On Thursday, April 18, President Shafik authorized NYPD officers onto campus to arrest student demonstrators. Bwog interviewed students and NYPD officers on campus surrounding their experiences on campus.

Over 100 students sat on the lawns on Thursday afternoon, linking arms as they anticipated their arrest. At Columbia University, students have formed an unauthorized encampment zone around Butler Lawns. This encampment was erected by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at 4 am Wednesday as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Palestinian communities and in wake of President Minouche Shafik’s testimony before Congress the same day.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) had been outside of the gates since Wednesday night, with at least 5 known arrests from Thursday morning. As of Thursday at 10 am, drones have been operating over Columbia’s campus, according to an NYPD officer Bwog spoke to. 

The police arrived on campus at 1:15 pm on Thursday, beginning to arrest students gathered inside the East Butler Lawn encampment just 15 minutes later. By 2 pm, over 100 students had been arrested. At 1:22 pm on Thursday, President Minouche Shafik sent an email to the University community regarding her decision to send the NYPD to arrest students. She wrote, “The safety of our community was my top priority and that we needed to preserve an environment where everyone could learn in a supportive context.”

She continued, writing that individuals were arrested after suspensions were given out for violating “a long list of rules and policies.” Shafik stated that at 7:15 pm on Wednesday, students were notified that if they did not leave the Encampment by 9 pm, they would be suspended. She stated that her decision was in compliance with Section 444 of the University Statutes. 

In the past few days, Bwog has spoken to various sources involved with the situation to gather public opinion on NYPD presence and student arrests. On Wednesday, when Bwog asked an unidentified official on the lawns what laws had the students broken, he shrugged without offering an answer. When another NYPD police officer was asked to identify this official she responded, “I don’t know… he’s probably a detective.” 

As police officers in full riot gear marched onto campus, some were smiling, waving their batons in their hands, and calling people on FaceTime. Other officers exhibited more grave faces.

When Bwog questioned uniformed officers on how long they would stay on campus, one of them joked, “You should say that you don’t safe feel with us here so that we can leave.” The group of NYPD officers and one Public Safety officer then began to laugh.

One pro-Palestine student of color responded to the presence of NYPD on campus by directing his comments to the one who authorized it—President Shafik. “For her first year as President of Columbia University… I have already lost all trust in [Shafik] as… someone to represent the University. Inviting NYPD on campus for the first time in over 50 years is unprecedented and, honestly, is probably the worst thing she could’ve done.”

Police lined up along a then-empty South Lawns following the arrests.

Countering that sentiment, one self-proclaimed Zionist student walked up to the NYPD on campus and said “Thank you.” Pro-Palestine students then yelled at the student, who walked away from the conversation for “fear of [his] safety,” the pro-Israel student told Bwog. 

“I think it’s terrible,” the pro-Israel student responded when asked about NYPD presence on campus. “But I think at the same time perhaps it was necessary… The fact of the matter is that now that you have NYPD on campus, the way that [the police are] being treated, I don’t think it’s appropriate. I think it reflects a deep hatred towards America, which I can understand, but it is not the way to go about things… It’s pushing people apart.”

When asked why the student decided to say thank you to the NYPD, he responded it was “not for what they’re doing, but more so what people were saying about them.”

Bwog also spoke to various NYPD officers in the 116th and Broadway subway station. On Thursday night, one individual walked by the officers, yelling at the four stationed officers. “What did you say?” one officer responded curtly while following the individual to the turnstile. “This is insane,” said the other officer. When Bwog asked the officers if they could directly respond to the amount of hate they’ve been receiving, they referred Bwog to the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information (DCPI). The second officer continued, “We just come do our job, everyone’s respectful… but us as cops can’t answer that on camera… We don’t take sides, we come do our jobs and that’s it.”

Officers within 116th and Broadway Subway Station.

All of the undergraduate student councils have made statements condemning the actions of Shafik and the presence of NYPD on campus. 

“The overpresence of the NYPD and the severity of our University’s response has not only made students feel threatened but has left us staggered, as it marks the first set of mass arrests at Columbia since 1968,” wrote Jalaj Mehta, SEAS Undergraduate University Senator, in collaboration with several other Columbia Student Senators. 

As of Saturday, Columbia University still stands divided between student-to-student and student-to-administration. However, the majority of students seem to agree about feeling concerned about Shafik’s authorization of the NYPD to enter campus.

Photographs via Bwog Staff