Columbia Students File Civil Rights Complaint After NYPD Arrests, National Guard Threat

Columbia Students File Civil Rights Complaint After NYPD Arrests, National Guard Threat

CONTACT: Danya Zituni, Palestine Legal | | (312) 547-0766

April 25, New York, NY – Today, Palestine Legal filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), demanding an investigation into Columbia University’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinian students and their allies, including by inviting NYPD officers in riot gear — for the first time in decades — to arrest over a hundred students peacefully protesting Israel’s genocide last week. 

The complaint comes one day after Columbia suggested the National Guard could be brought in to remove student protesters — implying state violence could be used on campus. 

The complaint alleges how, for more than six months, Palestinian students, Arabs, Muslims, students perceived to be Palestinian, and students associated with or advocating for Palestinians, have been the target of extreme anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic harassment, including receiving multiple death threats, being harassed for wearing keffiyehs or hijab, doxed, stereotyped, being treated differently by high-ranking administrators including Columbia University President Minouche Shafik, an attack with a chemical agent that led to at least 10 students requiring hospitalization and dozens of others, including a Palestinian student, seeking medical attention, and more.

Palestine Legal is representing four students and the student group Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who have all been the target of anti-Palestinian discrimination and harassment by fellow students, professors, and/or Columbia administrators.

“As a Palestinian student, I’ve been harassed, doxxed, shouted down, and discriminated against by fellow students and professors — simply because of my identity and my commitment to advocating for my own rights and freedoms,” said Maryam Alwan. “I’m horrified at the way Columbia has utterly failed to protect me from racism and abuse, but beyond that, the university has also played a role in this repression by having me arrested and suspended for peacefully protesting Israel’s genocide in Gaza. The violent repression we’re facing as peaceful anti-war protesters is appalling. Palestinian students at Columbia deserve justice and accountability, not only for Israel’s decades-long oppression and violence against our people, but for the racism and discrimination we’ve experienced here on Columbia’s campus.” 

Columbia has actively contributed to pervasive racism and discrimination against Palestinian students on campus, causing both mental and physical harm. For example, students have been arrested, assaulted, suspended, locked out of campus and their classes, forced to seek medical attention, and forced to drop classes and delay their own graduation.  

After bringing NYPD officers in riot gear to violently arrest students peacefully protesting Israel’s genocide in Gaza, university leaders alarmingly threatened that the National Guard would be brought in to forcibly remove the peaceful students from their own campus. This disturbing threat of military violence is gravely concerning. Columbia University has a responsibility to protect all of its students — including Palestinians and their supporters — and should not threaten police or military violence to attack or intimidate them.

“Columbia’s vicious crackdown on student protests calling for Palestinian freedom amidst an ongoing genocide should alarm us all. Students have always been at the forefront of the most pressing social issues of the day,” said Palestine Legal Staff Attorney Sabiya Ahamed. “We urge federal civil rights officials to do what Columbia has disgracefully failed to: ensure the rights of Palestinian and allied students are protected at a moment when their voices are most essential.” 

The discrimination, intimidation, harassment, stereotyping, disparate treatment, and racial profiling described in the complaint are not isolated instances but are the product of both deep-rooted, dehumanizing bigotry against Palestinians and decades-long systematic efforts by anti-Palestinian groups and their allies to suppress advocacy for Palestinian rights on college campuses.  

Palestine Legal has documented trends in repression based on the over 2200 incidents of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy the organization responded to between 2014 and 2022, many involving harassment and censorship attempts by university administrations and right-wing organizations aimed at intimidating Palestinians and their supporters into silence and inaction. Since October 7th alone, the organization has received reports of over 1,800 incidents, over five times the number we received in all of 2022, reflecting an exponential rise in anti-Palestinian repression across the US.

In March 2024, Palestine Legal, together with NYCLU sued Columbia over its suspension of SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace for their peaceful protest.