Tracking campus protests in New York

The “Gaza solidarity encampment” at Columbia university inspired similar pro-Palestinian demonstrations at campuses across the country. Here’s where they are in New York.

Pro-Palestinian students set up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Columbia University.

Pro-Palestinian students set up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Columbia University. Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images

Campus protests over the war in Gaza are attracting some of the largest police responses New York has seen in months.

Protests, rallies and vigils from both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel groups have been held at campuses across the state and country since Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing around 1,200 people, including many civilians, and taking another roughly 250 people hostage, according to Israeli officials. The Israeli government responded by declaring war on Hamas, and in airstrikes and a ground invasion in the months since has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to Gaza health officials, causing mass displacement. 

Though protests at campuses and elsewhere in New York have continued throughout the ongoing war, those that have attracted the most attention lately – and been met with large police responses – have occurred on college campuses. Administrators at several campuses where pro-Palestinian protesters have erected encampments over April and May have called on law enforcement to take them down, leading to hundreds of arrests.

Here’s what you need to know about the encampment protests, the responses of critics and supporters and how police have been called on to respond.

This story was last updated on May 15.

Columbia University

While smaller demonstrations by pro-Palestine and pro-Israel students have taken place at Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus since last fall, the demonstration that has attracted national attention began this spring. Starting on April 17, hundreds of pro-Palestinian student protesters set up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on Columbia’s South Lawn, the same day that university President Minouche Shafik was testifying before Congress about efforts to combat antisemitism. The student protesters called for the university to divest from companies with ties to Israel and its government. 

The university cracked down on the demonstration one day later, as Shafik authorized the New York City Police Department to come on campus to clear the encampment. In her letter to the NYPD, Shafik wrote that the more than 100 students occupying the lawn had been informed that they were in violation of the university’s rules, ordered to leave and told they’d been suspended, though students said they weren’t notified until later. “I have determined that the encampment and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the University,” Shafik wrote. “With great regret, we request the NYPD’s help to remove these individuals.” On the afternoon of April 18, the NYPD arrived and cleared the encampment, arresting 108 people in the process. The charges were primarily for trespassing, while two people were also charged with obstructing government administration. 

School administrators’ decision to invite officers in riot gear to clear the encampment and remove students, which for some hearkened back to the 1968 campus protests at the university, was met with fierce criticism among groups sympathetic to the protesters and progressive lawmakers, though it has been praised by some more conservative and moderate lawmakers. “Suspending & arresting activists who violate multiple university codes is actually a normal & necessary part of the process that is integral to keeping a safe learning environment on a campus,” Republican City Council Member Inna Vernikov wrote in a tweet. 

Student protesters resumed their demonstration on April 19, eventually re-pitching tents on an adjacent. In the days and weeks that followed, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment attracted national attention – both praise and sharp criticism – and inspired a wave of similar demonstrations on college campuses across the state and country. 

As the encampment continued, some students and counter-protesters reported experiencing antisemitic harassment on and near campus. A rabbi who leads the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative at Columbia and Barnard sent a message to hundreds of Jewish students urging them to stay home for their own safety. That report was widely picked up, attracting a swell of criticism from moderate and conservative lawmakers. Republican lawmakers called for Shafik’s resignation, while Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman visited campus and urged Shafik to protect the school’s students. Meanwhile, Shafik was simultaneously criticized from the left for cracking down on the encampment. Four progressive Council members visited campus and wrote that the encampment was completely peaceful.

On April 23, university administrators set a deadline of midnight to come to an agreement with protesters to dismantle the encampment or pursue “alternative options.” But the deadline passed even as protesters remained on the lawn.

On April 24, Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Mike Johnson visited campus flanked by New York Republican Reps. Mike Lawler, Nicole Malliotakis and Anthony D’Esposito, where he joined calls for the National Guard to be deployed on campus and for Shafik to resign. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who voiced approval of the work the NYPD did in clearing the encampment and expressed concern about the protesters going “too far,” nonetheless criticized Johnson’s visit as a political ploy and has declined to mobilize the National Guard.

The pro-Palestinian protesters continued their demonstration, and Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman made visits to campus on April 26. 

On April 29, the university announced that protesters who did not leave the encampment by 2 p.m. that day and did not agree to comply with school policies would be subject to immediate suspension. Shafik said that the university would not meet the protesters’ divestment demands.

In the early hours of April 30, a group of protesters took control of Hamilton Hall, an academic building on the school’s campus that was also seized during anti-war protests in 1968 and anti-apartheid protests in 1985. Dozens of protesters barricaded themselves in the building and reiterated their demand for divestment and amnesty for protesters. That evening, Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference with NYPD officials urging protesters to leave Hamilton Hall. Several hours later, hundreds of NYPD officers in riot gear stormed onto the Columbia campus and stationed around its entrances. Officers made their way into Hamilton Hall and cleared it, arresting over 100 people who were inside and outside the building. Similar to the first wave of arrests, City Hall said that the university president had requested the NYPD’s help. 

The second police sweep has been met with an even louder backlash among those supportive of the pro-Palestinian protesters. “If any kid is hurt tonight, responsibility will fall on the mayor and univ presidents,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a tweet just before the sweep. “Other leaders and schools have found a safe, de-escalatory path. This is the opposite of leadership and endangers public safety. A nightmare in the making. I urge the Mayor to reverse course.”

Others, including members of the New York City Council’s centrist Common Sense Caucus, praised the NYPD’s work. “This entire problem is caused by university staff and administrators who can’t seem to balance a student’s right to protest and exercise free speech with their ability to keep other students safe,” Republican Council Member Joe Borelli said in a video released by the caucus. “Fuck Hamas, fuck these entitled kids,” he added.

In the lead-up to the arrests and in the days since, Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD officials have claimed that the student protests at Columbia and other schools have been hijacked by “outside agitators,” though City Hall and the NYPD have offered inconsistent reports of who those agitators are and how many they include. 

Two days after the second round of arrests, The City reported that a gun was discharged by an officer inside Hamilton Hall while clearing the building. According to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the gun was not aimed at anyone and no one seemed to be injured. The NYPD only addressed the gun firing several hours after that report was published, confirming that an officer with the Emergency Service Unit accidentally discharged his gun and the round fired struck a wall.

The university authorized the NYPD to have a presence on campus through May 17, following the school’s scheduled commencement ceremony. It’s unclear what that presence will look like. On May 6, the school announced that the main university-wide commencement ceremony would be canceled, while “Class Days” – smaller school-specific ceremonies – would take place off-campus, rather than on the South Lawn.

New York University

Six miles downtown, a similar demonstration by pro-Palestinian protesters at New York University grew to include hundreds of people by April 22. University officials said that they warned students they would face consequences if they didn’t disperse. That evening, NYPD officers in riot gear arrived at Gould Plaza in Greenwich Village, where the encampment was set up, and began arresting student protesters, as well as faculty members who were trying to protect students. A total of 133 people were arrested. University President Linda Mills wrote in a letter to the community later that only half of those arrested were current students, faculty or staff.

By April 26, a second encampment at NYU – this time outside the Paulson Center three blocks south – had been set up, according to the school. That demonstration proceeded through May 3, when university administrators authorized the NYPD to once again clear the encampment. The NYPD arrested 13 individuals who had yet to leave the encampment, they later reported.

A group of graduate student workers and faculty have threatened to withhold grades until the university agrees to negotiate with pro-Palestinian protesters and not subject them to disciplinary action.

University of Rochester

On April 23, pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Rochesters set up an encampment on a campus quad, later relocated to another part of campus, calling for support for a ceasefire and divestment. On May 1, pro-Palestinian students also held a brief sit-in in a campus building, which the university president described as “peaceful and respectful.”

As of that evening, students participating in the demonstrations agreed to end the sit-in and to end the encampment by May 6.

City College of New York

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators set up the “CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on April 25 on the City College of New York’s campus in Harlem. Similar to organizers on other campuses, protesters called for the City University of New York to divest from companies with ties to Israel.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

On April 28, CCNY President Vincent Boudreau said in a memo to the campus community that CUNY and CCNY leadership had engaged in discussions with a small group of representatives from the demonstration.

On April 30, the college announced that classes would go remote for the foreseeable future. That evening, the protesters reached a boiling point with the university. In a letter sent after the fact, Boudreau said that demonstrators unaffiliated with the student protesters joined the protest and attempted to breach campus buildings, causing property damage at one before being pushed back by campus security, which arrested 31 people. 

Later in the evening, as the NYPD’s raid on Columbia continued, the NYPD began making further arrests of protesters who refused to leave the encampment at the request of CUNY and CCNY. A total of 170 people were arrested.

The narrative that outside agitators have hijacked protests, including at City College, was repeated again by Adams at a press conference the next morning. City Hall released figures on May 2 that reported that out of 170 people arrested at CCNY, 102 of them were not students. City Hall has previously divided figures into people affiliated with the university and not affiliated with the university, though it has not confirmed whether the “students” figure released here also includes faculty, staff and alumni, or whether it includes students who are part of the CUNY system but do not attend City College. 

The day following the arrests at City College, some CUNY faculty participated in an illegal work stoppage to protest the NYPD sweep.

The New School

Though not the first instance of pro-Palestinian students protesting at The New School, Gaza demonstrations have popped up at the University Center and Parsons School of Design in late April. On the morning of May 3, NYPD officers arrived to clear the encampment at the request of the school, arresting 43 people.

On May 8, New School faculty members created their own encampment in the lobby of the University Center.

Fashion Institute of Technology

Pro-Palestinian protesters at the Fashion Institute of Technology, a SUNY school, began to occupy the lobby of the school’s building in Chelsea on April 25 in a small encampment demonstration. On May 7, NYPD officers cleared the encampment and arrested protesters.

Cornell University

Campus protests and encampments have spread far beyond New York City. Early on April 25, pro-Palestinian student protesters – with the support of some faculty –  at Cornell University in Ithaca mounted an encampment on their quad. The school has followed through on threats to suspend several students. A group of several hundred faculty members called on the school to overturn the suspensions. 

Syracuse University

On April 29, students and faculty at Syracuse University started to set up a solidarity encampment along the lines of others beginning to spread across the country. A list of demands from the pro-Palestinian protesters include calling on the school to support an immediate ceasefire and break all ties with Israel, including ending a study abroad program. On May 1, a group of pro-Israel student protesters held a demonstration walking around campus, but there was no confrontation between the two peaceful groups, according to The Daily Orange.

On May 5, the parent of a Syracuse student was arrested after yelling at pro-Palestine protesters and throwing food.

Fordham University

Pro-Palestinian protesters inside Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus set up an encampment, and by May 1, NYPD officers were called on by the university to clear it. By the end of that day, 15 protesters were arrested. 

Similar to the request made by Columbia administrators, Fordham officials also requested a police presence through commencement on May 22.

Stony Brook University

Pro-Palestinian student protesters at Stony Brook University on Long Island held demonstrations beginning on April 30. The university set a deadline of 11 p.m. on May 1 for students to leave the encampment; when the students refused to leave, the encampment was cleared by campus police, Suffolk County police officers, and state troopers early on May 2. The police sweep resulted in the arrests of 29 people, including students, faculty and “others from outside our campus community,” according to the university. Undeterred, pro-Palestinian protesters held another demonstration on the next afternoon.

Those aren’t the first protest arrests made at Stony Brook this year, either. In March, nine people, mostly students, at a pro-Palestinian rally at the university were arrested.

University at Buffalo

Pro-Palestinian protesters attempted to set up an encampment at the University at Buffalo’s North Campus on May 1 but were quickly ordered to dismantle tents and disperse by police, who later arrested 15 individuals. The university has said that only five of those arrested were students, and it believes that “individuals with no known affiliation” to the school led the encampment effort.

On the afternoon of May 3, pro-Palestinian protesters held a rally and march through campus, and a pro-Israel rally is expected to take place on May 6.

SUNY Purchase

On the evening of May 2, students at SUNY Purchase started setting up a pro-Palestine encampment on a quad at the Harrison, New York campus. Following a 10 p.m. deadline that night set by the college, police officers arrived and arrested roughly 70 students and faculty members.

SUNY New Paltz

In one of the larger waves of encampment arrests, police officers in the Hudson Valley arrived at an encampment set up on the SUNY New Paltz campus by pro-Palestinian protesters and arrested 133 people on May 2 following a deadline to disperse set by the school. Officers forcibly removed protesters from their seated position with arms locked, and one protester and one officer sustained injuries, according to the school.

CUNY Graduate Center

On May 14, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the CUNY Graduate Center administrative building in midtown Manhattan. The protesters demanded that CUNY divest from companies tied to the war in Gaza and that Graduate Center President Joshua Brumberg call for amnesty for all protesters arrested at CUNY actions, including the dozens of protesters arrested at City College on April 30 who are currently facing felony charges. The occupation ended peacefully after Brumberg agreed not to pursue disciplinary action against any of the protesters involved in the Graduate Center occupation and sent an email to CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez encouraging him to meet with the protesters.