Students at Columbia respond to the shift to hybrid classes and exams during the final two weeks of the semester.

On Columbia’s campus, students face a tumultuous atmosphere as classes and exams have shifted to hybrid learning for the remainder of the semester. Students shared their experiences regarding hybrid classes against the backdrop of student protests and discontent with the University. These interviews happened before the lockdown of the Morningside campus and before the second NYPD arrest, leading to the deconstruction of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. On May 1, Provost Olinto announced that finals would now be virtual, with some being postponed.

On April 25 and 26, Bwog interviewed three individuals: Mohammed Hemeida, a pro-Palestine student inside the Encampment, one anonymous student who has not been inside the Encampment, and Jonathan Lederer, a self-identified Jewish Zionist. They were each interviewed separately and were asked a series of questions regarding the current climate and policies on campus.

The anonymous student told Bwog that hybrid learning hasn’t affected them much. “Because the move to hybrid was so late in the semester… there was only one week of classes left,” they said. “Most of my classes were dedicating the last class to a review session.” Still, while they don’t think “the learning is affected,” they added that “it’s more just being able to get closure with your professors and other students.”

Concerning virtual exams and the lack of clarity from professors on exam formats, they stated, “It takes me reaching out… which is kind of frustrating.”

Amidst academic challenges, other students, including Lederer and Hemeida, expressed the impact of the current campus environment on their education. “I haven’t really been able to pay attention for the past week,” Lederer said. “It’s crazy that when there’s chaos on campus, instead of taking control of the chaos, you kick everyone else off campus and let the people [who are causing chaos] control the decisions that are happening… It feels like I’m not getting my money’s worth.”

Hemeida asserted that he chooses to go “in-person when [he] can” but that “many students would prefer not to be on campus” if the NYPD is there. He considers the option for online learning “good to have.” 

Hemeida stated that it has been “disappointing” for him to see unsatisfactory responses to the current situation from various departments, including the Provost. He doesn’t think they’ve “done enough to accommodate students” who have been arrested, suspended, or involved in the Encampment and protests. While he believes his “own professors have been very kind,” he believes the administration and committees on instruction “need to be more communicative and more accommodating to students in general.”

The United Nations experts report that more than 80% of the schools in Gaza are “damaged or destroyed.” UN experts suggest that it is “reasonable to ask if there is an intentional effort to comprehensively destroy the Palestinian education system.” According to the UN, in the last six months, “At least 60 percent (sic) of educational facilities… have been damaged or destroyed and at least 625,000 students have no access to education.”

Currently, there are no universities left in Gaza. United Nations experts have stated that “attacks on education cannot be tolerated.” When asked about this statement in regards to the current atmosphere on campus, each of the interviewed students contributed their opinions. 

“These events going on are education in and of itself,” the anonymous student said. “A lot of people chose to come to [Columbia] because of its history and activism and engaged student body… That is a core part of our experience in university.”

He continued, stating, “This is a terrible thing going on, but there is some value to seeing such engagement in students and seeing such rigorous discourse in students.”

Lederer expressed a different stance regarding the destruction of the universities in Gaza. “First, you have to investigate what is being taught in the universities,” Lederer noted. “For example, you see… the majority of the student body supporting terrorism here, how much more so in Gaza?” Lederer believes that “many” of the students and professors in Gaza “support terrorism and many of their professors are pro-Hamas organizations.” 

While Lederer admitted he is not “totally aware” of the destruction of Gazan universities, he “think[s investigations into their bombings] need to happen.” “Then,” he continued, “Once we have the facts we can assess whether it was justified or not.” However, the last remaining university in Gaza, Israa University, was destroyed “70 days after the Israeli military transformed the school into barracks, and, later, into a temporary detention facility,” according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.  

Hemeida understands the UN’s statement more personally. He believes that “students should not fear repression on their own campus, especially when it’s an issue that concerns the overwhelming majority of students and staff.” He considers it “shameful and regrettable” that the University is “threatening” to deploy the NYPD and National Guard “to clear out peaceful protestors.” According to representatives in SJP and CUAD, the University threatened to have NYPD and the National Guard sweep the Encampment. President Shafik and senior administration later denied this statement

The movement “taught [Hemeida] that when you speak out in support of collective liberation” and against “occupation, genocide, [and] apartheid… people will stand with you,” adding that this movement has “given [him] a lot of optimism in the future, that this generation can change everything.”

Image via Bwog Staff