrance. Those present appeared to be mostly young people–recent graduates and many millennials—but there were many older alumni present as well. Many also wore their Columbia graduation regalia, some with writing on their graduation caps, “I stand with SJP and JVP” and other slogans.
A speaker over the megaphone started off the protest speaking about protesting safety. She pointed attendees toward people wearing neon green vests, who could provide snacks, water, and first aid. The speaker also told participants that organizers wearing green vests were designated as “police engagers,” and that “if police are bothering you, seek out a green vest wearer for help.” The green vest organizers told Bwog they represented “multiple groups.”
After this statement, the protestors began their chants, which included, “We are all SJP, We are all JVP,” “not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes,” “Columbia stands for apartheid,” and “no more weapons, no more war, ceasefire’s what we’re calling for.”
A speaker then came on the megaphone to address the recent email from Barnard Vice President Sarah Gillman, in which Gillman wrote that the Columbia gates were closed that night because “people may come to our campus without necessarily sharing our values to maintain safety, free expression, and a sense of community.” The speaker decried that assumption, yelling, “Shame!” Protestors quickly followed suit.
Soon after that, NYPD officers approached the crowd and made motions signaling them to move closer to the gates in order to clear part of the sidewalk. The protesters complied with the order, moving closer to the gates. An NYPD officer then directly told the speaker, “Why are you here? We have pens for you,” indicating a nearby area blocked off with police barricades. To that, the protestors responded by chanting, “Move cops, get out of the way.”
After that interruption, the speaker continued, saying she was a Columbia alumni from the class of 2016 and that she will be denouncing her alma mater as a response to them banning SJP and JVP and for Columbia’s “shameful perversion of reality.” She also told the crowd that if they see any instance of “bigotry” they should “report it to the green vests.”
From there, a procession of “un-graduates,” people who—like the speaker— appeared to be Columbia alumni denouncing and “un-graduating” from their alma mater, began walking south down Broadway until they reached 114th St. A band comprised of a saxophone, trombone, trumpet, and drums played “Pomp and Circumstance” as the protestors marched. The protestors turned left at 114th and walked down the block, circling around to the College Walk gates on Amsterdam and 116th. As the protestors passed by Lerner, a man was observed yelling “Nazis” at the crowd.
Once the protestors arrived at the gates, a series of speakers went over to the megaphone. The first was an older woman who identified herself as Jewish and a Columbia graduate from the ‘70s, as well as a professor at CUNY. She said it was “an honor to be back here, remembering the past so that we can shape the future.” She also expressed gratitude that the current students revived Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition of student organizations that have organized recent demonstrations on campus and who took inspiration from earlier protests of the University’s involvement in the Vietnam War. She also called SJP and JVP “brave” in spite of “Israel spies on campus” and “doxing trucks.” She emphasized that “feminism is behind every struggle” and that students “know the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.” At the end of her speech, she told the crowd, “War and punishment has never solved human conflict.”
After the speeches, the “un-graduates” took their gowns and draped them over the closed front gate to campus. Signs were also hung on the gates saying: “reinstate SJP and JVP,” “there is blood on your hands,” and “divest from Israeli apartheid.”
Monday’s protest marked at least the sixth moment of collective action protesting the University’s suspension of SJP and JVP since the decision was announced on November 10. Aside from this demonstration, there have been three other physical protests, including a student protest, organized by DAR (Palestinian Students Union), on November 14, a faculty protest on November 15, and a city-wide protest, organized by the group Within Our Lifetime, which also took place on November 15. In addition to these demonstrations, at least two open letters—one from students and one from elected officials—have been sent to University administration asking for the reinstatement of the two student groups.
All photos via Bwog staff